Despite his tender years and overall lack of senior experience, Tristan Noack Hofmann has a more interesting backstory than most. Aged just eighteen, Hofmann made his senior debut for Longford Town in the midst of one of the worst seasons in the clubs history. With just one win to their credit and relegation nothing more than a matter of time, Hofmann was drafted in to face an in-form Derry City side at the City Calling Stadium, as an injury crisis hit the critically ill Longford. What followed was a display of maturity far beyond the Moyne community school pupil’s years as the talented young full-back kept one of the country’s top marksmen in Rory Patterson under wraps throughout. Given the fact Moyne C.S. was also the school of choice for the legendary Sean Prunty, it’s no surprise to see comparisons already been drawn by excited Town supporters. Six more equally impressive showings would follow in 2016 and it wasn’t long before international recognition would follow as former Finn Harps man and then Republic of Ireland under-18’s manager Tom Mohan came calling. Selected for upcoming internationals against Hungary and Sweden in Sweden, Hofmann’s rise was meteoric and it was no surprise to see the defender earn an invite to train with AFC Bournemouth of the Premier League at the end of a roller-coaster year. Currently concentrating on the small matter of his Leaving Certificate, Hofmann took time out to discuss his story so far with Between the Stripes.
Prior to reflecting on his initial breakthrough into the senior ranks at Longford Town, Hofmann was asked about his unusual route into League of Ireland football via Mullingar Athletic and more noticeably through a spell in German football with FK Pirmasens. On his time in Germany and the base it has given him to build off, Hofmann said:
“Playing in Germany was a good experience to develop myself as a player. It gave me a good feel as to where I was at and what I needed to improve on. You probably know yourself national team wise, the difference between how the Irish play in comparison to the Germans and the same is reflected throughout youth football. It really gave me the chance to get a proper feel for the technical aspect of the game rather than the physical aspect which is so widely seen in Irish football.”
Quickly moving on discuss being thrown in at the deep end under then Town boss Tony Cousins, the youngster was eager to praise the manager who gave him the chance to make a name for himself in senior football, even if it was largely due to an injury crisis at the time.
“Obviously playing competitive matches with the first team was an environment I wasn’t really use to but the lads and Tony (Cousins) were great, they took me under their big eagle wing and made me feel at home which definitely made life a lot easier for me. Obviously you have to adapt and adjust to the new level but like I said when you have good professionals around you and good coaches that believe in you it definitely helps.”
Aside from his experiences in Germany and with non-league Mullingar, Hofmann had already donned the colours of LTFC albeit for the clubs under-19’s. Often a major talking point among followers and players of the league alike, Hofmann was asked for his views on the gap between underage and senior League of Ireland football and if a reserve or under 21/23 league could help bridge said gap.
“I haven’t really thought about it all that much to be honest. There definitely is a gap from u19’s to first team football there’s no doubt, so yes it (a reserve/under 23 league) may be a good opportunity for younger players, who maybe mightn’t be getting as much game time, to establish themselves.”
Despite that gap in playing standard and physicality, Hofmann quickly caught the eye and despite a string of stand-out performances at the elite level of domestic football in Ireland, Tristan admitted his surprise at been selected so soon for international recognition.
“I was a bit surprised to be honest, I didn’t really expect it. Obviously a proud moment, it’s one of them things where at the time when you’re playing you don’t really think about it because you’re focused on the game itself but definitely a proud moment for me.”
The pleasant surprises and tasters of high-level football and training were not to stop there for Hofmann, who despite relegation with “De Town” in 2016, did enough to earn a four-day long invitation to train with English Premier League high-flyers Bournemouth. Speaking on his experience with the “Cherries”, Hofmann remained level headed when asked if a more permanent move to English football was his long-term ambition as it has been for many young LOI players throughout the years.
“It was a good experience and one that I learned a lot from. It gives you a bit of a taster what life is like at an academy club, so it was nice. It all depends on the player really if their goal is to go to England or not, you never know what goal he has for himself but it still is a goal for a lot of us.”
Moving on to the present season and Hofmann had to bide his time at the beginning of this campaign for a starting berth at Alan Mathews new look Longford. Off the back of such a strong 2016, many supporters of the Midlands club were left scratching their heads as to why Hofmann was not featuring on a regular occurrence as Town got their First Division campaign underway. However, the player himself was quick to admit a poor pre-season was to blame for his lack of game-time at the start of this season.
