NEW LOOK LONGFORD SET TO EXCITE IN 2016
While there can be no denying Longford Town’s success over recent seasons with the triumphant 2014 league winning season being followed up by a top six finish in the top flight last year, critics have pointed to a lack of exciting football on display throughout Tony Cousins six plus year tenure. Often supporters have joked over the constant use of what they describe as always predictable 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 formations but is that about to change in 2016?
In four pre-season games played so far, “De Town” have scored eleven goals with the new look front three of O’Sulivan, O’Hanlon and Duffy/Simon grabbing over half of those with six of the overall tally. Prior to the opening friendly of the year at home to Limerick, which ended in a 2-2 draw, whispers of Tony Cousins operating an exciting new 4-3-3 formation in training had begun to circulate and that was evident from the very first whistle. Even before kick-off that night it was spotted by some eagle eye fans that the pitch at City Calling Stadium had been brought in another two yards on the wings, this follows the pitch being narrowed before the visit of Dundalk in the league last season. Now one of the narrowest playing surfaces in the top flight, it is clear that the very few wingers in the Longford Town squad this season may find it hard to get game time with particular importance being placed on the full-backs getting forward to support a dynamic middle three.
While much has been made of Tony Cousins trimming some of the older heads from what was as already mentioned a very successful Town squad, while “De Town” boss also lost the highly experienced Pat Sullivan to retirement, and the fact the average age of the squad has been dramatically slashed, Cousins has been keen to state the mix of youth and wise heads available to him this season and rightfully so. Starting in the very first position on the team-sheet, Cousins has at his disposal the well-travelled Paul Skinner while new signing and former Leeds United academy shot-stopper Ian Morris will provide the challenge for the number one jersey. Across the back four there is a wonderful blend of youth and experience with Jamie Mulhall looking for his big break through season at right-full back while Noel Haverty will provide solid cover to the likes of Mark Rossiter, Pat Flynn and Rhys Gorman. In fact, that extra cover has already paid dividends for “De Town” with the news that Rhys Gorman will miss at least the first four weeks of the new campaign with a fractured ankle. Combine that news with the fact that Pat Flynn is yet to play a pre-season game as he continues his off-season recovery, Tony Cousins will be very happy with his options at present. In the midfield, Kevin O’Connor continues to develop like a fine wine as the former Bray Wanderers playmaker seems to just get better and better with age while last summer’s signing from West Brom, Phillip Gannon appears as if he can become a real star not only with “De Town” this season but within the League of Ireland as a whole. Much was made of the eight new arrivals at the club during the transfer window and whether or not they have what it takes to improve the squad but in Kealan Dillon Longford looked to have unearthed a real star. Elsewhere, the likes of Mark Hughes could go under the radar for his new side this season and grow into a crucial member of the starting eleven at City Calling Stadium. However, it’s up front where the real excitement will come this season for the ‘Red and Black’ with the mix of pace, power, skill and raw goal scoring ability of O’Hanlon, O’Sullivan and Duffy leaving Town fans on the edge of their seats.
Those who followed Longford’s 2013 First Division campaign closely will remember the returns reaped from the O’Sullivan and O’Hanlon partnership and when you through in the strength of former “Drog” Duffy, we very well could be looking at one of the best attacking line-ups in the League of Ireland. There are slight concerns however, should one of this attacking trio fall to injury it leaves the mostly inexperienced options of Kaleem Simon and Karl Chambers as Longford’s only other front options, although it must be said Chambers looks to be one of the best under-19 prospects to come through the club in quite a while. Also, there are question marks over how the club will deal with the return of O’Hanlon to his parent club Bournemouth in the summer but again the opportunity to add in the summer window will then be available to Tony Cousins so perhaps it will not be as big an issue as many are making out.
While all of this makes for a hugely exciting 2016 season, it is not expected that Longford will build on or repeat the top six finish of last season. However, given the lower average age of this squad combined with the new emphasis on passing football and ball retention over the previous safety first approach, it could be argued anything above a finish away from the drop zone would be a hugely successful and worthwhile campaign for Tony Cousins and his charges.