Where are the heroes of 2014 now?
Article by Kieran Burke Following David O'Sullivan's disappointing departure last week from the club he served so well for five seasons, Between the Stripes decided to take a look back at the squad list of the league winning side of 2014 in an attempt to see where the heroes of that year now find themselves. With the likes of Rhys Gorman, Gary Cronin and "Sully" all saying their Longford goodbyes in recent weeks it really does feel like the end of an era at the Midlands club with not a single member of that promotion winning side remaining at the club.
We start with the lesser known names of Tony Cousins 2014 squad which featured a crop of under-19 hopefuls that in truth never made the grade despite much promise.
The right-back made three first-team appearances under Tony Cousins and in fact remained with the club following its promotion to the top-flight in 2015. However, the right-back failed to add to his small tally of first-team appearances as "De Town" finished an impressive sixth in their first Premier campaign for eight years. Cinelli departed the club in the off-season of that year and has not been seen in LOI football since.
Despite appearing just once for the senior team in 2014, Higgins was a player manager Tony Cousins talked of highly and he was given the opportunity to play on the big stage in the Leinster Senior Cup final at home to St.Pat's that season. A physical midfielder despite his tender age, Higgins was likened by some Town followers as a possible future replacement for aging captain Mark Salmon however, like so many young talents his spell in the senior ranks was all too brief as Higgins was released at the end of the 2014/15 under-19's season. Like Cinelli he has not featured in LOI since.
Just one appearance for the club at senior level, midfielder Dylan Nolan is best remembered for this sensational strike at under-19's level which went viral (with thanks to Extratime.ie)
A real character off the field, young central defender Dean Murphy was captain of "De Town's" under-19's and having played under-age for Tony Cousins old club Shamrock Rovers, he was always highly rated by his fellow Dubliner. However, having made just one senior appearance come the mid-way point of 2014, Tony Cousins showed the youngster the door as Murphy signed on for non-league Cherry Orchard where he remains to this day.
Another Dubliner who shared a good relationship with Cousins, nippy winger Fitzgerald also managed to notch up a senior debut in 2014 but that was as good as it got with the 2-1 Leinster Senior Cup semi-final win away to Sherrif YC Fitzgerald's only outing prior to departing the LOI all-together.
Last season playing for famous Dublin production-line club Bluebell United, O'Brien is the son of former Ireland international Liam O'Brien and signed for "De Town" following a brief spell at Bohemians, who ironically were managed at the time by before Longford boss Aaron Callaghan. While Tony Cousins clearly had faith in the youngster and rewarded him with a deal for 2015 following just one outing during that successful 2014 campaign, college commitments meant O'Brien would cut his time short in the Midlands later that year.
Certainly a case of one that got away in recent years, Ger Pender was signed by Tony Cousins half-way through that famous title winning season but still managed to make four appearances, including in the Leinster Senior Cup final defeat to St.Pat's. Doing enough to earn a new deal with the Premier Division new-comers for 2015, Town fans were shocked when Pender was allowed to leave before the new season had even begun as First Division outfit Cabinteely captured the promising attacker.
Pender caught the eye quickly and was soon snapped up by Premier Division strugglers Drogheda where he would play ten times prior to the County Louth sides relegation. Again though, Pender had done enough to earn another move up as he signed for Bray Wanderers and the County Wickow club is where Pender would really come to prominence as the striker grabbed nine goals in thirty-six appearances for the "Seagulls". Pender impressed in the early stages of the 2017 season although opportunities proved harder to come by with the likes of Aaron Greene, Gary McCabe and Anto Flood now at the club.
Pender is yet to decide on his future for the forthcoming season and perhaps he is a player that current Town boss Neale Fenn may run the rule over in the coming weeks with attacking options a worry for Longford at the moment.
Making just shy of 100 appearances for the club, Chris Deans four-year spell under Tony Cousins at Longford ended with a bit of a bad taste after the defender was sent off for a vicious elbow on an opponent in a crucial 3-2 league defeat at Tolka Park. While Deans did go on to put in a heroic defensive display in the Leinster Senior Cup semi-final win away to Sheriff that season, injuries saw the veteran call time on his career prior to "De Town" pipping none other than Shelbourne to the First Division title that season.
The most unlikely of fan favorites, Tom Morris arrived at the club at the half-way point of the 2014 season. Signing on after a spell with Port Vale, Morris instantly became a fans favorite as he was living in the Town with fellow new arrival Etanda Nkololo, who also became a cult hero. Making just four first-team appearances in 2014, Morris scored his first and only goal for the club in the Leinster Senior Cup final against St.Pat's to the delight of the adoring Section O faithful. Failing to make a Premier Division outing in 2015, Morris left the club and is currently on the books of Stafford Rangers in the lower reaches of the English non-leagues.
