For almost the first time this season, Longford Town FC will start as the bookies favorites for victory as they travel to a familiar stomping ground in the RSC. It’s the second round of the FAI Cup and this tie has the makings of a classic encounter with so many plots and sub-plots to talk about in the build up to tomorrows game. Waterford United have been in the headlines all season, but sadly it is once again for all the wrong reasons as the “Blues” struggle to keep their heads above water. The clubs hierarchy will be hoping the holy grail of the FAI Cup will be enough to entice much needed supporters through the turnstiles, however, a recent attendance of 229 against UCD in the First Division highlights the extreme struggles the club face at present locally. On the touchline you have the reunion of old foes Tony Cousins and Roddy Collins, as former Athlone boss Collins continues his return from a harsh six-match ban handed down by the FAI. The “Rodster” of course pipped Tony Cousins to the First Division title in 2013 with plenty of verbal exchanges between the two on the way to Athlone’s famous title win. With the Longford boss under immense pressure in recent weeks, Collins will be eager to put another nail in his rivals coffin and this is what makes Friday’s match-up so intriguing.
Longford boss Cousins will have no reason to fear a slip up against the First Division outfit however, as his side come into the game off the back of an excellent performance against St.Pat’s in Inchicore last week. A 3-3 thriller doesn’t tell half the tale of one of the games of the season, which was captured live on Setanta Sports, but it did once again show up Longford’s inability to defend in simple situations while the goalkeeping situation was again highlighted. The poor performances of Ian Molloy in goals since Paul Skinner’s hamstring injury has lead to calls for local ‘keeper Dylan McGeoy to get the nod and he further echoed those calls with a penalty save in an under-19’s match at Finn Park at the weekend. However, with Skinner expected back shortly it seems unlikely Cousins will rock the boat and drop Molloy, who only joined the club in the off-season.
Sitting third from bottom in what is an extremely weak First Division this term, the “Blues” have lost six of eleven league matches with four wins coming in the campaign. However, their can be a glimmer of hope for followers of United as they have won their last two games 3-1, with the win over UCD a fortnight ago a huge surprise to many as the “Students” were one of the divisions promotion favorites in pre-season.
This fixture is steeped in history, with Friday night’s game of course a rematch of the infamous ‘two balls on the pitch’ final of 2004 at Landsdowne Road. In more recent years, these two great rivals also clashed in the First Division play-offs with Waterford beating “De Town” over two legs in 2012 prior to losing to troubled Dundalk in the relegation/promotion final. That is just a sign of how quickly fortunes can turn within Irish football with the “Lillywhites” going on to dominate the top flight while Waterford are now the ones trying to keep the doors open at present.
Despite plying their trades in separate divisions, the two sides have met already in 2016 with the “Blues” beating a strong Longford team in the final game of pre-season 2-1 at the RSC. Philly Gorman was on the scoresheet that day and if Roddy Collins men are to have any hope of an upset on Friday, they will need the former Athlone hit-man on his very best form. With seventeen-year-old Tristan Noak Hofmann likely to be one of the centre-backs picking Gorman up, it should be a great learning curve for the talented defender who has already caught the eye of Ireland under-19 boss Tom Mohan. Not only is Gorman one of the divisions most prolific finishers but he is a handful for defenders with his strong physical presence meaning Tony Cousins will be relying on the likes of Mark Rossiter and Pat Flynn to watch the back of young Hofmann.
With Longford not playing a league game until Sunday week, this early round cup tie offers Tony Cousins the rare opportunity to field a full-side and possibly score a few goals against what on paper is an inferior opponent. With the St.Pat’s performance under their belts, a big win here and some top performances from players who up until last week have struggled for form, could be exactly the tonic the doctor ordered and help fire “De Town” off the bottom of the Premier Division table. However, with big six-pointers against the likes of Finn Harps and Bray Wanderers on the horizon, it could be easy for Longford to take their eye of the ball at the RSC and if that happens then expect the “Blues” to capatilise.
PREDICTION: Longford Town win.