The long wait is almost over for Longford Town FC fans as they count down the minutes until they step through the famous gates of City Calling Stadium for yet another season. However, spare a thought for Longford midfielder, Mark Salmon who has been out of action since the midway point of the 2013 campaign having picked up a season ending knock against our next opponents, Athlone Town. Ahead of Friday night’s home game, “Salmo” (@salmoner8) sat down with our reporter, Kieran Burke (@burko77_) to discuss his road to recovery, the heartbreak of last season, the high hopes for 2014, the captaincy and everything else in between in this in depth Q+A.
Q1: Mark, it’s great to speak to you but can you update us on your recovery status, when can we expect to see Mark Salmon back in action for Longford Town Football Club? The long wait is almost over for Longford Town FC fans as they count down the minutes until they step through the famous gates of City Calling Stadium for yet another season. However, spare a thought for Longford midfielder, Mark Salmon who has been out of action since the midway point of the 2013 campaign having picked up a season ending knock against our next opponents, Athlone Town. Ahead of Friday night’s home game, “Salmo” (@salmoner8) sat down with our reporter, Kieran Burke (@burko77_) to discuss his road to recovery, the heartbreak of last season, the high hopes for 2014, the captaincy and everything else in between in this in depth Q+A.
A1: My recovery is going well; I was back with the surgeon there only yesterday so we checked it out and everything looks great. I’ve been back with the lads in pre-season doing my own bit of running and twisting and turning during the week so hopefully I don’t suffer any setbacks and can get back by early March.
Q2: Pre-season is barely a few weeks old at this point but games leading up to the Galway clash on March 7th continue to come thick and fast with Athlone Town the visitors to The City Calling Stadium tomorrow night. With everything that happened last season is this a game the team are motivated to win or is it simply a chance to stretch the legs before the real stuff starts?
A2: A derby always has that little bit extra to it; Athlone pipped us to it (the title) last season so the lads won’t be happy about that. It’s great to get the games in early as you simply can’t recreate playing football and the intensity of it no matter how much running you do in training.
Q3: Many pundits point to your injury mid-season away to Athlone last season as the moment it all went wrong for Longford. Has it gone through your head at all of ‘what might have been’ had you not picked up that season ender in Lissywoolen?
A3: No, I wouldn’t agree with that as there was more than just me injured last season. We lost a lot of players in the third series last year and Tony (Tony Cousins, Longford Town manager) had to rebuild a new team with a lot of young players but this season the likes of Stephen Rice and Kevin O’Connor should add real steel to our midfield with a good mix of experience and youth with the likes of Rhys Gorman and Peter Hynes in the squad this season.
Q4: Games between Longford Town and Athlone Town are known as “El Clasico” and last season we really saw attendances and atmospheres at those derby games to justify a tagline like that. With attendances the way they are across Irish football, are those games one the players from both camps will miss this season and surely its such occasions that will motivate the Longford to secure top flight football for 2015?
A4: These derby games always seem to bring extra supporters out to games so of course players want to play in front of big crowds and we will miss those games, so it would be nice to draw them in a cup. But yes it should drive us on as you said as a Premier derby would surely bring out a big attendance.
Q5: It’s all change across the Midlands ahead of the 2014 season with Mick Cooke in at Athlone while Longford have signed no less than 8 new players during the winter transfer window. How do you see the approach of both sides being different this season opposed to last and just how exciting is it to be involved in Midlands LOI football right now?
A5: Athlone got promoted last season and we went very close so it is a very exciting time to be involved with midlands LOI football right now. We’ve built a great squad over the off-season and hopefully we can put the cherry on the cake by winning promotion next year and if Athlone manage to stay up it would of course be great to play a Midlands derby in the Premier.
Q6: You are one of many players that have donned both the red and black and blue and black in recent years but its Longford Town coach Graham Lawlor who most recently made the switch across the great divide. How have the players taken to Graham since his arrival and what qualities does he bring to the club that perhaps you didn’t have last year?
A6: Like I said, I’ve been doing my own work in pre-season so haven’t really had the chance to work closely with Graham but the lads all seem to speak very highly of him and a lot of Athlone people credited him as playing a large role in their title win so it’s great to have him at the club. In terms of qualities he seems to like to get the footballs involved early in the drills so it should suit the players and the way we want to play.
Q7: One of those 8 new LTFC arrivals is of course Stephen Rice from Shamrock Rovers. Stephen captained the side on his debut away to Wexford league side Shamrock Rovers AFC but can you just clarify the captaincy arrangements for the upcoming campaign, will there be a separate club and team captain as is becoming the norm in modern day football?
A7: I just had a chat with Tony (Cousins) the other night and I will be the club captain this season with “Ricer” the team captain but I am delighted to continue in the role as every player wants to captain their club.
Q8: That figure of 8 new signings doesn’t include the fresh faces coming up from the under-19’s squad with defender Dean Murphy and midfielders Craig Fitzgerald, and Lee Higgins just three of the highly rated prospects who might get some senior game time this season. How have the younger players fared in pre-season training so far and as one of the more experienced players just how big of a role do you play in helping these players find their feet at this level?
A8: The young lads have slotted in with no problem and have done well and impressed the manager, they look good and sharp. The senior players have made them feel welcome and there’s always some of the experienced players having a word with them in training or in the dressing room helping them out so hopefully they can do well for us.
Q9: One aspect that has been affecting LOI clubs pre-season prep up and down the country is the weather, as someone involved in domestic football in Ireland has the past few weeks finally proven that any calls for a return to winter football are totally unrealistic in your opinion?
A9: We simply don’t have the resources in terms of professional groundsmen etc to look after the pitches in this weather. We’re very lucky in terms of the facilities we have but even in the lower leagues in England you can see games being called off so I just can’t see us ever returning to that way of things.
Q10: In recent interviews with Stephen Rice and Willie Tyrell we’ve discussed Town’s potential title rivals this season with Galway FC and Waterford United the main names mentioned but again from a players point of view what do you make of the inclusion of Shamrock Rovers ‘B’ in the First Division for the coming season and what do you make of the possibility of facing up to 3 senior Rovers players on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon?
A10: I don’t think you can ever pinpoint just one team as being title rivals this season with Shelbourne coming down a lot of people seem to be ignoring them but they are a massive club so you can never rule them out. I also think the likes of Finn Harps will be there or thereabouts as well as the two teams you’ve mentioned.
Q11: In that interview with William Tyrell, the Longford defender said he had set himself a goals tally of 5 for the season. Do you usually set similar targets at this time of the year or are you simply focusing on one thing at the moment, that being getting back to full fitness and playing football again as soon as possible?
A11: Mainly I’m just focussing now on getting fit and getting back my place with such competition for places in the team that is my main focus at the moment.
Q12: Before penning this interview I put the offer out there for fans to send in any questions they might have but your team mate Paul Hunt has taken the opportunity to ask if you will ever take a penalty again as David O’Sullivan seems to have kidnapped that role away from you?
A12: Haha, David O’Sullivan is only minding them until I’m back, he knows what his role is when I’m back playing.
Q13: It’s been fantastic talking to you Mark so final question for now, who is the one player we should look at for this season, be it at Longford or anywhere else, who is going to surprise us in 2014?
A13: The one player you can look out for is Rhys Gorman; he was fantastic last season but looks even sharper this year so I’d watch out for him.
The team at www.ltfc.ie wish to thank Mark for taking time out to talk to us and we wish him the very best of luck in both his personal recovery and in his role as club captain this season.