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Thursday 21 November 2019

O'Neill dreams of Oscar glory

Soccer, Wexford Football League: Wexford face LSL in opening tie

Wexford manager Brad O'Neill
Wexford manager Brad O'Neill

Dave Devereux

Wexford Football League begin their Oscar Traynor Trophy campaign on Saturday with a trip to Bluebell United's ground to face the Leinster Senior League, with the game kicking off at 2 p.m.

The Slaneysiders have been drawn in a three-team group, which also includes the Defence Forces, with two to qualify for the knockout stages.

However, the group winners are guaranteed a home quarter-final, and manager Brad O'Neill is acutely aware of the importance of that, believing a good start would see them well on the way to achieving that aim.

'The first game is a massive one. If we can get a result up there, then we go into the home fixture against the Defence Forces trying to top the group. To get a result in Dublin would set us up nicely for the second game,' he said.

The Leinster Senior League are represented by LSL Major Division champions Bluebell United so they should be a well-drilled unit, but although they have the advantage of familiarity, O'Neill thinks his charges have plenty going for them too.

'They're a club side, so they'll know all about playing with one another. They won 5-1 the other night. They're scoring goals, they're the champions of the league and they know how to play together, so that's a big boost for them. But we have serious talent in our panel that are used to playing at a high level and hopefully we have the balance right,' he said.

There's certainly plenty of players in the squad who are used to winning medals, whether it be local league or cups, or in the case of the strong North End United contingent, the FAI Junior Cup.

There's no question that the quality is there, and if O'Neill can get them singing off the same hymn-sheet, the sky's the limit for them in this tournament.

'They are all good players that I've picked so if I tell them to play in a position and what I want them to do they're all intelligent enough to do that.

'Between North End, Moyne and Rovers lads there's some amount of league medals in that panel, and there's lads from Bohs and Rosslare Rangers that played in the cup final last year. Our league is as strong as any at the moment' he said.

O'Neill, was no slouch himself on the pitch, having won seven Premier Division crowns with New Ross Celtic, and he brought that winning mentality into management, steering the Barrowsiders to four top flight triumphs in a row.

The three-time Premier Division player of the year lined out with the Oscar Traynor team for twelve seasons and says he was always proud to pull on the Wexford jersey and would love to see his current crop emulate the team of 2010 which won the tournament, beating Clare 6-0 in the final.

'There's nothing better than to play for your county, no matter what sport it is. It's something that made me very proud and this bunch of lads I have recognise that. Paul Murphy is there for years playing and so is Lee Walker, and guys like that want to play with the county. It means an awful lot. Some of them already have an All-Ireland medal and they'd love another one,' he said.

Looking ahead to what could be a do-or-die encounter when they face the Defence Forces in their second game, O'Neill hopes their mission will be crystal clear at that stage.

'I'd hope that after we've played the Leinster Senior League that the Defences Forces play them as well before we meet them, because then you'd know exactly what you'd need going into the last game,' he said.

The Defence Forces had a great run in China in the World Military Games, and O'Neill is hoping that there's enough weapons in Wexford's armoury to deal with whatever they bring, and he has the advantage of having a helping hand or two in his ranks.

'Shane Dempsey is on my panel but he was in China with the Defence Forces. Lee Walker would know some of the players as well and Ricky (Fox) was there at one stage, so hopefully we can get a bit of inside information on them when that game comes up,' he said.

Often managers will churn out the well-worn one game at a time, we're not looking too far ahead, clichés, but refreshingly O'Neill is not afraid to speak his mind and he dares to dream.

'If everything gels right and we steer clear of injuries we could go all the way. But we have to hit the ground running. If we can come away from Bluebell with a result we've a great chance of topping the group and getting a home quarter-final.

'Then if you get to the semi-final it's a flick of a coin to see who gets home advantage and the same for the final. You could end up playing at home in the final, which would be great. I remember the year they won it in Clare, it was a long journey. I know they did the business on the day but having a home All-Ireland final would be fantastic,' he said.

You have to admire his ambition, and if the players share the same positive outlook as their manager, this Wexford team could go a long way.

Wexford panel: Lee Walker (North End), Jason McGuire (Courtown Hibs), Dylan Cloke (Enniscorthy United), Shane Pettit (Rosslare Rangers), Peter Goldsmith (Rosslare Rangers), Seán Stewart (Rosslare Rangers), Dale Flynn (North End), Craig McCabe (North End), Gary Delaney (North End), Paul Murphy (North End), Kyle Dempsey (North End), Shane Dempsey (North End), Alan Rhodes (North End), Adam Beary (North End), Niall Connolly (North End), John O'Connor (Shamrock Rovers), Ricky Fox (Shamrock Rovers), Alan Freeman (Shamrock Rovers), Ian Sinnott (Shamrock Rovers), Pa O'Shea (Moyne Rangers), John Peare (Moyne Rangers), James Peare (Moyne Rangers), Todd Hynes (Wexford Bohs), Conor Casserly (Gorey Rangers), Matty Kavanagh (Courtown Hibs).

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