Wexford boss Brian O'Sullivan: 'The aim this year was more about changing the culture of the club'

Wed, Jul 29 2020

Brian O'Sullivan Credit: Steve Alfred (ETPhotos)

Wexford boss Brian O’Sullivan is wary of the challenges that his side face in this year’s First Division as football nears its long-awaited return.

Wexford began the 2020 campaign with two draws in their opening three league games. They also fell to a defeat away to Bray Wanderers by two goals to nil.

However, the beginning to the 2020 campaign already feels a tad more optimistic than it was at this stage last year.

2019 was far from a memorable year at Ferrycarrig Park, as the Slaneysiders officially finished 9th only because of the 26-point deduction imposed on Limerick FC – was it not for the deduction they would have finished last.

They picked up two wins all season and conceded a total of 65 goals – an average of over two goals per game, while also picking up only 11 points.

“Last year was a hard year for us,” O’Sullivan admits to extratime.com. “David (Breen) and I came in and we relied on the club for the players to hang around and work with us.

“We added four or five players in but even with bringing them in it did not work. We were a long way off in terms of the quality that was in the squad and we had to sit down and re-assess.

“From speaking to lads like Collie [O’Neill], Daire [Doyle] and even Alan Reynolds, we came up with a plan at the club.

“We wanted lads at the club who wanted to play League of Ireland football, and players who could fit their social lives around playing League of Ireland football.”

O’Sullivan managed to lure the former UCD sestet of Dan Tobin, Conor Crowley, Kaleem Simon, Tom Murphy, Charlie Smith, and Cian Kavanagh to the club.

“We’re trying to create a good culture,” he added. “Last year we had lads who couldn’t do pre-season because they were on holidays or worked and some couldn’t train on the weekend.

“The culture of the club was all wrong, so we wanted to bring in young lads and the age group of our players is between 20 and 24.”

Of the 2020 squad at Ferrycarrig Park, only three remain at the club from 2019 – Liam Berry, Colum Feeney and Conor English – with 18 new arrivals.

“A lot of them have played in the League of Ireland before. We have lads coming in who want to play for the club and they have been a breath of fresh air around the place. 

“If we can keep 75-80% of the group from this year into next year we can keep improving and you never know where you might end up but we’ve a very long way to go.”

And after learning from his coaching peers, O’Sullivan emphasised the importance of changing the culture at the club – as Wexford have finished no higher than second bottom in the First Division since 2017.

“The aim this year was more about changing the culture of the club and looking at who could commit to the club.

“We finished bottom really so it’s just about improving from that. We are not saying we want to finish mid-table or anything.

“We just want to win as many games as possible, take one game at a time because it’s a ruthless league.

“Once you start looking at games down the line you lose concentration and you lose focus, that’s when you get done.

“We’ll look at Athlone then and go from things after that. Hopefully, we will move up the table a little bit with the games ahead, but we’ll just look at Athlone first on Friday night.”

The Slaneysiders – like their fellow League of Ireland counterparts – will have to play the majority, if not all of their matches behind closed doors, and O’Sullivan is wary of the challenges that may pose.

“Players feed off the crowd. It gives them that extra man as they say but it is hard. It is the same for everyone across the playing field.

“It’s not as if some clubs are going to have fans at the games and others won’t – it’s the same for everyone.

“It’s just something we have to get on with. Everyone is happy to be back and it’s just a barrier we have to overcome but hopefully they do come back soon because the game is really about the fans.”

The UEFA A License holder was however pleased with the condition his players came back in following the cessation of football activities: “The majority of the group came back in better condition than they were in before lockdown.

“But in terms of the football side of things, getting up to the speed of things has taken us quite a while. But as we have gone on, we’ve got better (with the friendlies played).”

Up first for Wexford is a trip to face Athlone Town at Lissywoolen – another side who will be keen to right the wrongs of last season after a recent revamp in the Midlands.

He adds: “Athlone are going to be well organised and fit (on Friday). They had some great results and you can see what Adrian (Carberry) is doing up there from the outset.

“He’s got good local lads and players from the surrounding areas. It will be a difficult game but it’s not one we’ll be fearful of.

“We can hopefully pick up three points, and we’re more than capable of doing that. We’re just looking forward to it and hopefully it’ll be a good game on the night.”