One of the most damaging seasons in Longford Town FC’s history will draw to a dark conclusion on Friday night as Alan Mathews already relegated charges look to claim a home league win for the first and only time in 2016. With only two Premier Division victories to their credit this term, “De Town” have been bracing themselves for the big drop for quite a while now as First Division football stares the club in the face for the first time since winning the division in 2014. Having secured a top six finish just last season, many had hoped for a long and successful spell for the Midlanders in the top flight, who were last relegated back in 2007, however it wasn’t meant to be as poor transfer business and a lack of leadership both on and off the pitch cost the Red and Black dear in 2016. Despite only winning twice all season, some were still holding out hope for a great Longford revival as the season entered ‘squeaky bum-time’, but in the cold light of day it was the 2-0 away defeat to 11th placed Wexford Youths that acted as the final nail in the Longford coffin. That defeat was Tony Cousins signal to pack up shop and move on out as the leagues longest serving manager finally admitted defeat in his efforts to keep the club up, and while many supporters will say Alan Mathews had little or no chance of turning things around it could have proved all so different only for three major defensive calamities in the recent 3-2 home defeat against Derry City. Having led both 1-0 and 2-1 Longford had a real chance to crank the pressure up on a vulnerable Wexford Youths but that defeat followed by a sloppy 1-0 away defeat to Derry all but marked “De Town’s” card before none other than champions Dundalk officially relegated them. Last weekend Alan Mathews had the task of picking up his downed troops for what was effectively an end of season dead rubber away to Galway United and it must be said the visitors were unlucky not to go away with the three points. Some lackluster finishing from frontman David O’Sullivan let the ”Tribesmen” off the hook, although the result did see Longford record a rare clean sheet….their 4th of the season in all competitions.
Friday’s visitors to the City Calling Stadium have seen a managerial change of their own this campaign with Pat Fenlon being replaced by Stephen Bradley on a caretaker basis, at least for the time being. With uncertainty over Bradley’s future this very well could be a good opportunity for Longford Town to claim a long overdue win against the famous Hoops. There was a real end of season feel to Rovers most recent league game with Bray Wanderers at the weekend as the near neighbors played out a scoreless draw at the Tallaght Stadium. Despite qualifying for European football next season, it’s been yet another story of underachievement for Ireland’s most successful club this season and a big turn around in personal will be expected once the curtain comes down on Friday night. Bradley and his coaching staff, which includes former Republic of Ireland World Cup squad member Damien Duff, have placed a lot of faith in promising youth talent such as Sean Boyd, Aaron Dobbs and James Doona towards the end of this season and they will be one of several young Hoops expecting to be involved in what is effectively an end of season friendly on Friday night.
One of the few bright lights in Longford Town’s story this season was that of the under-19’s run to the Shield semi-finals, where they were extremely unlucky to crash out at home to Bohemians after a penalty-shoot-out. As a result, a large section of the clubs fanbase have been calling for those young players, particularly the local ones to be rewarded with some senior minutes by Alan Mathews. With the recent Galway game coming just a couple of days after that draining under-19 semi-final, Mathews hands were slightly tied in picking players from that team for his senior squad traveling to Deacy Park but with the youths season now over and this final league game both being a total dead rubber and in the familiar surroundings of “CCS”, the former Shelbourne and Bray Wanderers boss may not get a better opportunity to blood some local talent.
As for the first-team players available to both managers, Alan Mathews has no new injury concerns to oversee while returning from suspension for Shamrock Rovers are none other than Dave Webster and Gary Shaw. Former Longford fan favorite Shaw will be eager to show his old employers what they were missing out on this season, having scored crucial goals at this stage of last year to help Longford stay up. Luke Byrne will sit out the visit to the Midlands however, as he continues to recover from injury.
On a side note, Friday’s game will see the career of one of the leagues most popular players Pat Flynn come to an end. The man known as “Pajo” will bow out against the club he won back to back LOI titles with back in 2010 and 2011, while he also collected the now defunct Setanta Sports Cup with Shamrock Rovers. Flynn signed for “De Town” in 2014 and hit up an instant winning partnership with long-time friend and fellow former “Hoop” Pat Sullivan as a team, that also included former Rovers captain Stephen Rice, claimed the First Division title for the first time in Longford Town FC’s ninty-two year history.