The City Calling Stadium faithful will get their first glimpse of a rebuilt Longford Town side on Tuesday night when N4 neighbors Sligo Rovers make the short trip for this pre-season fixture. Alan Mathews men put in an impressive performance last Friday night, despite a narrow 1-0 defeat against Bray Wanderers at the AUL in Dublin, and the Midlands outfit will be hoping for a similarly strong test here. Former Town striker Ger Pender was the match winner on Friday but it was the performance of new Longford winger Dylan McGlade that had social media abuzz. The former St.Pat’s player is one of nine new faces at the City Calling Stadium and if Friday’s outing is anything to go by McGlade will have Town fans on the edge of their seats throughout 2017 thanks to his direct running and skills of pure trickery. Second half substitute Enda Curran also caught the eye in Dublin and the Galway native will have his sights set on opening his Longford account against his former clubs arch local rivals. New shot-stopper Jack Brady also left a good first impression with the small but dedicated band of traveling fans last Friday and with Paul Skinner at fault for Bray’s winner, Brady will be looking to turn the screw on his team-mate as the battle for a starting spot against his former club Shelbourne on the opening day of the season intensifies.
Local support can help Longford achieve their goals
By Shane Maguire (@betweenstripes)
After two very different seasons in the League of Ireland Premier Division, Longford Town FC are now faced with their first season back in what some call “The Graveyard” officially known as the First Division, which they won as recently as 2014. That season “De Town” finished in first place on 60 points, eight points ahead of then title rivals Shelbourne. In that title winning season Longford Town only lost on four occasions, in the season that followed Town lost a total of fourteen games. Pre-2015, many thought Town would struggle to stay up and fears were heightened after consecutive defeats at the hands of reigning champions Dundalk on the opening day and Shamrock Rovers the following week, as Premier Division football graced the City Calling Stadium for the first time in seven years. However, Town did go four games unbeaten after their shaky start, including wins away at Galway and at home to Bray. Results fluctuated in that 2015 season with uncertainty as to whether Town would finish in saftey until October when a surprise 3-2 away win at Turners Cross and a comprehensive 3-0 hammering of Drogheda United in United Park meant the club would retain its Premier Division status for 2016. Town eventually finished 6th and this was complimented further by an FAI Cup run which ended in a 2-0 semi-final defeat to eventual winners Dundalk.
Devout followers of Longford Town eagerly awaited the 2016 season, a season that promised the chance for something special to happen, perhaps a finish higher than the season before? The optimists even allowed themselves to dream of a 4th place finish which would give the club an outside chance at European football and why not? The club had a very good 2015 come the end of the season, poor results littered throughout and some questionable team selections and tactics from then manager Tony Cousins aside the club looked to be on the up with endless possibilities. This optimism was slowly killed by news during the off-season of the departure of big names. Captain Mark Salmon was let go to Bray, Gary Shaw joined Shamrock Rovers, Stephen Rice whose power and engine drove the team on in midfield swapped League of Ireland for the Irish League with a move to Glentoran, while Ayman Ben Mohammed the tricky winger with lots of pace joined Bohemians. Dean Kelly, Pat Sullivan and Mark Rossiter also departed the club. In the opinion of many Town supporters, no big effort was made to replace these names, most of whom were pivotal to the team both in 2014 and 2015. The players brought in did not have the desired impact and the Town suffered a humiliating 23 losses in 2016 winning only twice. In August Tony Cousins resigned and Longford Town’s most successful manager Alan Matthews was given the reigns. Matthews was unable to save the club from relegation, with what looked like a Tony Cousins budget squad, so 2017 is his chance to put his own stamp on the team and try to add a First Division title to the two FAI Cups and League Cup he won at his first spell with the club.