“I wasn’t particularly happy with how I performed in pre-season, which didn’t help me when it came to the first few weeks of the season. However Alan (Mathews), Gary (Cronin) and Kevin (Doherty) have been great, all three of them are very good on the training ground which has helped me gain back a bit of confidence and get back to playing better football.”
Having not featured in the early exchanges of 2017, debate began to break out over which position Hofmann should occupy if an up-turn in form was to come from the youngster. Having been chopped and changed from left-back to centre-half during Tony Cousins reign, Hofmann broke back into Alan Mathews plans at full-back recently. When asked where he saw his best football coming from, Hofmann was clear on his preferred role.
“I enjoy left-back, it gives me a bit more of a free role and a licence to go forward whereas centre back is more restricted.”
Not only was Hofmann’s personal start to life in the First Division slow to take off, but his team-mates fortunes have been of similar ilk. Currently sitting fifth of eight-teams in the second tier, Town are a long way off pre-season expectations of a ding-dong title battle with league favorites and big spenders Waterford FC. The leakage of silly goals proved to be Longford’s Achilles heel early in the campaign, but recent strong defensive performances away to Premier Division side Shamrock Rovers in the EA Sports Cup and Cabinteely in the league have been much improved. In fact, it’s now at the other end of the pitch Longford are having their headaches with poor finishing cancelling out Mathews much improved defensive plans. When asked if a concentrated effort had been made on the training pitch to cut out needless errors at the back, Hofmann was quick to praise the management team.
“We’ve worked on defensive aspects on the training ground and I think it’s starting to show in matches, we’ve started to come together as a unit. Just like the defensive aspect takes time to gel so does the attacking side of things, if not longer, because so much attention to detail is required. We’ve been showing glimpses of great chances in games. We need to take collective responsibly to keep creating chances, back four included, and the goals will come.”
Next up in Hofmann’s footballing education is the test of UCD AFC at the City Calling Stadium on Saturday. A 2-0 defeat against the “Students” early this season was a real hammer blow to “De Town” at the time, but with Longford now looking for a third home win on the bounce, victory this time round would set Mathews charges up nicely ahead of a crunch clash away to Waterford the following Friday. Again displaying professionalism well beyond his years, Hofmann was quick to point out the danger of looking too far ahead.
“I think we just need to take it one game at a time and focus on the UCD game where there are three points at stake. I feel if we play to our potential there should be no reason why we can’t get a result at the weekend.”
Life in the First Division can be a difficult environment for young players like Hofmann to thrive. Small crowds, a lack of atmosphere, a physical style of play and, most notably this season, poor pitches are just one of many situations players encounter in the league known as the “Graveyard division”. When this statement was put to Hofmann ahead of Saturday’s clash at home to UCD, he replied:
“Obviously some of the pitches are far from ideal which definitely makes playing attractive football very difficult, but at the end of the day you have deal with what you’re put up against. It definitely makes some away games more difficult but it also makes playing at home on a beautiful pitch in front of a home crowd all the more enjoyable.”
Despite just three wins from their opening eleven league games, when you speak to the players occupying the “CCS” changing rooms, the Town players still release a sense of real belief and trust in their fellow team-mate that their qualities will eventually shine through. To their credit there has been glimpses of those qualities, David O’Sullivan and Enda Curran’s “El Clasico” hat-tricks this season, Kevin O’Connor’s wondergoal against Shelbourne and the hugely impressive defensive displays from youngsters Daniel O’Reilly and Tristan are just some of the highlights of an up and down campaign to date. However, these standout moments have not been enough of a regular occurrence considering the money spent by Longford in the off-season in their quest for an instant return to the top-flight. When asked if that sense of almost unquestionable confidence among “De Town” squad was a dangerous trait to hold, Hofmann responded:
“ I think it’s a positive, it shows a bit of a never-say-die attitude and a bit of resilience about the squad. I think we just need to keep working hard on the training ground and focus on what we can affect; everything else is out of our control.”
Wrapping things up in his ever modest fashion, Hofmann responded to a question on his personal hopes for 2017 by saying:
“Personally I just want to keep enjoying my football, keep working hard and get a good leaving cert over the line.”