The writing was not so much on the wall as on the backs of the players shirts, each individually monogrammed to provide a fitting personal souvenir of a competition sponsored by a kit supplier. The clue was in the contrast in fonts, the Merrion team wore clear, no nonsense, up and at ‘em lettering; the Wexford kids an informal script that was more difficult to read. This hint of enigma carried through to the official team sheet; Danny Fitzpatrick, listed as number nine, was clearly wearing fifteen. The symbolism of contrasting styles carried through to the match itself.
Both team shapes featured the fashionable lone striker and Marcos Byrne and Chris Fenner proved indefatigable in these roles to the point of exchanging similar goals which took the final into extra time. Byrne scored first, skilfully controlling Mark O’Sullivan’s low cross from the right before making space for himself to shoot past the diving Shane Sinnott’s right hand just before the half hour.
It was a tight match with both sides defending resourcefully but Merrion was worth the advantage when the half time whistle came. There was little room for the beautiful game despite the improvement in Sean O’Shea’s sanded playing surface. This was mens’ stuff composed of blood and sweat; there was no time for tears. If Wexford were going to get back into the match you felt it must be soon after the restart and Fenner, having shot wide from close range in the fifty second minute made amends five minutes later, seizing on Joe Wallace’s ball from the right to hammer home the equaliser.
Now the game was up for grabs. Sinnott survived a series of cleverly flighted corners from Karl Corbett, turning a couple over the bar at the expense of a sprained thumb before catching the next without any discomfort. The keeper earned his corn with a brilliant tip over to foil a rasping long range drive from Corbett, Merrion’s gifted play maker, in the sixty eighth minute.
There were rousing cameos all over the pitch as the game progressed to an epic climax. Wexford skipper Rajiv Kumar, son of the club’s doctor, put in an elegant, focused display at the heart of the home defence, the more impressive because his direct opponent, the well balanced, resourceful Byrne was hard to handle and knew a few physical tricks to discomfort his marker at close encounters. Kumar never flinched and richly deserved his man of the match award despite considerable competition. O’Sullivan, Corbett and Byrne himself for Merrion and the skilful, tireless Conor McCarney from amongst his own team mates, must have run him close.
Youths couldn’t capitalise from a free kick on the edge of the box and O’Sullivan gave them a scare at the other end in time added on to the ninety minutes and we were catapulted into the drama of extra time, not sponsored by this web site.
The match winner came in the first additional period and the glory went to the tall Wexford midfielder Gary Delaney whose first header from a corner on the right struck the underside of the bar and was hooked back to him. This time his reaction header skimmed inside Conor Little’s right post and onto the Wexford Youths roll of honour. But credit must also go to substitute Eric Banville who defied the attention of two Merion defenders to force the germinal corner despite negative odds. As the visitors chased the game O’Sullivan burst down the right and hit an inviting low cross. Sliding in, Marcos Byrne just failed to connect and the cup was Wexford’s.
Wexford Youths U18: Shane Sinnott; Mark O’Donoghue (Eric Banville 80), Rajiv Kumar, Dale Scallon, Ben Duffy; Conor McCarney, Gary Delaney, Donal Shanley, Danny Fitzpatrick, Joseph B Wallace (Aaron Kinsella 92); Chris Fenner.
Subs not used: Dale Flynn, Stephen Kehoe, Timmy Dwyer, Evander Chatara, Brandon O’Callaghan.
Merrion U18: Conor Little; Stephen Doughan (Liam Higgins 101), Cillian Murphy, Edward McDonagh, Alan Kennedy; Mark O’Sullivan, Adam Carroll (Nick Skelly 61), Karl Corbett, Conor Ffrench, Nika Aravadze; Marcos Byrne.
Subs not used: Owen Lewis, Stephen Johnson Barker, Liam Higgins, Brian McCann, David Fitzpatrick.
Referee: Ollie Falsey.