Another man adored by the Section O rebels, Scottish goalkeeper Bennion started out the 2014 campaign as Tony Cousins number one choice between the sticks. However, with "De Town" suffering a slow start to a season where nothing less than promotion was expected, Bennion was controversially dropped for Paul Hunt.
Despite a shaky start for Hunt and pressure from Town supporters, the current Cobh Ramblers 'keeper went on to break the consecutive clean sheets record in the second half of that season as Longford's unbreakable back four of Sullivan, Flynn, Gorman and Tyrell steered the Midlanders to a first ever national league title!
Bennion departed the club soon after (not before a wild night of celebrations that will live long in the memories of Town supporters though) and the Edinburgh man has recently joined Bohemians as a goalkeeping coach following similar roles at Athlone Town and Drogheda United.
Not one of the more kindly regarded members of that famous 2014 squad in all truth, Sean Russell signed for Longford following a three-year spell at UCD where of course he had been managed by his dad Martin Russell. Making twelve appearances that season, Russell's best moment came in a pre-season friendly at home to Limerick where the left-sided player smashed in an ambitious effort from all of thirty-yards against his future employers. That display certainly got Town fans excited but Russell failed to nail down a starting position at the City Calling Stadium and eventually left mid-season to join title rivals Shelbourne. Town fans earned the last laugh however, as Tony Cousins men wrapped the league up with a game to spare and eventually finished eight-points clear of Russell and co.
Russell was recently part of the Drogheda United side relegated back to the second tier having arrived at the club mid-season following a spell in the States with Louisville City. Could we be set for another clash of LTFC and Russell in 2018?
As already mentioned, Nkololo and Morris became cult heros locally given the fact they would often be found wondering around the Town mixing with supporters and would drop in to take part in Section O events in the local such as FIFA tournaments etc. However, on the pitch Nkololo would make a telling contribution to Longford's league success as the tricky wing wizard scored a late and breath-taking winner away to Waterford United to kick start a struggling Town sides season.
That twenty-five yard strike was undoubtedly Nkololo's best moment in the Red and Black of Longford as he made fifteen appearances in 2014. None the less, that was more than enough time to secure Nkololo cult hero status forever more, even after his move to local rivals Athlone Town in 2017.
The aforementioned O'Connor arrived to Longford from St.Pat's CY in 2013 and ironically one of his first contributions to the cause was to injure team-mate Etanda Nkololo in training. The furious Nkololo was left out of action for months after the eager O'Connor made a last ditch tackle in a no contact session, what a start to life in the Red and Black for the full-back!
Famously ahead of the 2014 season O'Connor tweeted to say his boss at work had given an ultimatum regarding time off for football for the year ahead. The Dubliner tweeted to say he had quit his job and "had a league to go and win". That's exactly what O'Connor did too as the full-back played seventeen-times, scoring a world-class free-kick in a crucial league win away to Finn Harps in the final game before the mid-season break. That goal would earn O'Connor a huge deal of gratitude from "De Town" faithful forever more, even after he departed the club at the end of the campaign. It is unknown if O'Connor ever regained his job but one things for certain he'll always have his league medal!
O'Connor's main rival for that starting left-back berth, William Tyrell was another member of this Town squad who was simply adored by the Longford faithful even if he was perhaps not the most technically gifted player in the world.
Tyrell had already earned his brownie points the season before Longford's title win as he rushed back from a serious ankle injury to put his body on the line in a desperate attempt to find a late equaliser in the heart-breaking play-off final defeat to Bray Wanderers. Signing on again for the 2014 season, Tyrell made eighteen appearances as Longford went one better and claimed the league title in the year of the clubs ninetieth birthday.
Now part of the furniture, Tyrell signed a new deal ahead of the 2015 campaign but limited opportunities eventually saw Tony Cousins ship the defender out a Wexford Youths capatilised by signing the experienced defender. Tyrell would go on to pick up the First Division title for the second year in succession as the Youths ironically defeated none other than Longford's old rivals Athlone to claim a first ever LOI title.
Despite Shane Keegan offering the Arklow man a new contract for 2016, Tyrell opted to depart the Ferrycarrig outfit and turned down an offer from Drogheda before eventually opting to retire from the league. Tyrell currently coaches a local underage side in Arklow alongside his personal training routine.
