The SSE Airtricity League of Ireland season for 2017 gets under way tonight. After a disappointing 2016 season, Longford begin the new campaign in the First Division for the first time since 2014. Longford begin life in the second tier with a trip to Drumcondra to face Shelbourne, a sleeping giant in Irish Football.
2016 was a season to forget for The Town. After a 6th place finish on their return to the top flight in 2015, Longford struggled to reach those heights. They were relegated with just two wins to their name and none at home. There was also a manager change with Tony Cousins resigning and Alan Matthews taking over the reins for the end of the season. Matthews will also be in the hot seat this season.
They has a lot change during the close season at the City Calling Stadium but there been more incomings then out comings. Gavin Boyne, Jack Brady (Shelbourne), Aidan Friel (Wexford Youths), Dylan McGlade (St Patrick’s Athletic), Jake Kelly (Bohemians), Daniel O’Reilly (Eastbourne), Enda Curran, Stephen Walsh (Galway United) and Dean Zambra (Free Agent) are the new recruits. Pat Flynn (retired), Peter McGlynn (Sacramento Republic), Philip Gannon, Kaleem Simon (Bohemians), John McKeown and Lee Duffy (Wexford) are the players that have departed since last season. Longford have a young squad this year with 12 players 21 years old or younger. David O’Sullivan and Kevin O’Connor are the only squad members over 30 years old.
A big worry for any team that gets relegated, they lose their big players. Alan Matthews will be very grateful they managed to keep hold of David O’Sullivan. He netted 45 goals for the The Town in his three years at the club. 21 of those goals came in Longford’s promotions from the First Division in 2014. The signing of Jake Kelly from Bohemians is also a big boost. Kelly spent a year and a half with the North Dublin club scoring eight goals in 33 games. The 26 year old is a very experienced player. Along with playing for Bohs, he twice played for Bray, St. Patrick Athletic and Dundalk. He was key member of the Pats team that won the League in 2013, making 16 appearances and scoring 4 goals.
The Town used the pre-season very wisely playing a host of Premier Division teams including Finn Harps, Sligo Rovers, Dundalk and Bray. In total, Longford played six games, winning two vs Finn Harps and Sligo Rovers. However this will be their real test and see if their fully prepared for the challenge of getting back up to the top tier of Irish football.
It’s been a tough few years for Shelbourne and last year was no different. They finished 6th (third from bottom) in the First Division. Shelbourne had a very inexperienced squad last season and this is something they worked on during the close season. Manager Owen Heary has brought in a number of experienced players. Goalkepper Dean Delaney has returned to the club. He was part of the last Shels team to play in the Premier Division managed by Alan Matthews. Former Longford players Robert Bayly and James O’Brien have also joined the club. They also kept hold of James English. English was there most impressive player last season scoring 11 goals.
Pre-season have gone very well for the North Dublin club. They won all their games including wins over Premier Division sides St. Patrick’s Athletic and Derry City.
This is the first time these two sides will meet each other since 2014. In their four meetings that season in the first division, Longford only managed one win despite finishing higher in the league