By Gerard Mulreaney (@gerardmulreaney)
Longford Town will kick-off their 2019 league campaign with a trip South to face Tommy Barrett’s Limerick side on Friday night, with Neale Fenn hoping that his side can challenge for at least a playoff place.
With tough games against Bohemians, Dundalk, Cork City, Sligo Rovers and Cliftonville in pre-season Fenn has made sure that his side is fully ready to go on Friday. He told me, “Pre-season has gone well. The players all came back fit and in good shape, plus we’ve had some good performances against some top teams, so I’m happy with that. The new players have incorporated themselves well into the group.”
Everybody knows that Longford lost some real quality in the off-season, with the likes of Dylan McGlade, Sam Verdon and Daniel O’Reilly moving on to pastures new. Fenn, while hugely disappointed to lose those mentioned, said that he’s very happy with the players he’s brought into the club, “Yes, I’m happy with how recruitment has gone. We brought Adam Evans in early who is someone I have rated since I came into the league. Anto Breslin, Aaron Dobbs, Karl Fitzsimons and Joe Manley are young lads that have joined and they’ve looked good so far, plus we’ve added experienced players like goalkeeper Lee Steacy, Paul O’Conor and the hugely experienced Connor Kenna.”
Kenna 31, will be a vital cog in the heart of the defence, while the signing of Republic of Ireland Youth International Aaron Dobbs catches the eye. Dobbs spent the last 18 months with Wexford, scoring seven goals in a largely struggling team.
With clubs now having a player pathway all the way up from Under 13’s it vitally important that League of Ireland clubs develop their own players, and Longford certainly do that. Midfielder Aodh Dervin and defender Tristan Noack-Hofmann are two that have made the breakthrough over the past couple of seasons.
Dervin made 22 league appearances in 2018, becoming a vital member of Fenn’s team, and is a firm favourite with the fans for his all-action style, coupled with an eye for goal. 2019 will be another big year for young Dervin. While he’s only 19 years old, turning 20 in July, he’s become a very important player for Longford and Fenn says he hopes to see him improve further again this season, “Yes Aodh has done really well since breaking into the team last year, but like you say he is very young, so has a lot to learn. I hope he continues to improve because he is a very level headed young man.”
Fenn is the type of manager who will give young players an opportunity to progress through the ranks, and this season has added four players from last season’s Under 19’s, including striker Paddy O’Sullivan. Fenn is looking forward to seeing how he progresses this season, “Paddy was the clubs U-19 Player of the Year last year and has impressed during pre-season, so hopefully he can force his way into the team and continues to improve.”
This is Fenn’s second full season in charge of the club and I asked him how he would assess his time at Longford Town so far, “I would say that my time at the club has been a success so far. Probably the only disappointment is not being able to reach the play offs last year. We have had a couple of decent cup runs and have had some very good results in the process.”
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as manager of Longford Town. The one thing that has surprised me the most is the standard of refereeing, that has been an eye opener!”
Everybody is in agreement that Shelbourne are the favourites to win the First Division, their recruitment has been top class, but with the playoffs in place all the other nine teams will be gunning for those playoff places. So, the question I put to Fenn was can Longford get promoted? He replied, “We can get promoted, whether we will or not is a different matter.”
All will be revealed come the end of the campaign.
Picture Credit: Longford Town Football Club