Retiting at the end of the 2017 season just gone by, Noel Haverty is best described as a true warrior on the field and a gentleman off it by Longford Town supporters.
Signing for the First Division outfit in January 2012, Haverty was an instant hit as the no nonsense defender recorded four goals in twenty-three appearances as Tony Cousins men missed out on promotion via the First Division play-offs. 2013 was again a heart-break story for Haverty and Town supporters alike as the Midlands team fell short in a stunning yet sickening promotion/relegation final over two legs versus Bray Wanderers.
Undeterred, Haverty returned again for the 2014 season but this time it was the taste of sweet success as opposed to the bitter taste of tears for the Kildare native as Longford beat his former club Shelbourne to the league title and promotion to the Premier Division.
However, Haverty work commitments cut his stay at the club short in 2015. A return was not long in coming about though as Haverty arrived back in the Midlands in August 2015 to help steer Longford to safety in the top-flight.
Haverty was awarded a special merit award for his dedication to the Longford cause upon announcing his retirement at the 2017 end of season awards and current boss Neale Fenn is certain to find replacing the Trojan defender one of his most difficult tasks this off-season.
Not always universally loved by Longford fans it must be said, Hunt certainly proved his critics wrong when the former Pats shot-stopper set a new consecutive clean-sheets record in 2014 to help guide "De Town" to the title. Having been criticised by sections of the support for so many years, the level of disgust at Tony Cousins decision to release the Kildare-man in 2016 speaks volumes about what a poor piece of management that was with Hunt going on to star for Cobh in the First Division in 2016 & 2017. Between the Stripes wish to congratulate Paul and Trish on their recent wedding and all the very best in married life.
The word legend is banded about all too-often in the modern game but simply put, Mark Salmon embodied the spirit of Longford Town Football Club during his seven years of service in the Midlands.
Initially signed from local rivals Athlone, Salmon had some winning over of the fans to do but one-hundred-and-seventy-five appearances later and thirty-two goals on, Mark Salmon is a true Longford Town legend.
To the disgust of Town supporters, "Salmo" was released by unpopular manager Tony Cousins ahead of the 2016 campaign and it was no surprise to see Longford relegated in humiliating circumstances following that blunder from the former Galway United boss.
The image of Mark Salmon lifting the First Division trophy aloft is one that will live on in the memory of Longford supporters for decades to come and it must be remembered the Town captain had fought back from a potential career ending injury the season previous in order to aid Longford on their way to that great night at a packed out "CCS".
Another player that perhaps fell into the category of "not world class but much loved". Gorman was brought to the club in the summer of 2013 in order to help fill the void left by stricken general, Mark Salmon. An almost impossible task, Gorman settled into the team well and scored four-times from just fourteen appearances as "De Town" lost out to Bray in the promotion/relegation play-off.
Increasing his outings to eighteen the following season, Gorman quickly became a crucial clog in the Longford defensive wheel as the youngster formed an unstoppable partnership with LOI legend Pat Flynn. That defensive pairing would prove to be a major player in Town's title success with Gorman picking up the clubs young player of the year award in the process. Twenty-six appearances followed during the clubs return to the elite level in 2016 as again Gorman and Flynn helped "De Town" to a succesful season with a sixth-placed finish.
However, injury in 2016 saw Gorman miss three-months of a horrible campaign for "De Town" as they were relegated with little or no resistance. Gorman struggled for fitness, game-time and as a result confidence as first Alan Mathews then Neale Fenn took the reigns at City Calling Stadium.
The DIT student left the club after four-years during this close-season and as of yet has not announced a new club.
While there is no news as of yet on speedster Cowan's Longford future, it is expected the former Shamrock Rovers players five-year spell (amassed over three spells with the club) in the Midlands has now reached its conclusion. While many will always wonder what could have been only for injuries, Cowan's explosive pace and raw power really did give Tony Cousins men an edge in that 2014 campaign.
Signing back for his old boss Cousins, who had cashed in on the attacker in 2011 when League One Stevenage came calling, the return of Cowan was seen as something of a marquee addition to an already illustrious Longford squad ahead of the 2014 season. Cowan, who made twenty-eight appearances in total that season, combined brilliantly with the front two of Shaw and O'Sullivan, the "SOS" as they were famously known, to fire "De Town" to title glory with Cowan bagging a brace in the league clinching 5-0 home trouncing of Shamrock Rovers "B".
