INTERVIEW BY ANDREW DEMPSEY
Longford Town have an exciting Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup First Round tie against Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds on Saturday evening at 7.45pm.
Last season saw an inspired Town dispose of their upcoming opponents Sligo by four goals to two at the City Calling Stadium as Neale Fenn’s young guns stunned Ger Lyttle’s Bit O’ Red with goals from Karl Chambers, Sam Verdon, Peter Hopkins and Kealan Dillon.[caption id="attachment_18746" align="aligncenter" width="1368"] Longford Town defeated The Bit O’Red 4-2 after extra-time in last year’s FAI Cup.[/caption]
Ahead of the impending clash which has pitted the two N4 rivals together once again, local star and current first-team left back Tristan Noack-Hofmann spoke exclusively to LTFC.ie reporter Andrew Dempsey ahead of a salivating do-or-die cup clash against Sligo Rovers on Saturday evening.
Discussed in this interview was our season to date alongside the exciting times that only cup games bring to the table against the best teams the country has to offer.
Consolidating his place in the first-team this year with twenty league games under his belt thus far, Tristan has made the left back spot his own in recent seasons at the City Calling Stadium with many solid defensive displays of grit and determination.
Saying that, he has experienced many ups and downs already in his short career as a League of Ireland footballer, none more so than the recent defeat at Tolka Park.
Now 20, the impressive full-back noted that it was vitally important for the team to bounce back in the way they did against Athlone last week as Neale Fenn’s side look to find that all important momentum between now and the end of the season at the City Calling Stadium.
“It was a difficult weekend for us after the Shels game. At half time or even after an hour you would never have seen anything like that coming but it is what it is, and it was important that we bounced back against Athlone last week. We needed another win under our belts and we’ve a big cup game this weekend against Sligo. Confidence is so important because we have a young squad and thankfully we got a good win against Athlone!”
Lying on 38 points in the First Division league table in 5th place, just four points behind Drogheda United and Shelbourne in 3rd and 4th spot respectively, Town look primed for an end of season assault on the play-offs.
While the title is now mathematically out of reach at the Strokestown Road venue, Noack-Hofmann believes that it is of paramount importance for the team to keep getting points on the board between now and the end of the season as the Red and Black of the Midlands hunt down an elusive Playoff spot.
“In general, we’ve been quite consistent this year. Our levels of football and the way we play has stayed the same throughout. As a squad we’ve gelled together incredibly well. Fair enough the results might not always be the best or the points tally may not have been fair on us so far. Performances have been quite good this year apart from one or two results especially Finn Harps away. We just need to keep getting points on the board between now and the end of the season and who knows what will happen then!”
Comparing last year’s First Division to the latest instalment of it which has seen plenty of twists and turns thus far, the Longford/Cavan border native remarked that it is a far more enjoyable competition to play in this term, citing the unpredictability of results as the major reason as to why.
“It’s so much more enjoyable compared to last year! Every game means so much and you can go to every ground thinking you can get a win on the board. There’s no such weekend when you look at teams saying they’ll beat them or vice versa. As we’ve seen already it’s just so unpredictable. Cabinteely can go and beat UCD or Athlone could go off and take points off anyone. It’s just that kid of a year! You have to take each game as it comes and play to the best of your ability.”
With an improved buzz around Longford Town this year in terms of attendances and results, Tristan noted that he feels no different this year in terms of supporter expectations compared to his previous seasons in the Red and Black as both himself and close friend Aodh Dervin have played starring roles in Neale Fenn’s side.
“To be honest I don’t feel any different this year compared to other years playing for the club. Aodh and I are certainly enjoying our football. We’re both being allowed to express ourselves and that’s a great way to be. The club have been great to us so far and the fans have been so supportive of us when we get out there. They’ve taken us under their wings and have helped us along the way. Expectation is always good in a way but too much expectation is not good. I think we’ve had the perfect balance which has let us excel and allowed us to enjoy our football!”
With this week signalling the introduction of League of Ireland teams into the FAI Cup, the Longford Town FC academy graduate noted that he would love to be involved in another FAI Cup run akin to last year’s adventure in the storied cup competition.
“Cup runs are always great! As good as the First Division is this year, you always relish the feeling of going to big grounds in front big crowds against the best teams there are. You get a real buzz getting out onto the pitch when you’re in the middle of a cup run. You play against the best players and we’ll notice that against Sligo. They have an unbelievable squad and it’s a great experience when you get to play against players of that calibre. A cup run is so important for us lads to experience vibes of a higher league and the differences of playing at that elite level.”
With Manager and Assistant Manager Neale Fenn and Daire Doyle having plenty of fantastic experience in the FAI Cup during their playing careers, the 20-year-old defender noted that the experienced duo have passed on plenty of advice to the players ahead of the exciting cup clash against Sligo come 7.45pm on Saturday night.
“Neale and Daire have been very helpful in getting us ready for the game against Sligo on Saturday night. We know that we’re playing a very good Sligo team and we’ll stick to our own philosophy which has got us to where we are already. We’ve been good with that side of our game throughout this season with Neale and Daire, although we play different teams with different challenges, we’ve generally stuck to our philosophy which has helped us. I think it’s important that we stay to that because that’s how we play best!”
Remarkably, Town have quite an impressive record against Premier Division sides in the Cup competitions under the stewardship of Neale Fenn. Only Cork City have got the better of De Town since Fenn’s arrival in late June 2017 as the 40-year-old Londoner has masterminded wins against the likes of Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers previously in both the FAI and EA Sports Cups during the last twelve months.
An evident aspect of our new style of play, introduced by Neale Fenn, has been the ability for his side to test seasoned Premier Division clubs.
This sentiment was echoed by Tristan when he spoke about the Sligo game at the Showgrounds who believes the team plays better when they are given a crack at bigger teams on quality surfaces.
“The thing with us is we play better when we play good opposition on good pitches. When we play the likes of Cabinteely away on a rugby pitch or Athlone away we struggle to get our game going. On pitches like the Showgrounds in Sligo we really enjoy it. We always put in our better performances when we go out and strut our stuff on better pitches because that’s the kind of team we are. Hopefully the Showgrounds will be in good nick like it always is and we’ll see what happens!”
And finally, Noack-Hofmann had this message for the supporters thanking them for the support they have given the team so far this season.[caption id="attachment_18749" align="alignnone" width="2048"] Tristan was named last year’s LTFC Young Player of the Year.[/caption]
“The support for us has been immense so far this season. You really notice it when we play at the City Calling Stadium and other grounds throughout the country. When we come out from the dressing room, you get that extra 10% which is such a massive boost to ourselves. When we were at Tolka it was like we had a home game! It really gives you that extra push when you need it most and it’s really important to us!”