In 2017, I believe Matthews is key to Longford Town winning the First Division. It seemed the lack of planning and poor decisions were the team’s downfall in 2016 and that lies with the then manager. Matthews is experienced in the league and has bought well, exciting prospects include Dylan McGlade, Jake Kelly, Enda Curran and Stephen Walsh. The signing of two wingers and a striker to partner the clubs all-time leading goal-scorer Davy O’Sullivan shows Matthews intent to play an exciting attacking style of football. Stephen Walsh is brought in to replace the now retired Pat Flynn and has proved solid in his time with Galway. Being strong at the back is crucial in the First Division where goals are plentiful. In 2014 the team had 16 clean sheets, a number like this will be vital if “De Town” are serious about winning the title. The squad looks to be stronger in every position compared to 2016 and fans of Longford hope to see results similar to the title winning season of 2014.
In terms of rivalries, I can see only one threat in the form of Waterford F.C, formally Waterford United. Money talks in the First Division and Waterford seem to have it in spades, no sign of the club that nearly went bust under the guidance of Roddy Collins. Waterford have made a few impressive signings, local lad Kenny McEvoy, labelled “Baby Bale” the stand out signing has already scored in a pre-season game against Tranmore. The two squads of Longford Town and Waterford are evenly matched in terms of talent and they will undoubtedly be the top two. However, it is the dugouts that may play a large role in the destination of the title this season with Pat Fenlon and Alan Reynolds steering the “Blues” ship, while Alan Mathews has brought in familiar faces to him in the form of Kevin Doherty and Gary Cronin to work alongside. Both Doherty and Cronin are former LTFC players and new Longford striker Enda Curran spoke highly of the training sessions under the backroom staff to date in a recent interview on Between the Stripes. While Mathews has had a difficult few years since leaving Longford back in 2007, he is once again working at a financially stable club with people around him he can trust. These factors should help to galvanise the Midlands club and if the locals are to return in their droves to the City Calling Stadium and back the team vocally there is no reason “De Town” can’t achieve their goals this season.
Cast your mind back to mid-season 2013. Tony Cousins Longford led the way in a fiercely contested First Division promotion battle with Roddy Collins Athlone and a resurgent Waterford United hot on the leaders heels. An injury to Longford’s midfield general Mark Salmon, against none other than Athlone in a surprise 2-0 defeat at the Athlone Town Stadium, had swung the momentum in the division greatly as cracks started to appear in a previously invincible looking Longford. The need for reinforcements at both Midland clubs was clear and with both Cousins and Collins sights set on Salthill striker Enda Curran, the outcome of this transfer tug-of-war would prove key in the fate of the First Division title for that season. As the weeks went on and the speculation and column inches grew by the day, Athlone boss Collins appeared to grow increasingly impatient with the Galway man and issued him somewhat an ultimate on local radio to either make up his mind or just call the move off to Athlone all together. Collins claimed in said interview that Curran’s stalling of the move was down to Longford offering him more money but after that move then fell apart Collins was happy to welcome the striker to Lissywollen.
A debut goal at home to Finn Harps in a rocking stadium got Curran on his way as Athlone went on to leave Longford eating their dust and claim a return to the top-flight for the first time in almost a decade. Understandably this resulted in Curran flacking some stick from the other-half of the Midlands divide upon returns to City Calling Stadium with Derry City and later Galway United. When asked to reflect on the move to Athlone and everything that had gone since, Curran had this to say to Between the Stripes:
“At the time it was a difficult decision for me. Derek O’Brien was my team mate at Salthill and he decided to to Longford over Athlone. I chose Athlone but I do feel it could have went either way. I hit the ground running with Athlone and never really looked back after that! I’ve taken a lot of abuse off the Longford fans over the past few seasons but hopefully I can sway them in my favour now.”
With manager Roddy Collins moving on quickly to Derry City following his title win with Athlone, Curran was brought along for what would turn out to be a turbulent ride at the Brandywell. Curran was often played out of his natural striking position at Derry and as a result struggled to match his exploits from the season gone by. A move to home-town club Galway United would follow and despite a fantastic maiden season in 2015, where he netted 12 league goals, the up and down season the “Tribesmen” endured in 2016 clearly effected Curran, who only managed three goals. A move to recently relegated Longford Town is now the next step in the former Mervue man’s career and when asked if he felt this was the right move personally Curran stated:
“I had a good season in 2013 and as I won the league that season I only have fond memories of it! To be honest I’m not sure what people’s views on me are but I feel that 16 goals in two seasons in the Premier Division is nothing to turn your nose up at. I’ve been chopped and changed from a conventional number 9 to 10 which I don’t mind but sometimes assists are as good as goals. Last season for whatever reason I wasn’t involved as much as I liked but when I was I always felt I contributed to the team. That’s all in the past now and I’m looking forward to wearing the Red and Black of Longford!”
