IT was written in the stars that Stuart Ashton would take his Cobh Ramblers side to face Cork City on the opening night of the 2021 League Of Ireland First Division season.
Ashton has been the Cobh boss during a time that has seen progress made on and off the pitch at St Colman’s Park.
He will head to Turner’s Cross with the hope that a positive performance and result comes to fruition for Ramblers.
Ashton has a long association with Cork City from his time spent there over the years. But his main priority this evening will be setting out a game plan for a positive Cobh result.
“We are looking forward to the start of the season. The first game of the season is going to be an exciting one and competitive as well,” said Ashton.
“Obviously drawing City away adds to the extra bit of spice. We know their players, they know us. We know their staff, they know us. So from that point of view you will have the bragging rights. But it will be a good game.”
Initially as a player and then as a coach, he spent many years of his footballing life at Cork City. Ashton oversaw the development of a lot of young players coming through the underage system at the Rebel Army.
Among the production line of players who progressed through during Ashton’s time working with City, were future Ireland internationals in David Meyler, Shane Long, Alan Browne, and Kevin Long, along with numerous first-team players for Cork City also.
Ashton also had a spell as the caretaker City boss in 2013, prior to the appointment of John Caulfield.
His progressive coaching style has been evident in St Colman’s Park in more recent times. Last term, Cobh narrowly missed out on the play-offs on goal difference in the First Division.
Now as the 2021 campaign finally rolls around, the hope from a Cobh perspective will be that they can go that extra step in reaching that promised land of Premier Division football.
We have got a mix of youth and experience there. It is a nice blend to have.
“We wanted to bring the right people into the squad. So I think, hopefully, we have done that. We kept a good core of the squad from last season and it was adding the right people to that.
“We have got to look at the league as a whole and it is going to be very competitive as well.
“So from that point of view, we have to be ready for each and every game as it comes, building on what we had last season.
“If we do that, we give ourselves a good chance to be where we want to be at the end of the season, which is going for promotion and to win the league.
“Hopefully if we can show performances like we did last season, then we give ourselves a great chance of doing that.”
The 2021 League Of Ireland First Division will be one of the most competitive in years. Shelbourne have assembled a squad stacked full of talent, while Galway United have gone full- time under John Caulfield.
Right across the second tier of Irish football, teams look to have assembled squads stronger than last year.
Ramblers have added well to their set-up and there is a better mix of experienced campaigners and promising youth.
From a Cobh perspective, Ashton is hopeful that Ramblers can remain right in that promotion hunt once again.
“We saw last year how competitive the First Division was. The quality of the games was, for me, great as well and the teams we were playing.
“With Cork City and Shelbourne coming down, two great clubs in the League Of Ireland and they will hope to go straight back up as well.
“Plus the teams that missed out last year, the likes of ourselves, Galway, UCD, Bray, Cabinteely.
“So once you put all them in, hopefully, it is a great league and with those teams mentioned we can have some exciting football.
“Obviously there are going to be winners and losers on the way. But hopefully, from the fans' and the outsiders’ perspective looking in, it can be another as close and competitive.
“I think on the last day of the 2020 season, there were seven clubs who could still be in the promotion playoffs. If we get anything like that again it will be great for the league.”
Cobh have a squad assembled that will be seeking to build on the firm foundations of last season.
In relation to the Ramblers 2021 targets, Ashton states: “We want to be in that mix and hopefully at the top of the pile at the end of that.
“So that is our aim. We are no different to anyone else. We have got to keep our preparations going for the next couple of weeks and be ready for the start of the season, hopefully giving a good account of ourselves.”
Between pushing for promotion and making the EA Sports Cup final in 2018, Ramblers are a club that doesn’t let anything hold it back.
They will go under the radar in the 2021 First Division. But Cobh Ramblers will be quietly confident they can upset the odds once more.'