Last season, Longford Town made the breakthrough they had been pursuing for years on end with little success – promotion to the SSE Airtricity Premier Division.
In a race with Shelbourne, which lasted the majority of the season, with a few games left they pulled away and never looked back; finally securing the league title on the 3rd of October following a 5-0 win over Shamrock Rovers B. They were, by far the most impressive team in the First Division last season, but do they have a future in the Premier Division?
In addition to keeping hold of manager Tony Cousins and key players in the squad such as Stephen Rice and Don Cowan, the club has brought in goalkeeper Paul Skinner from local rivals Athlone Town to strengthen their goalkeeping department for next season.
The club has also been linked with former Shamrock Rovers prodigy Gary Twigg who can only serve to improve the team’s goalscoring threat, while bringing a tear to the eye of Rovers’ fan at the same time. The team played good football in the First Division last season, and Player of the Year David O’Sullivan proved vital to their cause, scoring many important goals along the way.
Tony Cousins seems to have assembled the best squad the club has seen in years with talented players such as Stephen Rice, Jamie Mulhall who has recently been called up to the Republic of Ireland Under-19 squad for their forthcoming qualifiers for the European Championships – and Kevin O’Connor who has almost guaranteed himself iconic status at the club, helping Longford achieve promotion for the first time since they were relegated in 2007.
It seems suitable that on the year of it’s 90th anniversary, the club would claim it’s first ever First Division title, ending the 10 year drought of trophies the club suffered since winning the FAI Cup and League Cup in 2004.
The club’s finances are relatively secure under the stewardship of Chairman Jim Hanley, and with attendances sure to rise next year at the City Calling Stadium.
Their highest attendance was 2,187 at their title-winning game against Shamrock Rovers B, the second highest in the First Division in 2014, with the highest being an away game vs Galway F.C, which the Towns’ supporters will have contributed to the 2,418 attendance figure
The finances will keep improving next year with Premier Division status, as long as the club don’t over-spend on wages in the off-season. But under the guidance of experienced manager Tony Cousins, the club is in no immediate danger of financial turmoil, which can only serve to aid their cause of consolidating themselves as a Premier Division outfit.
Ultimately what Longford need to do is to survive relegation in their first season, which is also what Galway F.C will be looking to do, following their promotion through the play-offs.
The Premier Division will be very competitive next season at both ends of the table, with Longford, Galway, Bray Wanderers and possibly even Drogheda United likely to fight it out at the foot of the table. The relegation battle promises to be just as exciting as the title fight.
The fact that Longford and Galway have put strong squads together; Bray could be in trouble if they don’t lift their game for the coming season.
However, Longford Town have all the ingredients for survival next year; they have a hard-working squad, an experienced manager and the financial backing required to survive in the Premier Division, but we won’t know if the squad have what it takes to compete in league until 2015.
A lot of work is needed to improve the current squad if they are to challenge for silverware even further down the line, and even though a run in the cup can do no harm, the club’s main priority will be surviving relegation from the division, first time round, which will save the club from the financial, and reputational damage that comes along with it.
To stay in the Premier Division, a team needs luck, courage, hard-work and a willingness to fight, Longford have these characteristics. However, you also need skill and quality, and do Longford have that?
The answer is this writer doesn’t know. There is still uncertainty as to whether or not Longford Town have the quality to step up to the likes of Dundalk and St Patrick’s Athletic, but we’ll find out in the 2015 SSE Airtricity Premier Division.
Shane McDonnell, Pundit Arena