Longford Town v Cobh Ramblers
The View from the Opposition – By Thomas Stafford (@Thomas_Stafford)
Cobh make the trip to Longford for the first time since 2014 on Saturday following the conclusion of “De Town’s” two year spell in the Premier Division. There have been huge changes at Ramblers in that time, with the club now in a far better position both on and off the field.
Cobh are no longer a side merely existing in the First Division and now aim to compete for promotion on a yearly basis. Alas the elimination of the play-offs for the 2017 campaign looks to have put that ambition out of reach this year, given the resources of Waterford, Longford and perhaps Shelbourne. The emphatic end-of-season run in 2016 which saw Cobh meet Drogheda in the play-offs may not be repeated this time around but the Rams are still a side to look out for and well capable of picking up impressive results.
Three points would already be in the bag if it wasn’t for a rather controversial Wexford equaliser late on last week. Manager Stephen Henderson was vocal in his criticism of the South East club and their manager Damien Locke as they played on when Cobh had put the ball out of play due to an injury to captain Chris McCarthy. With the Ramblers defence expecting the ball to be played back to them, Wexford slyly played on and grabbed a dramatic equaliser through Lee Duffy. The incident marred the earlier stunning goal by new-signing Dean Swords who had smashed a 25 yard free-kick into the Wexford goal.
The afore-mentioned Swords is one of numerous arrivals at St Colman’s Park this season. Limerick duo Shane Lowth and Ross Mann both arrived from last year’s First Division champions while Craig Donnelan made his switch from Cork City permanent. Swords, Karl Caulfield and goalkeeper Michal Sadys have all moved up from Munster Senior League clubs Ringmahon Rangers, Kilreen Celtic and Mayfield United respectively. Adam Mylod is another goalkeeper to arrive from Cork City, giving former Longford Town favourite Paul Hunt plenty of competition for the number one spot.
Perhaps the greatest addition however, is that of Stuart Ashton as the side’s new assistant manager. Widely praised and regarded for his underage work at Cork City, Ashton was something of a coup for this seaside club and his influence can already be seen. His experience of working with young talent is pivotal in assisting Stephen Henderson with this young side. 17 year old James McSweeney made his league debut against Wexford and the defender will undoubtedly have a big future in the game.
The bad must be taken with the good and the League of Ireland transfer merry-go-round inevitably saw players depart the “Rams” in the off-season. Garry Comerford and Shane O’Connor signed for Waterford as the “Blues” showed off their newfound financial prowess. Last year’s captain Kevin Mulcahy has stepped back from the club due to work commitments, while promising talent Connor Ellis has returned to Cork City following the end of his loan deal. Striker Rob Lehane returned to boyhood club Douglas Hall with Jonathan Creamer also departing.
Cobh operate on a tight budget as is commonplace in the League. As such, it was felt that any excess monies for the playing budget should be kept until the 2018 season when the play-offs are re-incarnated and Ramblers can truly push for promotion viably. This season is not a write-off by any means and a surprise may still happen. Whatever does happen however, the club will put financial stability to the fore which must be appreciated even if it may be somewhat unappealing.
Social Media and Marketing is another area where the club continues to progress off-the-field. The FAI recently revealed figures from 2016 highlighting that the club’s social media audience had risen by 33% for the year. A figure only behind Dundalk (52%) and Wexford (36%). A Marketing Subcommittee was established to implement a marketing strategy put forward by Masters Students from Cork Institute of Technology. The viral #JoinPaul campaign, whilst cringe-worthy in content, reached over 50,000 individuals on the club pages alone and saw participants from across the globe promote the club in a positive manner. The club match-day programme has been completely revamped (be sure to buy a copy the next time you’re at a game!) while club photographers and graphic designers have been brought on board to improve content. On the night of this game the club will have representatives at the annual East Cork Sports Awards in Midleton which is another sign that the club is moving in the right direction.
As this is Cobh’s final game before our upcoming Q&A with Irish legend Roy Keane on March 10th, it seems fitting to mention his time at the club. “Keano” played against Longford twice while at Ramblers during the 1989/90 season. The Manchester United legend spent St. Stephen’s day of 1989 in Longford as Cobh came away with a 2-2 draw. A few weeks later on January 14th, Keane and his teammates were 1-0 victors at home to the Midland side at St Colman’s Park. I doubt many in attendance expected what the future had in store for Roy on those occasions. You never know what might become of the players on show this Saturday.
Cobh and Longford have produced some classics in recent years, particularly the 2013 season when Cobh returned to League of Ireland action after a four year absence. Both games at St Colman’s that season finished 4-3, each side gaining a victory. I vividly remember missing the second of those and having to anxiously watch Twitter updates on the DART from Dublin to Rosslare. Fellow passengers were probably curious as to what a 16 year old was doing letting out a gleeful shout while looking at his phone that evening. That was the result of Davin O’Neill’s 84th minute winner. Those are the moments that you realise that this league truly has you hooked.
BIO: Thomas Stafford – Cobh Ramblers Fan – @Thomas_Stafford
Similar to many other young people from Cobh, Ramblers’ promotion winning season of 2007 first drew me into the club. The whole town was behind the club at that time and “Rams” games were the place to be for ten year old me. Alas the side faded away from 2009 onwards, competing in the A Championship. In 2012 I began to gain an interest in the u19 league and the club’s successful side who had won the Southern Division that year. Just seeing Cobh up against Shamrock Rovers, Cork City and St Pat’s had me intrigued. Even if it was only u19 football in front of 28 spectators. I began writing for loi19.com (RIP) and soon after the club’s senior side returned to existence. We were now back in the big time. Alongside some fellow young fans, we booked supporters’ buses across the country thanks in part to our principal making announcements in school to help fill the seats. The seasons progressed but the club didn’t. Until last year. The likes of Eoin O’Sullivan, Lesley Henderson, Stephen Henderson and Shane Kavanagh (really are too many to name) put the club back on the map for the right reasons and brought us back from the brink. I am now the club’s social media manager as well as a member of the Marketing Subcommittee. You wonder at times why you get involved but returning from Athlone with three points on a wet Friday night makes it worthwhile. We now have a club to be proud of, a club that Cobh is proud of. This team is its town and this town is its team.