LTFC.ie reporter Kieran Burke talks to ‘De Town’s’, only local player, Michael Lee ahead of Friday night’s massive encounter at the Drom as the 2013 season kicks into overdrive. You can follow Kieran and Michael on Twitter @burko77_ and @MickLee18.
Q1: Of course everyone is talking about the start of the league tonight Michael, but what we need to know is will you be fit to feature after a pre-season injury?
A1: Yes I am. I’ve trained all week and had no problems. It’s great to be back and I’m just looking forward to the trip to Galway.
Q2: With that injury scare in pre-season now behind you it will surely come as a relief to step out at the Drom on Friday night, would you perhaps even go as far as to say the pressure is off your shoulders a little now?
A2: Well for myself, I was always worried that I wouldn’t be back for the start of the season, but now that I know I will be I can put that worry to bed.
Q3: Some supporters were slightly worried with some of the results in pre-season but the manager has been quick to stress the un-importantance of pre-season results, that it is all about fitness and preparation for night's like Friday, would you agree?
A3: Yes I completely agree with that statement. The main thing is to work on fitness through those games. It’s also an opportunity for the manager to try different systems of play and also to move players about into different positions to see how they can adapt. I don’t think we won a single game in pre-season last year and half way through the season we were 9 points clear at the top of the table so pre season results are irrelevant.
Q4: As we've mentioned already now, it's a trip to the Drom on Friday night to play last year's bottom side Salthill Devon. Despite a patchy recent record against the Galway clubs, most Town fans are confident of a winning start. Do the players share that belief ahead of opening weekend?
A4: We never travel to any away game without thinking we can get a result. We lost very few games on the road last year and with an even stronger team this year we’ll be looking to improve on that even further. There’s no easy game in this league and you can be guaranteed SD Galway will work very hard and run around all day. If we stick to our game plan and do our jobs correctly I’d be very confident of picking up 3 points Friday night.
Q5: Most football fans seem to think as soon as you enter the first competitive game that the winter rust just falls away and fitness levels are already at 110%. Is that the case or will it take a couple of competitive games to truly get going and reach those top performance levels?
A5: I think it’s very important to hit the ground running and set the tone from the first game forward. We’ve had a really good and tough pre-season campaign so I don’t think there will be any ‘winter rust’ at all. We’ve prepared correctly for this game and all the new lads have slotted in really well.
Q6: As always there are a number of new arrivals in the squad ahead of a new season with three of those being defenders in the shape of Brian McCarthy, Corie Treacy and Willie Tyrell. How have those three in particular bedded into the squad in pre-season and with your injury have you had much time to work with them in training?
A6: Yes, I had a good bit of time to work with them. I travelled to Cork and played a small part in the Shamrock Rovers game and trained with them all.
Its Brian’s (Brian McCarthy’s) second spell at the club so I know what he’s about and how he plays and I think he’s an excellent addition to the squad. He was in the team of the year last year and I believe he’ll start this year where he left off last year.
As regards Corie Treacy, I was actually surprised when Limerick didn’t run to sign him again as anytime we competed against them last year he one of their key players at the back and mopped up a lot of mistakes his then team mates made around him. Like Brian he’s a great addition to the squad and very versatile, I think he can play anywhere across the back four.
Willie Tyrell has been excellent in pre season. He’s very enthusiastic and has blended exceptionally well into the squad. Again I think he’ll be a key player for us this year and a great addition to the squad.
Q7: Looking further up the field there are some very exciting attacking prospects in the likes of Keith Quinn, Ethan Nkolo and David O'Sullivan. Surely new arrivals of that nature must give everyone a real boost in training ahead of the new season?
A7: Yes it does. It gives a great boost to the squad. All three players possess blistering pace. With Ethan (Nkolo) and “Quinny” (Keith Quinn) on opposite wings, if either of them even get a yard of space in front of them they will punish teams. I played against Ethan last year and he has a great work ethic. I believe Davey (David O’Sullivan) will hit double figures scoring wise this year which is something we’ve lacked the last few seasons. He’s been brilliant in training and very lively in all the games so far. We’ve an excellent blend of young and older players and great depth this year which I think will stand to us come the end of the season.
