Having received an interesting tweet from a Longford Town supporter the other evening which stated ”De Town” are the 3rd highest ranked outsiders to win the league, with only Wexford Youths and Finn Harps listed at larger odds, the question of squad strength and transfer dealings jumped to mind.
Cast your mind back to the start of 2015, Longford were coming into the Premier Division still on a high from the First Division title success of 2014, the key cogs in that team such as David O’Sullivan and Stephen Rice had remained while some fresh faces were added in order to bolster an already capable looking squad. The pundits highlighted the levels of experience among the Longford ranks and anything below an 8th place finish would be deemed disappointing it seemed. Of course, a fantastic 6th place finish would occur as well as an enjoyable cup run all the way to the FAI cup semi-finals, the talk was of building on this success and perhaps pushing the elite powers of Irish football over the coming years.
However, then things began to go quiet. The wait for incomings dragged on and soon the wait for news of arrivals turned into shock as some ground shaking departures were announced. The first of those departures came on the same surprising day as Stephen Rice and club legend and league winning captain Mark Salmon both revealed on social media that they had not been offered new deals by the club. Record breaking goalkeeper Paul Hunt was next to follow while a rake of players such as Lorcan Shannon, Gary Shaw and Aymen Ben Mohamed would all move elsewhere. Have their been positives during the off-season? Of course there has, the capture of Kealan Dillon from Bohemians could prove to be one of Town’s best in recent seasons should the former Athlone man finally live up to his undoubted potential while Cabinteely’s John McKeon could add goals to a defensively minded looking midfield. Mark Hughes from Drogheda should also add creative thinking to that middle part of the field while Lee Duffy should help fill the void left by towering striker Shaw. However, just as much as these players have undoubted potential they do come with bags of question marks with Duffy and Hughes signing on from a team that experienced relegation last season while Cabinteely is a world away from the Premier Division for new boy McKeon.
The real question marks over Tony Cousins current squad will come in the first few positions on his team sheet. ‘Keeper Paul Skinner made a number of high profile mistakes last season and rumoured new signing Ian Molloy of Leeds United youth teams has yet to be exposed to this level of football. At the back the retirement of Pat Sullivan and the continuing injury issues for Pat Flynn leave Town fans worried about a lack of experienced cover in key defensive areas with the futures of Martin Deady and Mark Rossiter not yet announced by the club, who for some reason have failed to announced any departures from the club during the off-season. Should those two players depart the club as seems to be the general consensus among ”De Town” faithful at present that leaves under-19 promotee Keith Byrne as the only centre-half cover for Flynn and Rhys Gorman with no cover at left back for Conor Powell.
Compare that to last season where Cousins found it impossible to keep all of his centre backs happy as Willie Tyrell and Tom Morris departed mid-season in search of regular first team football while Mark Rossiter often saw action when not injured.
One area that perhaps does look stronger ahead of 2016 however, is the striking department with the clubs all-time leading goalscorer Davy O’Sullivan on board for another season while Lee Duffy and Josh O’Hanlon have signed on with Daryl Carrigy expected to step up from 19’s football. Again though, question marks still pop up in this area as Duffy prefers to play in a lone strikers role which leaves it to be seen if he can blend with O’Sullivan and O’Hanlon who formed a dynamic partnership previously at the club. The return of O’Hanlon to the Midlands club is a welcome one given his potential but with his loan deal from AFC Bournemouth only running up until June, it is far from an ideal situation for manager Tony Cousins. Should all three of these players click early on in the season though the goals could flow for Longford and who knows what Tony Cousins may still have lined up before the close of play in the transfer market.
In conclusion while ”De Town’s” back four is undoubtably weaker at present than it was this time last year, the addition of an experienced centre-half and cover at left back would help sure up the worries Town fans are expressing. In attack, this is a much more dangerous looking Longford side but finding the right combination may be an issue for Cousins early on in the year while an injury to someone of O’Sullivans stature at the club could derail the whole season before it’s even begin. Back four and ‘keeper issues aside, the lack of goal scoring midfielders could be a real issue for Town in 2016 with only Kealan Dillon and John McKeon showing those sort of attributes as Kevin O’Connor and Phillip Gannon look set to be used in deeper roles. However, the one ace card Longford will be hoping to be able to call upon next season is a fully fit Don Cowan and should he be able to prove his fitness in pre-season it will be a major boost in the arm to everyone involved with LTFC, but at the moment that remains a big if.
With all the pundits expecting Wexford to finish as the bottom side in the top flight this season, the opening game of the campaign between Town and Youths in Ferrycarrig Park could prove key in terms of building confidence early on in the year and with Finn Harps looking set to be well organised again this term, you would have to say at this moment in time the bookies look to have it spot on in having ”De Town” as the 10th best team in the Premier Division for 2016.