I LOVE this time of year.
It’s the first home game of a new season. Albeit it’s the First Division league for Cork City and Cobh Ramblers but it’s live football and I have missed it badly.
What I loved most about my Friday nights, is walking into a packed Turner’s Cross, chatting to people along the way about their predictions on the night’s game, the smell of the cooking for the half time treat of sausages and pudding, and finally seeing the team sheet and making my own predictions.
I know it will be a completely different scenario tonight as I take to my seat without any hustle and bustle, however, it’s still great to be back.
So the First Division is certainly not the level both teams wish to be playing at, but in saying that I reckon the second tier of Irish football could be the most competitive it has been in years. Let’s hope this will be the case.
And what better what to start a new season, than with a local derby between two very competitive sides. Cork City host Cobh Ramblers in what would surely have been a sell-out under normal circumstances however let’s hope the lack of fans won’t take away from an entertaining game of football.
Both sides have enjoyed a promising pre-season, both beating opposition from the Premier Division. City with a comfortable win over Waterford while Ramblers had a great win over Longford.
Both sides have added to their squads in their bid to make it to the top tier of football next season.
Colin Healy has put together an excellent squad on a reduced budget. He did well to keep the likes of Gearóid Morrissey, Mark McNulty, Dylan McGlade, Alec Byrne, Ricardo Dinanga, Cian Murphy and Cian Coleman while adding to that, the calibre of Steven Beattie, Paul Hunt and Gordon Walker, should make his squad very competitive.
Looking on paper, I believe this is a better squad than last season, so it looks promising that Healy’s side can get City back playing in the top tier of football again.
Stuart Ashton has managed to retain most of last year’s Ramblers side squad with the exception of David Hurley leaving for Galway while Paul Hunt opted for Cork City. Pierce Philipps, Ian Turner, Ben O’Riordan, Conor Drinan and John Kavanagh will be key players.
And Ashton has also brought in some quality players who maybe young but also hungry for success. Cian Murphy joins from Galway while David O’Leary, Jake Hegarty, Killian Cooper, Caelin Rooney, Ciaran Griffin, Darren Murphy and James McCarthy have all come from various MSL teams.
Regix Madika has joined from Waterford while Kevin Williams came from Cork City.
Looking at the Ramblers squad overall, there seems to be a great balance of youth and experience and I would imagine there is huge competition for places within the squad.
This can only be a great thing to get the best out of players.
As the new season begins, we see that every other team in the league has strengthened. The likes of Shelbourne, Galway United and Cork City should be competing for honours. However Cobh Ramblers, Athlone Town and Bray Wanderers will no doubt cause an upset along the way.
There are a few fixtures this season I am really looking forward to. Needless to say tonight’s derby is the big one for me. I expect great football to be played by both teams.
I do expect City to pick up the first win of the season. I believe Healy’s side have shown their quality over the past few weeks in their pre-season friendly games and if they bring that form into tonight’s game, I think they will pip their local rivals.
It’s even difficult for me to choose a starting XI as we have seen many changes in the past few weeks with the entire squad getting plenty of game time and all having impressed therefore it will be interesting to see what starting lineup Healy goes with. I’m sure it will be a quality one.
I have no doubt Ashton’s men will put it up to them and I am also looking forward to his starting line-up, as he has plenty of options, with his competition in attack very strong.
Credit to both teams who have been doing great work both on and off the pitch.
It hasn’t been easy for either of the clubs and financially without supporters it has been a difficult period but hopefully before the end of the season we can see a packed Turner’s Cross and St Colman’s Park once again.
Supporters are sorely missed and I do believe from watching the Premiership on TV, the fans are definitely worth a goal or two in every game, so hopefully we can get back to some normality sooner rather than later.