Wexford Wanderers: Youth set-up destined to keep good times rolling
With more than 90 years of history behind them, Wexford Wanderers are keeping game alive in the Model County, writes Brian Lowry
Founded in 1924, Wexford Wanderers RFC are still going strong. In an area where a lot of other sports are also prominent, the hard-working club have stood the test of time and continue to turn out talent.
Six years after their inception, the club won one of their most noted trophies when they landed the Provincial Towns Cup in 1930, beating Athy 6-3 in the final.
To date, it is their only Towns Cup success although they did make the final on four more occasions - in 1933, 1941, 1960 and 1966.
Back in the early days, home games were played at Bettyville. The club maintained a home there for many years until the club acquired their current grounds and clubhouse at Park Lane in the early 1970s. Bettyville went on to become Wexford Racecourse.
There are also historical reports, that the club played games in Wexford Park in the late 1920s and a local newspaper reported that they played Lansdowne FC there in that period.
Fast forward to the current day and recently, the club has been most successful at underage level in Leinster league and cup competitions as they continue to develop young talent, many of whom have progressed make their mark provincially and nationally with Leinster and Ireland at youths and club level.
This year the club were delighted to celebrate the selection of two former minis and youths players on the Ireland U-20 World Cup squad. Greg McGrath and Jack Stafford, who now play with Landsdowne and Shannon respectively, were a source of great pride for the club as they donned the Ireland jersey.
The recent U-18 interprovincial series saw three more Wexford Wanderers players line out for Leinster.
Josh O'Connor, Barry Ryan and Brian Deeny started for the province against Ulster and featured in the other games with Connacht and Munster.
Without doubt, the most famous son of the Wexford Wanderers underage system in recent times is Gordon D'Arcy who grew up in Wexford and played his rugby with the club before moving to Clongowes Wood College.
D'Arcy went on to post 260 appearances for Leinster, 82 caps for Ireland and was a member of two Lions touring parties in 2005 and 2009.
The Ireland and Leinster legend has always been very generous to his former club and also donated his Lions jersey which hangs proudly in the clubhouse.
Going further back in time, another Wexford Wanderers player who went on to represent Leinster and Ireland was the late, great Seamus Kelly, who represented Ireland between 1954 and 1960 on five occasions.
Seamus Kelly passed away in 2012 but is remembered fondly by the club and in 2014 Wexford County Council named the roundabout at the entrance to the town in his honour.
The club was recently saddened to hear of the passing of Neville Furlong who played with the club from U-10s up to first XV before moving to Galway to complete his studies and to follow a distinguished army career.
Neville played for Connacht, Ireland Universities and Ireland A before winning two caps on the Ireland tour of New Zealand in 1992 when he scored the last four-point try in an international in Dunedin.
Neville also won an AIL medal with Garryowen in 1995 and was involved with the club up to the time of his untimely death last month.
An U-11 tournament has been arranged in his memory and Wexford Wanderers U-11s look forward to visiting Garryowen in April next year to take part in the competition to remember one of our mutual heroes.
Despite enviable success at youths level over many years, the club has found the going tough at adult level and have struggled to progress beyond the lower divisions of the Leinster Junior League.
With many of their players in their youth system moving away for college, it can be a struggle to get players to move on to the adult teams in the club.
However, under current club captain Aidan Stewart and head coach Mick Bolger they have assembled a dedicated and talented young team who have ambitions to build for the future.
Speaking of the future, things look bright with the club fielding three senior men's teams, a women's team, a girls U-18 team and youth teams at every age grade from U-13 to U-18, not to mention a vibrant minis section.
Currently, they sit in Division 2B of the Leinster League and after two games so far this season, they have recorded a narrow away loss to Midland Warriors and a hard-fought home draw with Balbriggan.
Both opponents would be seen as two of the stronger teams in the league.
The start to the season comes on the back of narrowly missing out on promotion last season.
They finished second in the league behind Wexford rivals New Ross while Newbridge beat them 17-13 in a play-off that saw them miss out on promotion to Division 2A.
They will no doubt have another tilt this year and with the production line coming along strong, the club are in a good position going forward.
Grounds: Parklane, Wexford
Division: Leinster League Division 2B
Youths and Minis: U-8 to U-18
Captain: Aidan Stewart
President: Herbie Honohan