Injuries hit hard in 2015 as Cowan only made ten outings but he did score a famous last second winner away to Galway to scenes of absolute delirium in the away end of Eamonn Deacy Park. Cowan seemed to enjoy playing at that venue having scored an early goal in a crucial 3-0 win over the "Tribesmen" in the First Division title winning season and it is those moments for which he will be best remembered should the Bronx-born wide-man not reappear under Neale Fenn next season.
Waterford away, Mulhall, thirty-yards.....Those are the five words most used by Town fans when talking of Jamie Mulhall's exploits at the club. Suffering a serious leg break at home to Cobh the season previous, many wondered if the attacking full-back would be able to rediscover the kind of form that had alerted the Irish underage ranks to Mulhall.
Perhaps suffering a slow start following his recovery, Mulhall went on to play twenty-eight times in 2014 and his stunning long-range strike to seal the deal in a 2-0 win away to Waterford at the RSC pretty much secured Longford the title as moments later word came through that "De Town's" nearest title rivals Shelbourne had blown a lead against Finn Harps. Following scenes of jubilation as the results flowed in, it became clear all Mulhall's side now needed was a home win against Shamrock Rovers "B" the following week and as they say the rest is history.
Sadly Mulhall failed to rediscover his First Division form and ended up leaving the club ahead of the 2017 season with a move to Leinster Senior League football muted.
Stating unfinished business at the club following a bitter relegation with "De Town" back in 2007, Shamrock Rovers European hero Pat Sullivan returned to bolster Longford's defence for 2014.
Still a classy defender on and off-the-ball despite his advancing years, Sullivan was a joy to watch as he strolled to the title under Tony Cousins watch, amassing thirty appearances along the way, a testament to the veterans fitness and physical condition.
More than capable of stepping back up to the elite level of Irish football in 2015, Sullivan steered Longford to safety and was always going to prove near impossible to replace when he retired from the game ahead of the 2016 campaign which ultimately ended in disaster for Longford Town.
On the subject of classy players, this man may very well top the bill as one of the finest ball players to ever grace the Longford Town midfield. Short passing, long passing, instant control and the ability to make any opponent look foolish with one swift turn, Kevin O'Connor was at the peak of his powers in 2014.
Amazingly in the sort of story which makes LOI football what it is to so many people, it was indeed O'Connor's wicked thunderbolt strike for Bray in the 2013 play-offs that kept Longford down but O'Connor arrived at the club in pre-season ready to fire "De Town" back to the big time for the first time since 2007.
Playing thirty-times and scoring twice, O'Connor was instrumental for Tony Cousins side as they indeed found their way back to the top table of Irish football. Scoring three important goals the following season, O'Connor looked far from out of place as "De Town" finished sixth in the top-flight but 2016 was a different story with the midfield maestro looking a shadow of the player seen in the previous two campaigns.
Injuries and a loss of form set in as Longford returned to the First Division for 2017 and with the likes of more youthful options such as Jamie Hollywood and Andy O'Reilly signing for Neale Fenn's Town in recent days, it is not expected that Kevin O'Connor will add to his one-hundred-plus appearances for the Red and Black.
Despite often being accused of inconsistency and a poor end product from wide positions, Lorcan Shannon claimed a First Division medal in 2014 with eight assists and two goals to his credit. Never accused of a lack of effort or passion, Shannon was another player with favor among the Section O faithful and that played a role in his decision to stay for the 2015 season.
Making twenty-one appearances that season and scoring away in Tallaght was not enough to retain the services of Shannon however, as the winger signed for First Division outfit Shelbourne.
Shannon departed the "Reds" in June and may find it difficult to secure another LOI contract having already represented Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk (loan), Bohemians, Longford and "Shels" since 2011.
Just as famous for his Twitter antics as his on-field heroics, "Pajo" Flynn added to his legendary LOI status by collecting yet another piece of silverware when he lifted the First Division title with Longford in 2014.
A serial trophy winner with Shamrock Rovers, Flynn had endured a difficult spell at Tolka Park under Alan Mathews leading many to question if the defenders best days were behind him. However, the arrival of ex-Rovers team-mate and good friend Pat Sully saw Longford build one of the meanest back-fours in the country as Flynn's side only shipped nineteen league goals all season.
That old "Hoops" partnership continued into 2015 to great success but Flynn was powerless to avoid relegation in what would prove to be his final season as a player in 2016. Flynn's final game fittingly came at home to Shamrock Rovers with both sets of fans staying back to acknowledge a true LOI great.
Keep an ear out for "Pajo" who will appear on the Between the Stripes LOI podcast Xmas special on December 22nd.
