Wexford Football Club are no strangers to the basement of the SSE Airtricity League First Division.
Since returning to the second tier in 2017, Wexford have found themselves in the bottom two for five consecutive seasons. Can somebody check on Mick Wallace please?
Now this next statement may seem odd at first glance. But, their tenth-place finish last season is somewhat misleading, especially when taking all the factors into consideration.
Changing Of The Guard In 2021
The 2021 campaign was setting up to be an utter disaster for Wexford. With them losing their opening seven fixtures, while only netting a single goal in the process. This was under the tutelage of former manager, Brian O’Sullivan, who was appointed ahead of the 2019 First Division season.
With a third of their games already played, former League of Ireland veteran Ian Ryan took over at the helm.
Ryan, 34, had to retire from professional football at the tender age of 27, due to a persistent ankle injury, after a ten-year playing career with the likes of Shamrock Rovers, Longford Town, Dundalk, Drogheda United, Shelbourne and UCD.
It was with the latter where the Knocklyon man started his coaching career, before accepting the Wexford role back in May last year.
He drastically turned around the fortunes at Ferrycarrig Park, with eight wins from his 19 league games in charge.
Ryan also guided his new side to the FAI Cup quarter-final stage. Where they were dumped out away from home by the eventual winners, St. Patrick’s Athletic. This cup run equalled the clubs best ever finish in the competition.
While the Slaneysiders picked points off Cabinteely, Cobh Ramblers and Athlone Town, who all finished in the bottom half of the First Division table. They really upset the apple cart late on, as they earned shock victories against UCD and Bray Wanderers. Along with holding Treaty United to a 1-1 draw in Limerick.
Looking Ahead To 2022
These results are nice on paper. But, what’s next for Ian Ryan and his side as they look to improve their overall position?
As always, the First Division in 2022 is set to be increasingly difficult for part-time clubs like Wexford.
You have Waterford, Galway United and Cork City all operating on a full-time schedule. That’s without mentioning a returning Longford Town, an extremely consistent Treaty United side, and the newly merged Bray/Cabinteely entity.
Credit to Ryan, along with his assistant Lorcan Fitzgerald, they’ve assembled a solid 22-man squad, consisting of familiar faces, new recruits and underage prospects.
Aaron Dobbs, Joe Manley and Conor Davis have all arrived from Longford. Aidan Friel has returned to Wexford for the first time in five years, along with Conor Barry from Finn Harps and Luka Lovic from Bray Wanderers. Plus, 18-year-old Adam Wells has joined the south-eastern outfit on loan, from Shamrock Rovers.
Their impressive run towards the end of last season has certainly made Wexford FC a more attractive destination for players.
However, the highest profiled arrival has the potential to be a real signal of intent for the campaign ahead.
Dinny Corcoran has come aboard, with his vast experience hoping to play a vital role for his new side.
The 32-year-old has been a constant presence in the league since breaking through with Sporting Fingal, during their inaugural season in 2008.
Since then, he’s gone on to bag himself 89 league goals across both the Premier and First Division. Along with showing he’s a dab hand when it comes to an aul game of Countdown.
Unfortunately for the experienced striker, he’s been plagued with injuries for the past several years, and failed to make any sort of impact throughout his 2021 return to Drogheda United.
Saying that, Corcoran is still a marquee name for Wexford, and will be looking to plug the goalscoring gap left by Kyle Robinson returning to St. Patrick’s after his successful loan spell last season, and Jack Moylan moving to Damien Duff’s Shelbourne.
How Far Can Wexford FC Go?
The building blocks seem to be in place for Ian Ryan, with the squad he’s put together ahead of his first full season in charge.
While they ultimately ran out of games last year, their form towards the back-end of the previous term would have seen them around the play-offs.
With a positive start, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why Ian Ryan and his men won’t be involved in that play-off dogfight this time around.
As previously mentioned, Bray and Cabinteely have completed their merger. Meaning, five out of the now nine First Division teams a guaranteed a play-off place at least.
From the outside looking in, Wexford FC seem to have a direction for the first time in a number of years.
They’ve two hungry young coaches with Ian Ryan and Lorcan Fitzgerald at the wheel, sensible recruitment in key areas within the confines of their budget, good training facilities at IT Carlow, with that location enticing players from both Dublin and Waterford, two big cities that are within a commute friendly radius.
Credit to some returning faces too. Jimmy Corcoran, Conor Crowley, Kevin McEvoy and Paul Cleary could play an important role in 2022, as Wexford look to shed their basement dwelling reputation.
Wexford had the third highest points tally from the final round of First Division fixtures in 2021. If these new additions can hit the ground running, perhaps, this could be the new standard for Wexford Football Club going forward.