STUART Ashton is one of the best soccer coaches in Cork.
He spent years working in the underage system at Cork City. Now, he is coaching Cobh Ramblers, and is hoping to shape the footballing journey at St Colman’s Park over the coming campaigns.
Ashton took over as the Ramblers interim boss initially, following the departure of Stephen Henderson, whose assistant he had been since 2017.
In the FAI Cup game against Dundalk last August, Ramblers gave a very good account of themselves. Ashton had a part-time team well-organised, motivated, and tactically prepared and they often matched the best side in the country.
Not long after, Cobh appointed Ashton as the permanent head coach, up until the end of the 2021 season. Now, the challenge for Ashton will be to consistently get decent displays and results out of this Cobh side.
“We are all looking forward to the new season, at this stage now,” said Ashton, who also previously managed the club during the mid-1990s.
“We are very happy, at this stage. We have got a squad together that we are happy with and we have got some new faces in.
“The mix is good and, so far, we are delighted with the way it has been going. We have been progressing nicely, through the trainings and preseason games,” Ashton said.
The First Division promotion race will be highly competitive again this year. Cobh will hope to be in the shake-up. But they will face stiff competition from Galway United, Drogheda United, Longford Town, Bray Wanderers, and UCD.
Consistency will be the key, something which Ramblers have lacked in their league campaigns over the past two years. But Cobh fully intend to change that.
“The target is promotion and a run in the cups,” says Ashton. “At the start of the season, everyone’s ambitions are the same. We are no different to those.
“We have got to be aiming for the promotion play-offs. Then, hopefully, we can have a good run in the cups to add to that.
“The First Division is competitive and with the teams that are in it, there is no easy game.
“I don’t think anyone is going to run away with it. So, it will be very competitive and, hopefully, we are amongst that pack.”
It has been an eventful build-up to the new First Division season, with the format and official fixtures list only officially confirmed a week before the start of the season, after Limerick opted not to apply for a licence, while the inclusion of a Shamrock Rovers B team has generated debate.
Ashton said that all their focus has been on ensuring Ramblers are ready for the new season.
He has retained the vast majority of the Ramblers side from last season, with additions coming from former Cork City pair, John Kavanagh and Pierce Phillips, along with Darryl Walsh (Waterford), Martin Coughlan (Kerry), Adam Foley, Lee Devitt (both Limerick), Dylan Walsh (Dinas Powys FC, Wales), and Conor Drinan (Carrigaline United).
Ramblers will kick-start their campaign next weekend, with a home clash at St Colman’s Park, against Drogheda United.
It will be a big early test of Cobh’s promotion credentials, with Tim Clancy’s Drogheda side tipped to be right in the mix for the First Division title.
That takes place on Saturday with a 7pm kick-off in St Colman’s Park.
“From our point of view, it is just about getting the season up-and-running,” Ashton said.
“It is about ourselves on the day. Drogheda are one of the sides who we think will be competing, like they were last year.
“It adds a little bit extra to the game; they will have high expectations on them.
“For us, it will be our first game of the season. It is at home, so we are hoping for a good crowd there and we want to show the crowd what we are about.”
Last year was a transitional season for Ramblers on and also off the pitch.
Cobh will be hoping that 2020 will be a transformative campaign.
“We are looking for the support for the season to get behind the players,” said Ashton.
“Hopefully, we can produce some good football, where we can entertain them and, hopefully, if we can do that, get the right results, which is what we are trying to do, playing attractive football.
“We want to play attractive football and not make it easy for teams to play against us.
“If we can get a nice crowd in there, which makes a great atmosphere for our lads to go out and play in, that is what we are looking for,” Ashton said.
“Hopefully, we can together, the crowd and the players, we can make it a great occasion down in St Colman’s Park every time we play there.” Ramblers would dearly love to make a return to the Premier Division.
Can Stuart Ashton be the man who can help them make it back to the top flight?