The Rovers old guard wouldnt be complete with the midfield general that was Stephen "Ricer" Rice. Regarded as a bit of a hard man, "De Town" were totally lost without the former Rovers skippers leadership and battling qualities in 2016 with then manager Tony Cousins sensationally showing the man who scored a famous Europa League goal for Rovers at White Hart Lane the door at Longford.
In happier times however, Rice played thirty-one times during the league winning season of 2014 and despite being better recognised for his destructive powers in the defensive third, he managed the notch two crucial goals most notably a late eqauliser at home to promotion rivals Galway at a time when Longford were far from comfortable in that race for the Premier Division.
However, promotion was eventually achieved and naturally Rice was one of the first signatures Tony Cousin perused for 2015 with "Ricer" going on to make thirty appearances, scoring three goals.
While the Dubliners spell at "CCS" may not be one of the longest on record it must certainly go down as one of the best signings in the clubs history as it shifted "De Town's" mentality from promotion hopefuls to accepting nothing less than the title ahead of that 2014 campaign.
Often ridiculed given a previously unsuccessful spell at the club, Peter Hynes's wonder goal at home to Cobh in a crucial title run in match soon put a few dummies in mouths as the laid back strike notched his first goal of the campaign at the most important of times. Somehow managing to rack up thirty-three appearances in 2014, Hynes vicious low drive ended up being a goal of the season contender as the former Aston Villa youth set off into the sun set with a his league winners medal just a few weeks later.
Far from a loved figure even still, Town fans will always remember Hynes for that moment of magic, if only he could have produced it more often. Hynes is now retired from LOI football.
Town supporters may still be coming to terms with the fact David O'Sullivan will wear the Red of Shelbourne next season as opposed to the Red & Black he wore to such great aclaim for the past five-seasons, but in truth we were spoiled to have witness the Wicklow mans record breaking feats on such a regular basis.
Arriving at the club as an almost total unknown in 2013 from Wayside Celtic, it was soon discovered that O'Sullivan could easily transfer his goal-scoring talents from the Irish international amateur side to First Division LOI football. A hat-trick on his debut away to Salthill Devon was the first of an incredible six trebles "Sully" would record while donning the number fifteen of Longford and records would continue to fall season after season.
Twenty-eight goals and a PFAI team of the year selection in 2013, twenty-four goals, a league title, PFAI team of the year selection and of course the PFAI First Division player of the year award, O'Sullivan surpassed Richie Parson's near two-decades long standing goals tally for Longford Town. The Wicklow man would go on to score eighty-two times for the Midlands club in just one-hundred-and-sixty games as legendary status was secured forever more by the fans favorite known as the "White Pele" in these parts.
O'Sullivan said goodbye in fitting fashion this season as he notched no less than three hat-tricks against arch rivals Athlone Town to once again finish as the clubs top scorer for the fifth consecutive season.
As already mentioned, O'Sullivan was face the club where he is most loved next season when his new employers Shelbourne aim to gain revenge for Longford's title win in 2014.
Finally we come to Gary Shaw. Thirty-five apperances and an impressive seventeen goals in 2014, Shaw was David O'Sullivan's right-hand-man in a lethal front partnership known as the "SOS". Often deployed in a wide position by long-ball favoring boss Tony Cousins, Shaw's hard working attitude and respect for the fans was always recognised by those who turned out to watch him.
Suffering a thirty-two game goal drought in 2015, Shaw eventually netted a brace away to Drogheda United as "De Town" secured their top flight status in the process of sending the County Louth side down.
As a result of Shaw's exploits in the Midlands, interest indeed came in the striker from County Louth but it was Stephen Kenny's mighty "Lilywhites" who were reportedly willing to pay a fee assumed to be in the region of €10,00 for the former Bray Wanderers man. However, with Longford meeting Dundalk in the 2015 FAI Cup semi-final at Oriel Park and safety still not assured at the time, Tony Cousins was unwilling to sell his target-man.
However, Shaw's name was now up in lights and it was no surprise to see Shamrock Rovers nip in for the young attacker when his contracted expired at the end of that successful 2015 campaign.
Strangely booed by some upon a return to the ground he called home in 2016 when Longford hosted Rovers in the Premier Division, Shaw is still always quick to recall the Longford glory days and the bond he built up with "De Town" faithful. A modern day gentle-giant who has just signed a new one-year extension at the Tallaght Stadium despite reported interest from Scotland. The Gary Shaw story is one still to be written as the Rovers striker looks to silence some very outspoken critics once more in 2018.