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.