Speaking exclusively to Between the Stripes founder Kieran Burke earlier today, Longford Town legend Sean Prunty and current assistant manager Gary Cronin called on the people of Longford to get behind the team this Saturday night when Premier Division strugglers Sligo Rovers visit the City Calling Stadium.
First to speak with Burke was 2003 & 2004 cup winner Sean Prunty, who spoke on his up and down relationship with Alan Mathews, the importance of strong local support and the emergence of young talent at the club.
Finally, assistant manager Gary Cronin followed up Prunty’s calls for a big home crowd on Saturday, particularly a big turn out from “Section O”.
An ever present in the Wexford Youths starting eleven since arriving at the South-East club in 2012, Graham Doyle has seen more than most. Promotion as champions in 2015, a run to the Leinster Senior Cup final in 2016, subsequent relegation just months later, followed by a change from “Youths” to “FC”. Yet despite all that, Doyle never expected to wait so long for a first win in the second tier this season. Last Friday’s 1-0 win at home to Shelbourne may have seemed insignificant to most, but around the picturesque surroundings of Ferrycarrig Park it was celebrated as a new beginning, for what is technically a new football club.
Having entered the League of Ireland family back in 2007, Mick Wallace’s Wexford Youths soon became one of the most recognisable clubs in the land, thanks to their luminous pink-strip and Wallace’s eye-catching hairstyle, as the current Wexford TD took the reigns from the dugout for the clubs first three seasons in the First Division. While crowds were modest and results slow to turn their way, eventually the Youths project began to spring into life as a first major cup final in 2008 saw a bumper crowd turn out at the now FAI owned venue, and despite the 6-1 hammering handed down by Derry City the future looked bright for this fledgling club.
The arrival of current Galway United boss Shane Keegan in 2012 would prove to be a real turning point for a now stagnating Youths. The former FC Carlow boss implemented a three-year plan which would come to fruition in 2015 as the Youths claimed the First Division title for the first-time in their brief history and with it a seat at the table of Irish football’s finest. Despite a promising start to life in the top flight, it all became too much for a club still operating off a largely amateur budget and set-up and the Youths final game, not just in the top-fight but as a club would come in a heart-breaking play-off final second leg defeat to Drogheda United.
As Shane Keegan departed for pastures new along with many of the clubs key on field assets, a new name was also in the offing. Financial issues had always dogged this small yet gracious football club and the only way to keep League of Ireland football on the map in Wexford was to rebirth under the name Wexford FC.
So not only was Friday’s 1-0 triumph over one of Irish football’s most historic names a season first, it was in fact a first ever win for Wexford FC under their new banner. Given all the ups and downs of the past twelve months perhaps it was unsurprising to see this new Wexford venture slow to take off? Not in the opinion of long-time servant Doyle, who despite his shock at going twelve league games without a win did offer his thoughts on the reasoning behind it.
“Yeah, it’s been surprising that we have taken so long to get a win, but it’s a very young inexperienced squad compared to the others in the division. That said we’ve been unfortunate in a lot of games.”
With three of their last four defeats coming with just a one-goal margin it is easy to see Doyle’s frustrations, although a heavy 5-0 defeat at the hands of Waterford FC in the EA Sports Cup perhaps does show the difference between the has and the has nots of this division.
With just six points from the opening thirteen league encounters, any hopes of an instant return to the Premier Division for Wexford football are long gone. When questioned on the goals for the remainder of the season as a result, Doyle responded by saying:
“I think the goal is the same as the start of the season, finish as high as possible and try to improve the squad so that next year we are in a position to push for a playoff spot.”
At 38 years of age many may be surprised to see the veteran goalkeeper discussing plans for next-season already and when quizzed on possible thoughts post-playing days and a possible coaching role, Doyle gave little away.
“At the moment I’m just thinking about playing but you never know.”
Sadly, given the FAI’s wreckless decision to restructure the divisions to two sets of ten teams starting from next season, the loss of a play-off system this campaign has saw many teams promotions dreams crumpled long before they could ever really get under-way. When asked for his thoughts on the lack of a play-off route for First Division sides this season, Doyle replied:
“For us this season was always about starting fresh as a squad so I don’t think it affects us as much as others, but I do believe that a playoff place should still be in the division. The three teams coming down I’m sure would love the chance to playoff to stay in the division, a ridiculous decision to get rid of playoff!”
Saturday’s opponents Longford are perhaps one of the second tier clubs most affected by the changes in policy this season. Hotly tipped to contend for promotion this campaign, “De Town” have flopped to date and find themselves with an Everest-like mountain of fifteen-points to climb, with free-spending Waterford FC currently looking down from the submit. Appearing to now have nothing other than pride to play for, attendances are expected to take a dramatic nose dive at the Midlands club, while they may also find it hard to attract match-day sponsors given the subsequent lack of interest locally. When asked if he was surprised by Longford’s fortunes this season, particularly given the signings they made, Doyle was honest in his assessment.
“Being honest….yes, I had them down as joint favorite with Waterford. Football is a strange game and sometimes it takes time to adjust to different situations. I’m sure that Longford will come right eventually and will certainly push higher in the league before it ends…..hopefully starting next week.”
In a follow on to that response, Doyle was asked where he saw Saturday’s game decided but appeared keen to not give too much away, while also wanting to remain respectful to the hosts.
“Tough question….The squad that longford have means we can only try to perform at our best and hope they have an off night. I’ve played a good few games against them and haven’t been on the winning side as much as I would have liked.”
Despite the longest wait for a win in both divisions, Doyle revealed a sense of confidence among the Wexford FC locker-room this season, while also going on to praise the impact of new boss Damien Locke.
“Believe it or not we’ve been confident going into all of our games and this match will be no different.”
“Things will always be different under a new manager but with Damien (Locke) it’s a little bit easier as he was assistant to Shane (Keegan) for a couple of seasons. He has a lot of the same traits as Shane and I’m sure he’ll be as much of a success as he was.”
Wanting to round of the discussion on a positive and reflective note, the legendary Wexford shot-stopper spoke of his finest memory between the sticks at Ferrycarrig Park in years gone by, while also wanting to dismiss the rumor that the name change at the club had changed anything.
“My best memory to date is winning the First Division in 2015, an unbelievable achievement for a club like ours!”
“The name change and things like that doesn’t really affect players, we just go out and try to perform on the pitch, that stuff is for the committee and owners.”
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. Continue reading →
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.