27 Nov 2021

The forgotten men of Longford Town

This article looks at some of the more unheralded or forgotten Longford Town supremos.

This article looks at some of the more unheralded or forgotten Longford Town supremos.

Among the pantheon of Longford Town bosses, only two names are remembered in any great detail. Stephen Kenny, arguably the most important man in Longford Town’s history, and Alan Matthews, the man who guided us to the scarcely believable back-to-back Cup triumphs in 2003 and 2004. There is a strong debate to be had as to which of them deserves the title of greatest Longford Town boss, however in this article we look at some of the other Longford Town bosses over the past twenty years.

Town managers from the pre-Premier League era include Dermot Keely who went on to win league titles with Dundalk and Shelbourne, towering midfielder John Cleary, and Michael O’Connor, who did brilliantly in charge of Athlone Town in the early 1990s, but had a less profitable spell in the Strokestown Road.

This was the era of the player-manager, where thinning resources meant that any manager not that far removed from his fortieth birthday couldn’t afford to be overlooking himself for a starting position in case of either an injury crisis or a bad player crisis (The Town suffered a great deal from the latter in the mid 1990s). This correspondent’s memory (he has an admittedly abnormal memory for these things) can stretch back to John Cleary’s days as manager, when, on the first day of the 1995/96 season, he sprang himself from the bench to score a fantastic last minute header to snatch a draw with Limerick City. The game was also memorable for Limerick’s pony-tailed striker Tony Izzi scoring a flashy goal and generally getting on the wrong side of the crowd through his gestures, his tussles with a couple of Longford town defenders, and his over-exuberant celebration (although in truth his hairstyle may have contributed to getting the crowd’s collective back up more than anything else). In addition to John Cleary, Michael O’Connor watched his first game as Town manager from the pitch as the silver haired centre forward who used to be not that bad (again a category of player Longford Town specialised in around that time).

Other somewhat forgotten managers include Martin Lawlor and Aaron O’Callaghan. Lawlor was appointed after Bohemians swooped in to nab Stephen Kenny during the Town’s second season in the top-flight, 2001/02. The Town had been doing remarkably well to avoid second season syndrome until that point, indeed the first game after Kenny’s resignation (where he recieved a warm round of applause from the Town support) was against Bohemians where the Town claimed a superb 2-0 victory. However Lawlor’s appointment saw them fall prey to the second season disease in a big way, as he took them from mid-table obscurity to relgation battling notereity. He was the man in charge that famous night in Ballybofey when a 6-5 penalty shoot-out win kept the midlanders in the top-flight. It was his last game in charge. Aaron O’Callaghan’s era was typified by a return to the mid-1990s days. He took over after the player-registration difficulty inspired relegation of 2007 and for the next few years the Town paddled around the nether reaches of the First Division before this season’s revival with Tony Cousins at the helm.

These last few seasons have almost seen a return to the 1996-98 era when the Town seemed to be perpetually ‘seeking re-election’, a process that had to be gone through when a team came bottom of the First Division and no one else wanted to come up. In the 1997/98 season, Longford Town came bottom of the table with table with twelve points. They went the entire season without winning a home match and scored a dizzying total of twelve goals with their strong centre-half Conor Frawley topping the scorer’s charts with an unnassailable tally of three (I’m convinced that he himself mustered more own goals than that, that season).

The next season we were watching a different team. During the summer of 1998, the Shelbourne U-21 manager Stephen Kenny requested an interview with the chairman Mickey Cox, brought a dossier with him on the club, said he had a clutch of decent underage players under his wing, and said he wanted to manage Longford Town. By Christmas 1998 Longford Town were top of the First Division.

Next week we look at the glory days of Longford Town and ask who is the greatest manager, Kenny or Matthews.

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