Longford Town host Derry City in eagerly anticipated Premier Division opener at Bishopsgate on Saturday at 6pm
Longford Town are back in the Premier Division for the first time since 2016 and they start the 2021 season against Derry City at Bishopsgate this Saturday evening, kick-off 6pm.
The Town return to the top flight to take on the strongest clubs in the country but with the Covid lockdown restrictions still in place no supporters are allowed into the grounds for the foreseeable future.
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Hopefully, the powers that be might give the soccer fans nationwide a small concession and allow a few hundred into the matches for a start. Social distancing would certainly not be a problem at the excellent Longford Town FC stadium which has a 5,000 plus capacity.
The Town management team have been very busy in the last few weeks preparing for the eagerly awaited return to the Premier Division after suffering the bitter disappointment of relegation in 2016 following a dismal season stuck at the bottom of the table.
Back then the Premier Division comprised 12 clubs with three rounds of fixtures giving the teams a total of 33 league games.
Last weekend Longford played a couple of friendly matches, the first against Cabinteely on Friday night with a generally experimental team that cruised to a resounding 6-0 win over the Dublin club.
Last season’s top scorer Rob Manley and Dean Byrne were both on target twice with the other goals coming from Callum Warfield and the impressive Aaron McCabe, who is a rising young star.
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That victory was a timely boost for manager Daire Doyle and his squad and the Town were back in action on Saturday morning away to Athlone in the countdown to the opening game of the season at home to Derry City this weekend.
A different Longford team started at Athlone Town Stadium and the game finished in a 1-1 draw with Dylan Grimes scoring the equaliser for the visitors in the 76th minute.
Two of the Town U-19 players, Sam Barnes and Jack Doyle, made their debuts for the senior side while it was also great to see experienced duo Dean Byrne and Sam Verdon back to full fitness in preparation for the Premier Division campaign.
Significant Step Up
Many of the current Longford squad would not have played Premier Division football and let’s hope all concerned can cope with the significant step up in class.
Daire Doyle is facing quite a selection headache when he and the other members of the management sit down to select the starting team against Derry in the bid to make a positive start to the exciting new season.
In the recent friendly games some gift goals were given away and the team cannot afford to make mistakes in the Premier Division which will be punished, such is the top quality of the opposition they are facing in a very tough league.
The Town are going into this year’s Premier Division campaign with a squad that has some very promising young players with a strong mix of experience that will hopefully be good enough to keep the club in the top flight after the 36 games are played.
The arrival of Aaron Bolger is a great boost and he should form a competent midfield partnership with local star Aodh Dervin who is capable of making a big impact in the Premier Division.
The signing of Paddy Kirk from Bohemians gives Longford a very good left sided player who was very close to commanding a regular place on the first team at Dalymount Park. The player keeping Kirk out of the Bohs team was former Longford defender Anto Breslin.
Former Bluebell player Aaron Robinson is another new signing who is pushing hard for a place in the Town first team after showing great promise in the pre-season friendly games.
When Longford were last playing in the Premier Division, Davy O’Sullivan and Josh O’Hanlon were playing up front but a return of only 23 goals was a big negative for the club in the eventual relegation.
This season the Town have Rob Manley, Aaron Dobbs, Conor Davis, Sam Verdon, Dean Byrne and Aaron McCabe who all have the ability to score the crucial goals so there are plenty of attacking options for the manager.
The fact that Daire Doyle has brought Michael Kelly back to the club has created great competition for the goalkeeper position, a key factor in the battle to retain the treasured Premier Division status which has put Longford Town back in the spotlight and the much greater coverage it will generate in the national media.
Derry City, under the management of Declan Devine, are difficult opponents and the Town must be winning games against the mid-table teams, especially at Bishopsgate.
Derry have lots of experience in their squad despite losing a few players from last season. A very interesting new arrival is midfielder Will Patching who has joined the Brandywell outfit on loan from Dundalk and he is a very useful player.
There is plenty of experience in the Derry defence with Daniel Lafferty, Mark McCrystal, Darren Cole and Ciaran Coll all prominent players while local lad Nathan Gartside could be the City keeper for the coming season after coming through the club’s underage system.
Up front Derry have the dangerous David Parkhouse and with a strong squad overall the northern club will be hoping to do a lot better this season after getting dragged into a relegation battle in the shortened 2020 campaign.
There is a great buzz with Longford Town back in the big time and hopefully the team can get the 2021 season off to a good start with a positive result against Derry City at Bishopsgate on Saturday evening.