Having won everything Irish football has to offer, as well as being part of a cup triumph with Maltese outfit Valetta FC, the challenges of this season are of a very different kind for legendary striker Declan O’Brien. The former Drogheda United hero has joined Longford Town’s coaching staff as a strength and condition coach while also continuing to play for Glenavon in the Irish Premiership. Despite this foray into the world of coaching being “Fabio’s” first in senior football, the two-time FAI Cup winner is adamant there will be no issues with time and focus even though he continues to play at a high level.
“I think the two roles are working quite well together and when I retire, which is not too long away, I’ll be able to throw a lot more time into the fitness and S&C (strength and conditioning) side of things. It’s the perfect way to stay involved for me as I love the dressing room banter and the buzz on game day, so going into a fitness role which I’m very passionate about is a no brainier really.”
When O’Brien’s arrival at the City Calling Stadium was announced a lot of people instantly thought it was in a playing role. Even when it became clear “Fabio” was to take over as Longford’s strength and conditioning coach, questions of a possible playing position for the veteran striker were raised. Telling ‘Between the Stripes’ of how the Longford job came about and if a playing contract was discussed, O’Brien answered with:
“Tony rang me up and asked to meet as he knew I had got involved in the S&C side of game in the last few years. Having worked with Tony previously and gotten on so well it was a nice fit for both os us.”
“Myself and Tony spoke about a possible playing role but we decided that won’t be happening, as I think marrying the two together would be difficult to get the best out of both roles.”
Derry City have been one of the leading clubs this off-season in investing towards strength and conditioning for its players as well as investing heavily in other health orientated areas such as nutrition and dieting. While such procedures have come to the fore in English and particularly European football over the past decade or so, it has not always been the main focus within League of Ireland circles. When O’Brien was asked whether he felt his new employers were behind or ahead of the game in terms of their S&C set-up the former Athlone man said:
“I think Tony has seen other clubs making progress in this field and recognised its importance and rightly in my opinion acted on it. This can only bode well for the future of the club as it’s getting more evident that it helps massively over a season in keeping guys on the pitch and in better condition.”
With Tony Cousins bringing in eight new recruits during the off-season, O’Brien has been given an important task in preparing these players for the new campaign with Longford and getting the squad up to scratch for what is a massive season for the “Midlanders”. Speaking on his experiences with the team so far O’Brien stated:
“I’ve been really impressed to date, it seems a very hungry group who are all looking to better their game and learn from every session and from the staff at Longford. These guys are getting the right info and the very best of everything so all looks promising.”
Focusing away momentarily to speak on his playing career, O’Brien declared his delight at moving up North to play in the Irish Premiership despite playing League of Ireland football for the vast majority of his fifteen-year long career.
“The Irish “Prem” has been a great move for me as I feel it’s always nice to ply your trade elsewhere and learn from different leagues and structures. The league is probably slower in tempo (compared to the LOI) but there are some very talented players up there so delighted I made the move! The facilities are a lot better and cater for a family atmosphere at grounds which I think in the south we lack badly.”
Having scored over one-hundred-and-fifty career goals, O’Brien is well qualified to speak on potential upcoming talent and thankfully for Longford fans, the Dublin native sees plenty to get excited about in the current Town squad.
“I have seen some very talented lads in training and I’m really looking forward to seeing how Phillip Gannon and Karl chambers do. I could name a lot of them as been highly impressive and Josh O’Hanlon has enormous potential so here’s hoping he hits the ground running! Lee Duffy is another who I thing could keep on surprising people, very raw but wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit double figures! As I said I could keep going but that is just to name a few.”
With new signing from Bray, Peter McGlynn today tweeting to say he is currently out of action with what he hopes will turn out to be just a minor injury problem, and Josh O’Hanlon limping out of last night’s friendly against Limerick following a knock, “Fabio” will have his work cut out as pre-season training continues this week in preparation for Friday’s friendly away to Cabinteely. In other injury news, troubled winger Don Cowan was not present at “CCS” yesterday evening as the club continue to try and nurse him back to fitness following a long and frustrating spell on the side-lines, but in more positive news centre-half Pat Flynn is optimistic he will be available for selection on March 4th when “De Town’s” season kicks-off for real with a trip to Ferrycarrig Park on the opening night of the 2016 campaign.