Q8: Without wanting to look to far down the road for the coming season, it looks as if we have quite a tricky start to say the least with Waterford United visiting City Calling Stadium next week before a long trip to the revived Cobh Ramblers. Has the manager set any sort of points target for the first round of games and do you personally prefer to get the big games out of the way with first as it may allow long winning runs to develop later in the year?
A8: We always just take one game at a time. We want to have all our focus on the next game rather than thinking about a game in three weeks time. As I’ve said already, there’s no easy game in this league so we have to prepare correctly for every game. Every single league game this year regardless of the opponent is going to be tough. We’ve jumped three places in the league every year since Tony (Cousins) has taken over and we want to keep that record going.
Q9: We've talked about some of the new arrivals and the atmosphere they add to the dressing room but, at a recent press conference, Keith Gillespie announced his intent for this to be his final year in football while the experienced Chris Deans also remains at the club. My question is, just how influential and important can having experienced players like Gillespie and Deans be to a club like Longford Town?
A9: It’s very important to have players like those two at the club. Both players have had successful careers and know how to win games. It gives the team great confidence knowing we have that experience in our squad. Keith (Gillespie) and Deansy (Chris Deans) are both very vocal on the pitch as well as being great leaders. They give good information on the pitch which helps the overall team performance. I know Keith want to leave on a high so winning the league would be the
perfect send off for him.
Q10: At the opposite end of the tape we also have young talent like Aaron Brilly coming through the clubs under-19's system. How impressed have the lads been with Brilly in pre-season because he's certainty caught the eye of quite a few fans?
A10: Brilly’s been very impressive in pre-season. He’s learning all the time from the people around him and taking all the information he needs on board and will be a key player for the club in a few years. It’s great having Philly (Phillip Coffey) involved with the 19’s because he can see the players that have the potential to go forward and alert Tony (Cousin’s), rather than players like Brilly going off to other clubs.
Q11: On the subject of the under-19's and young players coming through the senior ranks, as the only Longford native in the current squad, do you feel it's important the club focus on developing more local talent for the future or does it only matter how good the players we have are and not where they come from?
A11: I do think it’s important to develop local talent. I think Jim Hanly (Longford Town FC Chairman) is focussed on doing just that as he has got more involved with the youth set up in Longford. I’ve been out at a few of the U-16 training sessions and there are some very good players. For as long as I can remember I don’t think there have been many local players involved. The last we had was Adrian Murphy and it’s just been myself since then. I believe there are a lot of players around Longford who are good enough to play but they tend to favour GAA rather than sticking to Football which is unfortunate.
Q12: Back to the senior squad and the new season, we went ever so close last time round (to promotion) but what is the objective this season and is there a real belief in the camp that it can be matched this time round?
A12: I think winning the league is the goal this season. I’m not putting pressure on the players or management by saying that either because we all know the quality we have in the dressing room this season is more than good enough to go on and win the league. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy at all. As I’ve said already there are no easy games in the league this year.
Q13: As ever Michael we will end on a less serious note. At a lot of clubs you often hear of initiation rituals for new players (for example new Chelsea players must sing to the squad in the dressing room) but do the Longford Town boys have anything like that and if not, what would you have it be?
A13: We don’t really have anything so maybe we should think about introducing something. The new lads usually bring the DVD’s for the away trips and the younger lads have to bring in all the gear after training so I suppose you could say that’s something.
A special thanks to Michael for taking time out of a busy pre-season schedule to speak to Kieran Burke for LTFC.ie.
Fans question: It looks like the lads are short on ideas for a initiation service for new players, send us your suggestions and who knows maybe it might feature in the dressing room in the near future. Thanks for reading and see you in Salthill.