With an impressive pre-season under their belt and a number of significant signings, things are looking positive for Cobh Ramblers ahead of a highly-anticipated 2015 campaign. Here is Pundit Arena’s season preview of the south coast club.
Last season was one to forget at the club, with a disappointing eighth-placed finish in the league. Things can only improve this year and the early signs are very promising for the Rams.
The club went unbeaten in pre-season with victories over Galway United and Limerick FC as well as draws against Longford and Cork City. They also progressed to the semi-final of the Munster Senior Cup following a penalty shoot-out win away to Douglas Hall.
These results have seen the Rams awarded the title of ‘dark horses’ by some, as they head into the new season. It will be interesting to see whether this form can be carried into their league campaign.
First Three Fixtures
Cobh start off their campaign at home, which is always a bonus. Relegated UCD visit St. Colman’s Park on March 7th and the Students have put together a strong squad as they look to return to the Premier Division as soon as possible. It should be a close game but it offers a real possibility of three points for Ramblers on the opening day.
A trip to the other relegated side, Athlone Town, follows the tie with UCD and the Midlands side are one of the favourites to lift the title come the end of the season. It will be a tough first away game for the Rams and leaving with anything will be a positive result.
Cobh then welcome Wexford Youths in a game featuring two sides well able of causing an upset this year. Wexford are strengthening each year and Shane Keegan’s men look strong once again this season.
It’s not the worst start to the season and if Cobh can pick up wins in their home games, they will be in a promising position early on. The league is wide open this season and any side, with the possible exception of Cabinteely, could make the play-offs.
Cobh have a number of impressive players on their books this year and picking just one is not the easiest. Shane O’Connor, Darren Murphy and captain Brendán Frahill all deserve an honourable mention but Rob Waters just gets the nod.
The attacking midfielder is the real playmaker in the side and this could be a very big season for the ex-Dundalk man.
Key Young Player
This will be young striker Kynan Rocks’ third season involved at League of Ireland level. A skilful attacker, he has developed into the focal point of Cobh’s attack and will hope to add to his respectable tally of 33 senior appearances for the club.
Peter White (Waterford United)
One of Cobh’s first signings was the arrival of former Waterford United defender Peter White. White has also had spells with Wexford Youths, Kilkenny City and Limerick and could be a shrewd signing by Rams boss Martin Cambridge.
Ross McCarthy (Youghal United)
Ross joined the club from Munster Senior League side Youghal United and had spells at Cobh and Cork City at underage levels.
Shane O’Connor (Limerick)
Shane started his career at Cork side Rockmount where he was spotted by Liverpool scouts. A move to the English giants was completed at the age of 16 and he featured regularly for their u-18 side. In 2009 he signed an initial one-year deal for Roy Keane’s Ipswich Town and made twelve appearances that year for the Tractor Boys.
He remained at the club under new boss Paul Jewell until 2011 when he signed for Port Vale on loan. In February 2012 he returned to Irish football with near neighbours Cork City.
He then moved to Shamrock Rovers during the July transfer window but wasn’t kept on for the 2013 season by Trevor Croly and completed a deal with Northern Irish side Portadown. A transfer to Limerick FC came about in July 2014 where he remained until his recent move to the Rams.
Andrew Bhandarkar (Casement Celtic)
Andrew started his career off with College Corinthians before joining Limerick FC, where he mainly featured for their A Championship side. He left the Blues to play locally with Casement Celtic until signing for the Rams at the beginning of 2013, where he remained until July 2014. He re-joined the club this season after a brief return to Casement.
Steven McCarthy (Sunderland)
McCarthy was most recently at English Premier League side Sunderland where he completed a two-year scholarship programme. He hails from Skibereen in West Cork and started his career with his local club Skibereen FC.
He was snapped up by the Black Cats at the age of 16 and quickly became a key player for their u-18 side. Following the end of his scholarship, Steven returned to Ireland and was on trial with Cork City, playing against Cobh in a friendly midway through last season.
Graham McCarthy (Avondale United)
Graham has joined Ramblers from very successful non-league side Avondale United. He had a brief spell at the club in the second half of the 2013 campaign before re-joining Avondale and he is a talented midfielder who will bring plenty of knowledge and experience to the Cobh midfield.
Kevin Mulcahy (free agent)
Defender Kevin Mulcahy has joined the club after leaving Cork City midway through the 2014 season. Kevin has also played for a number of Munster Senior League clubs including Douglas Hall and Avondale United and is a solid addition to squad.
Darren Murphy (free agent)
One of their biggest coups is the arrival of former Cork City, Stevenage and Port Vale midfielder Darren Murphy. He started off his youth career with the Rams in 2002 and quickly progressed to the senior set-up, playing 75 games and scoring nine goals, before signing for local rivals Cork City in 2007.
He spent two seasons at Turner’s Cross until a move cross-channel beckoned to Stevenage Borough, then of the Conference Premier. He helped Stevenage climb to League One but left for Port Vale in 2012. Spells at Macclesfield Town and Woking followed, before a return to League of Ireland football in 2014 when he re-joined Cork City.
Injury hampered his spell under John Caulfield, with Darren making just four appearances and leaving in August of that year. He is now back at the club where it all began and his capture is a real signal of intent by the club.
Jonathan Creamer (Leeds AFC)
The young striker recently signed from Munster Senior League side Leeds AFC. He was a key player for Ramblers’ u-19 side during the 2013/14 season and remained with the senior set-up until July when he joined the northside outfit.
Steven Hickey (Leeds AFC)
Like Creamer, Hickey signed from Munster Senior League side Leeds. He played a huge role in Ramblers’ u-19 Enda McGuill Cup win of 2014 and also remained with the senior side until last July when he joined Leeds.
Audie Dunlea (Tralee Dynamos)
A new face to Cobh fans will be left-sided player Audie Dunlea. Audie was previously on the same Tralee Dynamos League of Ireland side as ex-Rams Brian Fitzgerald and Robert Birdsall and has also played with Bandon AFC.
Darren Murphy (Cork City)
The second Darren Murphy signed this year, he was a former Cork City u-19 captain and was recently included in the Irish u-21 home-based squad. A very promising midfielder with a huge future ahead of him.
Martin Deady (Longford Town)
Robert Birdsall (Waterford United)
Craig Burns (Waterford United)
Shane Hallahan (Cobh Wanderers)
Andrew Neville (Carrigaline United)
Bobbi Donoghue (Waterford United)
Anthony O’Connell (Waterford United)
Garry Comerford (Avondale United)
Eoin Hastings (Cobh Wanderers)
Keith O’Flynn (Cobh Wanderers)
Andy O’Connell (Galway United)
Pundit Arena Expectations
Anything will be an improvement on last year’s eighth-placed finish. There are now experienced players to add to the young quality at the club and this could be crucial as the season wears on. If the likes of Shane O’Connor and Darren Murphy can stay fit, it could be a very promising year at the Cork club.
There seems to be a cautious optimism regarding the new season. Fans don’t want to get carried away with pre-season results but a talented squad has been put together and there is a genuine possibility of a play-off position.
A top-four finish is a realistic aim for the club and a nice run in the cups is also due at this stage. This is the season that the club can push on following their re-entry to Irish football two years ago.
League Cup: quarter-final
FAI Cup: last 16
Ramblers are yet to win on the road since returning to the league in 2013. Their last away league victory came in October 2008 against St. Pat’s when goals from Davin O’Neill (2) and Ross Gaynor secured a 3-0 win in Inchicore.
Thomas Stafford, Pundit Arena