Monday 19 March 2018

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Cork Independent


New season, new challenge

Monday, 5th March, 2018 9:48am

A new season and a new chance for Cobh Ramblers to gain promotion to the League of Ireland Premier Division.

For long periods of the 2017 season, it was neck and neck between Cobh and the eventual winners Waterford United, but their second place finish doesn't have manager Stephen Henderson fooled as this year a number of tricky obstacles have been added to the assault course.

A League rethink has seen both the Premier and First Divisions divided in to two, ten team divisions, with three relegated Premier teams being added to the First Division. Waterford may have departed but in their place arrives the triple threat of Galway United, Finn Harps and Drogheda United. Last season's hill has just morphed in to this year's Everest. Henderson is under no illusions to the challenges that lay ahead for his players.

“Galway are the clear favourites this season. They have the financial backing, they have a quality manager and players, they're the leader of the pack as far as everyone is concerned. Then you have Finn Harps and Drogheda, that's three teams with Premier experience behind them that we're up against, it's a tall order and a tough ask. Preseason went well for us, we don't have the same advantage as other teams in that we don't have the financial backing. We're solely depending on our youth system, those players coming through,a and then being able to handle to League – that's all we have and holding on to players and developing both them both on the field and their mentalities is what we're relying on,” explains Henderson.

The wheels nearly came off the bus before Cobh had even managed to get in to second gear, however, after finding themselves 2-0 down at halftime against Longford last Saturday in the opening game of the season.

“We were awful in that first half against Longford,” says Henderson. “I guess fellas were a bit nervous and things went wrong for us. We conceded in the first five minutes and then again before halftime and I was thinking were we going to get annihilated. It was hugely disappointing, that was the feeling in the dressing room at halftime. The lads had put a massive effort in at training in preseason and then we went out and it all collapsed a bit, I was worried I'll be honest!” admits Henderson.

However, 45 minutes after the restart, the Cobh boss was a happy man thanks to two goals from Andy Wall and Cian Leonard, to draw the game.

“Well I'll happily take the point considering where we were at halftime but, to be honest, we could have nipped it the way we played in the second half,” he laughs. “I'm happy with the point! But the three would have been nice all the same. The way the lads turned it around was fantastic, they're a great bunch, there's huge character there and that's what we depended on to get us out of that hole against Longford but you can't depend on character, it'll only keep you going for so long. The problem with the goals we conceded is that is was down to individual error, the same issue we had last year, we won't win much as long as that's in our game.”

A team brimming with youth, Cobh only lost one player in the off-season with Cian Coleman departing for Limerick. All things considered, Henderson is happy with his lot: “We don't have the financial backing as I was saying but we've a good group there with Andy after coming in, Cian signed with us last season, we've Adam O'Sullivan who signed from City and John Dineen, who's returned to the league this year so we've a good crop there, Karl Caulfield is ready to come in and Pierce Phillips is continuing to train with the squad.

“It's always difficult in our position, we're up against Galway now this Saturday which is a huge ask. I'm happier heading in to it after drawing the match then I would have been at halftime against Longford but it's a huge challenge but no one likes playing in Colman's Park do they? We only lost two home games there all year last season so there's that, I'd be happy with a point on Saturday.”

As for Henderson, who returned to the Ramblers setup in 2015 after previously stepping away in 2008, although a challenge given the club's financial constraints, he is enjoying the challenge the League brings:

“Sure that's sports isn't it? If you weren't looking for and enjoying the challenge then what's the point in being there at all? I've a great management team around me with Stuart Ashton and Deccie Colman. The aim this season is to make the playoffs, that's honestly my expectation at the moment, we'll be doing very well to get that far and we can see then but we want to be playing against the best in the Premier Division so getting out of the First Division is always the goal but it's that bit harder now. But am I happy were I am now? Maybe not at halftime last Saturday against Longford! All jokes aside, I love it.”

Not only did Cobh Ramblers rescue a draw this week but the club also announced its new partnership with Fota Island Resort. Speaking at the presentation which was also attend by Cobh Ramblers charity partners, the Irish Heart Foundation and Breaking the Silence, Seamus Leahy, Director of Marketing at the Fota Collection, said: “We are delighted to announce our new partnership with the Cobh Ramblers. There are important similarities between the ethos of both Fota Island Resort and the Cobh Ramblers, with a strong focus on family and the community, a stand-out factor in both. We’re delighted to come onboard as a sponsor of this successful team and the associated local community and the sponsorship is a natural fit. We look forward to working with Cobh Ramblers and fostering a strong partnership between the team and our staff.”

Michael O Donovan, chairman of the Cobh Ramblers, said: “Cobh Ramblers are delighted to enter into this new partnership with Fota. As a club competing on a national level we will be able to bring to countrywide audience and indeed beyond the fantastic facility that is Fota, which is one of the real gems that Cork Harbour has on its doorstep."

Cobh Ramblers play Galway United at St Colman's Park on Saturday 3 March. Kick-off is at 3pm.

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