Youths coach Elmes bullish as Champions League fate awaits

Fri, Jun 21 2019

Elmes said his side have worked extensively on fitness to bridge the gap this year. Credit: Steve Alfred (ETPhotos)

Wexford Youths will find out the identity of their Champions League opponents this afternoon as the draw for the qualifying groups takes place in Nyon at 12.30pm Irish time.

Youths have been designated third seeds once more and will be up against it to qualify with only the winner of each of the ten groups going through to the knockout stages.

Last season saw Youths drawn to a local host as Belfast provided the backdrop for a group containing Linfield, Ajax of the Netherlands and Iceladic side Thor/KA.

Youths got off to the dream start as Rianna Jarrett headed them into an early second-half lead against the Dutch champions at Crusaders’ Seaview ground in north Belfast.

Reality soon bit for the Irish champions, however, as the physically and technically excellent Amsterdam side hit four goals in reply to win the tie.

A defeat in the second game against a similarly top-class Thor/KA side was followed up by an enthralling 3-2 win over Linfield at Windsor Park as Youths confirmed their third-placed seeding.

This time around, a trip to Belfast is off the cards as Linfield haven’t been drawn as hosts, while Ajax failed to qualify after being pipped to the Eredivisie title by Twente.

Twente, along with Gintra Universitetas of Lithuania, whom Youths met in both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 campaigns, beating them 1-0 in the first instance, are the hosts to avoid as top seeds.

Other top seeds to avoid are last season’s quarter-finalists LSK Kvinner of Norway and perennially strong BIIK-Kazygurt of Kazakhstan, who beat Youths at home in 2016.

Scotland’s Hibernian and Romania’s Universitatae Olimpia Cluj may offer more manageable first seeds, while Vllaznia of Albania and NSA Sofia of Bulgaria are among the weakest second seeds.

Success in the groups would see Youths thrown into an open draw alongside the likes of holders Olympique Lyonnais and English champions Arsenal, for whom Katie McCabe and Louise Quinn line out.

Youths manager Tom Elmes is bullish in any case, and insists his side learned valuable lessons from last season’s campaign, particularly from professional sides Ajax and Thor/KA.

“We always come back from the Champions League stronger,” Elmes told extratime.ie.

“It’s great to go and compete over there. It’s a great opportunity for the players to gel and learn things.

“We came back last season even stronger from the Champions League so hopefully we can do that again, but even better if we qualify as well.”

Elmes maintains the biggest thing the likes of Ajax taught them was home important it is to look after the ball at this level, because technically and physically-imposing don’t give it away easily.

It's a standard that's improved across the board in the Women's National League, with league leaders Peamount United and Shelbourne also showing huge improvements.

“You learn that you have to look after that ball really well. The biggest thing we learned though last year was the physicality and the overall fitness. It’s something we’ve really paid attention to.

“Fitness was the big thing we took back from that and brought into our training this year and I think we’re seeing the benefits of that now.”