Casey cannot wait
Young gun is ready for Aviva action
When Wexford Youths take to the pristine Aviva Stadium pitch on Sunday (12.05 p.m. kick-off) to face Peamount United for the Continental Tyres Women's Senior Cup, their squad will boast plenty of knowhow on this big stage.
However, for others a new experience awaits. Two of those are manager Tom Elmes and young starlet Orla Casey.
The Youths boss takes charge of a team in the national stadium for the first time while the 18-year-old midfield powerhouse is getting her first taste of action on the hallowed turf.
Despite being part of the squad in 2016, Casey missed out on the final because, under FAI rules, she was too young to play in the cup. While a troublesome injury has impacted her recently, crucial minutes were logged in the last two games, meaning she is a viable option for Youths on Sunday.
'It's a dream really,' she said. 'We went to look at the pitch last time and, I mean, I was speechless and I wasn't even playing, so to think that I'm actually going to be able to go out now and get a feel for the ball on the pitch and be kitted out in the Aviva. The stadium is just unbelievable so it'll be such a good opportunity for us.'
Elmes, in his first year at the helm, is just as excited. He said: 'For me it's an honour to be there, to go and play in the national stadium with the team, can't wait.
'For the girls it's the chance for the perfect season, where we have been competitive in everything we have done. Going and playing a cup final in your national stadium can kind of complete that.'
In truth, this season could hardly have gone any better for the Ferrycarrig Park side. Winners in the league and shield, competitive in the Champions League and beaten finalists in the league cup, it has certainly exceeded expectations.
'I'd have took the league on its own,' Elmes replied when asked what would have been accepted before it all began back in March.
'At the start of the season if someone would have said, "look, you can take the league title", I'd have snapped their hand off. If someone had told me that you'll be in all three cup finals and take the league a week in advance, I'd have told them you're having a laugh.'
The reality of the situation is summed up in those words from the boss. Medals from the cup competitions are nice and shiny but the league is on another level, not just because of the gravitas of winning a 21-game competition but also the European prize that goes with it.
On the other hand, the confidence of youth can sometimes foresee when dreams might turn into reality, and Casey quickly recognised the team's prospects for the season way back before a ball was even kicked.
'Looking back at the first game it seems like ages ago but I think we had a super season,' she beamed. 'To be honest we started off well, we gelled from pre-season. I knew it was going to be a good season because we just gelled so well together.
'Of course, there was a couple of games where we found it hard to find our feet but once we settled in we started passing it around. Come a couple of games into the season we were perfect together, we fit really well.'
What Wexford were able to do better than the other challengers was win the big games when they came along. There was no two games more important than those that propelled Youths into a big lead with three matches remaining and started the countdown to the title.
'When we played back-to-back Peamount and Shels, Saturday and Tuesday, we knew if we didn't come out of it with two wins the title race was going to go down to the wire, that's not what we wanted,' Elmes said.
'The girls had to really lift their game for that, so that was really, really important.
'Another high for me was last weekend against Cork, the football they played that day was absolutely fantastic, it was a pleasure to watch, it makes you so proud that they are going out there and playing that style of football, it's something we have encouraged all year, it was great to see.'
Wexford will take to the field knowing they face a potent opponent, the highest scorers in the league with 74 goals in 20 games (a walkover against Kilkenny gave them a 3-0 win in the other).
Elmes was coy about his injury situation heading into the game and even suggested with a wry smile that Rianna Jarrett, who was still wearing a protective boot over her fractured foot last weekend, might be in line for a surprise return.
No doubt looking for every edge, no option is dismissed off hand but the Wexford manager knows that, whoever takes to the field on Sunday, his side always lift their game when the opposition is at its most talented.
'I think sometimes the more teams put us under pressure the better we are,' he said.
'The game just gets raised to the next level, the girls go up ten to 15 per cent in their performance. Look, they were a strong team last year and competed for the league and came second.
'This year they brought in three Senior international players and that's a lot to bring in but, I mean, you get it right on the pitch, and I think that's what our girls can do, they get it right with how they come together.
'They are a good side, they move the ball really well, they've got loads of runners coming from midfield, the girls know it, they know exactly. Fortunately it's one of those leagues where you come across teams quite often. We'll have plenty of game footage on that and we are more than aware of what they are capable of.'
Interestingly Casey, who has battled against their wave of talent and is the type of player who is at home in that kind of company, sees it similarly to her boss, albeit with a sprinkle of her youthful exuberance thrown in.
'We're not looking back being like "jeez, they're very good", obviously we know like. We've respect for them and everything but we know we can go out there and match them and even give more than them.
'It's all about hard work, if a team is working harder than another team all they have to do then is put it in the back of the net.'
If Wexford manage to find the net more often than Peamount on Sunday they will wrap up their third piece of silverware of the campaign, which would match the haul from the 2015-'16 season.
Elmes and Casey are spot on, as if their side outwork the Dubliners they will be a very difficult team to beat.
It is sure to be an intriguing contest.
New Ross Standard