Strong title favourites for an upcoming season which will only see the champions promoted to the Premier Division due to the FAI’s grossly unpopular change in league structure, anything other than a league title win will be viewed as failure at Curran’s new club. With legendary manager Alan Mathews back at the helm, the former Cork City, Drogheda United, Bray Wanderers and Athlone Town boss will be hoping to add the First Division trophy to the two FAI cups and league cup collected at his previous spell with “De Town”. Despite Curran’s disappointing goals return last term, interest was still high in the twenty-four-year-old with Finn Harps reportedly one of the Premier clubs he turned down in order to make to move to Longford. Curran was quick to mention the influence Mathews had in his decision to make the Midlands move.
“When Alan spoke to me he sold the club really well and the direction the club is going. I had a couple of offers from Premier Division clubs but I felt that the way Longford Town are building towards the future that I wanted to be part of it. The signings and re-signings the club has made was a huge signal of intent of where the club is headed in my opinion.”
Curran is one of a number of star-studded signings made by Mathews over the course of the off-season. Announced jointly with Curran was the arrival of Galway team-mate Stephen Walsh and former Bray man Dean Zambra. Elsewhere the likes of Jake Kelly and Dylan McGlade are sure to get Town fans off the edge of their seats during the course of the new season. As a result the pressure of expectancy is at an all-time high at the Midlands club and Curran was asked to give his views on how the “Red and Black” may deal with such a strong spotlight for the season ahead.
“As I said previously the signings that Alan has made are a huge statement to the rest of the league but once we cross the white line we have to deliver. I think there’s enough experience to deal with that kind of pressure but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves because we know the threat the likes of Waterford/UCD/Wexford pose to us! We’re focusing on a good pre-season and “Shels” first game.”
Going on to speak about his fellow new signings, Curran stressed the quality this current Town team possesses but also spoke of his desire to learn from the more experienced members of the squad.
“It’s clear to see the talent in the group and hopefully I can add to that. The names you’ve just mentioned are going to have the crowd excited to watch us play and hopefully the results follow. “Davy” and “Kev” have done it at all levels and for me personally I intend to try to learn something off everyone I play with/under and this year is no different… I’m excited to get going.”
Ever since Curran’s arrival was announced at the club, supporters have been getting excited about the prospect of a strike partnership between Curran and the clubs all-time leading goal scorer David O’Sullivan. With the pace of Kelly, McGlade and Cowan supported by the creativity of Zambra and O’Connor, this looks like a Town team capable of blowing opposition teams away. When asked about a potential partnership with one time rival O’Sullivan, Curran said this:
“I think we both can complement each other. “Davy” has electric pace and a great eye for goal while I like to drop in, hold it up and try open space for others. It’s a partnership with potential but time will tell.”
With pre-season training now underway at all League of Ireland clubs, Curran and his new team-mates have been going through their paces under the guidance of Mathews and his coaching staff of Kevin Doherty and Gary Cronnin, both former players at the club. Curran spoke highly of pre-season to date:
“”Gaz” and “Kev” have been great to me since signing. The training has been really good and the intensity of training is very strong which is exactly what the squad needs.”
Rounding up the interview, the confident Curran was asked about personal targets for the campaign ahead and if he had been set a goals tally by the clubs coaching staff. However, for once Curran was more reserved and gave little away.
“I always set myself personal goals but I don’t let anybody know them until either I’ve reached them or else the season finishes so I won’t change that. To be honest I don’t mind if I don’t score once the result goes in our favour. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to score but the result is the most important thing to me.