THE past 12 months have seen impressive strides made at Cobh Ramblers both on and off the pitch.
The 2020 campaign was one that provided a number of indicators that Ramblers have progressed under the current first-team coaching setup led by Stuart Ashton, with the club being run in a prudent manner and engaging well with the local community.
In the end, Cobh only missed out on the First Division promotion playoffs on goal difference, but it was a year that saw strides made by a young Rams side.
Cobh’s away form in 2020 was particularly impressive. What was evident about this young squad, especially in their victories away to Galway United and the two sides that will be playing Premier Division football next term in Longford Town and Drogheda United, was that Cobh had a strong mentality and got results when their backs were against the wall.
Those victories showed a great work-rate from Cobh, who used the high press to full effect to disrupt the opposition and crucially took their chances when they came.
When you consider they were so close to making the playoffs in the end, Cobh will look at some of their results, especially at St Colman’s Park, which proved to be the Achilles heel.
Games such as the home defeat to Cabinteely and the 0-0 draw on the final night of the season against Shamrock Rovers II come to mind.
Given that in 2020 a defender in Lyons was their top scorer in the end with four goals, Ramblers will be hoping for a greater goal scoring return from their attackers in 2021. Scoring more will be something that Cobh will need to address if they want to get promoted.
But the Ramblers' defence proved to be very solid. Former Preston youth player Charlie Lyons showed why he was one of the top First Division centre-backs, while John Kavanagh proved to be strong with his leadership and experience.
All things considered, Ramblers will be determined to build on a productive past year and try to mount a strong promotion challenge in 2021.
Even with Cork City now calling in the First Division, retaining players of the potential and quality of Lyons, Pierce Phillips and John Kavanagh illustrates the progress Ramblers have made.
With the exception of David Hurley joining Galway United, Ashton has managed to keep key Cobh performers for the 2021 campaign.
Given Cobh were a solid defensive unit generally, there are the foundations there to be built upon. Goalkeeper Sean Barron has been outstanding since joining Ramblers from Avondale United last summer, proving to be a rock-solid shot-stopper and keeping a number of clean sheets.
Lee Devitt is a player who is a good threat in the attacking third and has done well since joining Cobh from Limerick. There could be more to come from him in 2021. While Darryl Walsh, who was a highly rated young player in the Waterford underage system, also looks more than capable at full-back.
Conor Drinan also in the attack has the look of a player who the more he plays at League of Ireland level, he will become an improved player and looks to have potential aplenty.
On the pitch for 2021, there is a feeling that the minimum Cobh will be looking to target is a promotion playoff place.
The first team coaching staff are progressive and with good young coaches like James Claffey, Dec Coleman and Shane Kavanagh, Ramblers will look to learn from last season and build on it for next term.
If Ramblers could even add a new attacker to what they currently have, there is the potential for Cobh to be a surprise package in the 2021 First Division promotion race.
Next season will also see the return of the derby at elite League of Ireland level between Cobh and Cork City in the First Division. They should be eagerly contested and anticipated affairs.
With the likes of Shelbourne and a John Caulfield managed Galway United also in the First Division mix, the 2021 campaign will offer a number of exciting contests for Ramblers to look forward to.
Off the field, the club has made great efforts to engage with the local community and the prudent way Ramblers are being run over the past few years bodes well for the future.