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Cobh is calling

Thursday, 11th May, 2017 1:00am

Times, they are interesting in Cobh. This weekend, Cobh Wanderers face the biggest game in the club’s history when they play in the Aviva Stadium in the FAI Intermediate Cup Final against Liffey Wanderers.

Down the road, their neighbours Cobh Ramblers also find themselves in high-flying soccer form having reached the top of the First Division table twice already this season; although a 2-1 loss to Athlone Town last week sees them now back in third place, just two points from the top.

Manager Stephen Henderson almost led his side to promotion last year, losing in the playoff 3-2 to Drogheda United but after completing one-third of the season so far, he already has much to be proud of with his squad.

“It’s going great for us, we have some great people behind us in the club. We’d be seen as over-achieving this year, we’ve very much an amateur side in comparison with some of the other teams in our division.

“The likes of Waterford, for example, have been pouring their resources in to the club and Cabinteely – Pat Devlin came in there with a consortium backing him – whereas, we wouldn’t have those resources and then we had a few of our players leave after last season, so people weren’t expecting much with us.

“The likes of Shane O’Connor, Gary Comerford and Kevin Mulcahy departed and our squad is very young but we’ve had a great start.”

This Friday, Cabinteely come to town in what is just the second home fixture of the season so far in Cobh; a Friday fixture considering their neighbour’s date with destiny in the Aviva 24 hours later. If Ramblers are relying on youth, Wanderers – on the other hand – have many former Ramblers players. The likes of John Meade, Conor Meade, Mick Devine, Brian Fitzgerald and Alan O’Flynn on their books, bring a nice, if not ironic, balance to the two seaside sides.

With youth, Henderson laments, can come a certain degree of inexperience.

“Twice we’ve been at the top and twice we’ve left that slip and that can happen with young players. We haven’t reacted well to that and consistency is key. We’ve been consistent in our play but not in keeping out place at the top.

“You can develop a player, you can coach them, but the mentality has to come from them and that tends to come with age, it’s a lot of pressure for a young fella.

“They’ve scrapped the playoff, so it makes things a lot more difficult for promotion. There’s eight teams in the division and three then looking for promotion, or a playoff spot, so that’s realistaically achievable.

“Even coming in to the back eight games of the season, our focus would be on that top three spot and it’s around then that we’re really looking for a good crowd and a good gate – when we’re doing well, the crowd tends to follow.

“This time of the year, people still wouldn’t be too interested because they feel we’re still only getting going but that end of the season is different.

“My proprity is the club. We’re always looking for promotion at the start of the season. People would often say to me ‘but what if you get promoted and you get beat then by teams up there week in and out?’ but my take on it is: If you’re playing against the best, that’s where you gain the best experience.

“You never know what’s around the corner in life, I would absolutely love it if we got promoted. There’s good teams in our division, such as Cabinteely, who are down to play us this weekend.”

Ramblers have six wins, two draws and three losses in 11 games. Last weekend’s 2-1 loss to Athlone Town was suffered under particularly unusual circumstances. In the week leading up to the game, it emerged that Athlone was being investigated by An Garda Síochána for allegations of match-fixing and irregular betting patterns. A large media presence shone unwanted attention on the fixture, which put more pressure on Henderson’s team.

“I don’t think the situation suited them, it put more pressure on the lads and it was a strange one. Again, that’s where being a younger team can have its downsides. But, this week is only our second home fixture so hopefully we’ll get a few at it. Who knows? We’ll have to wait and see. If we want to do well and get the crowds in behind us, we’ll have to keep up our form.

“Cabinteely are a very tough side, they’ll be full of confidence coming down and will be looking for a win. Our lads though, they’ve ben fabulous – they’re a great bunch and they’ve been putting the head down and working hard. There’s a buzz there and I love being around good players and in a good working environment.

“They’ll take the mickey out of me but only after they’ve put the hard work in and no...they still don’t get away with it!” Henderson smiles.

Interesting times indeed in Cobh. Either way, either side, the hard work is paying dividends.

1-10 from the Kinsale sharpshooter was a huge personal tally in the National League Final and set Cork on their way to a ninth title in ten years.

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