Interview by Andrew Dempsey
Joining the club on the League of Ireland summer deadline day back in July of 2017, Peter Hopkins has impressed many supporters in his brief, yet effective, stint at the City Calling Stadium.
Prior to Tuesday’s pre-season friendly defeat to Bohemians at the AUL Complex, the former Sheriff YC and St Patrick’s Athletic star sat down with LTFC.ie reporter Andrew Dempsey where the Dubliner spoke ahead of an exciting 2018 season in store whilst looking back on some memorable moments during his time donning the Red and Black of De Town.
Joining the club alongside the duo of Cian Byrne and Alan Kehoe on the League of Ireland’s own version of Deadline Day, who have both re-signed for the club this season, Hopkins looks back fondly on his time at the club so far despite struggling with a recurring injury which put a halt to him being able to put any real momentum together.
“It’s been great. There’s been ups and downs if you get me. When I signed it was great, signing for Longford, which I’ve been working hard for. Then I got an injury after the Sligo game and it was something that kept on repeating and repeating but we’re getting it better now and hopefully this is the week I’m back and please god everything will be good, and I’ll be feeling better. It’s been a positive move since I’ve been here and thank god, I’ve got a good team around me like the manager and physios that support me telling me that things will get better. Definitely it’s been great so far for me at the club.”
Unsurprisingly, Peter pointed back to that magical night at home to Sligo Rovers as his favourite time whilst donning the Red and Black of Longford Town so far.
“The game we played against Sligo Rovers down at the City Calling Stadium in the FAI Cup would have to be that. It was probably one of the best moments of my life when I scored! It was only my first proper start for Longford and we beat them 4-2. I scored the goal in extra time and it was magical. Even just to beat them (Sligo Rovers) because they’re a Premier Division side and all. I think it was a good win for the whole club and the team so that would definitely stand out as my highlight while at the club so far.”
Echoing many of his teammates sentiments around the Longford Town dressing room, the 22-year-old Hopkins spoke on his admiration for his new boss Neale Fenn, emphasising that the Londoners know-how and experience within the game is a vital component in making him tick as a player both on and off the field.
“Neale is an absolute pleasure to be around. He’s such a straight minded kind of manager, he knows what he wants and what he wants to get out of his players. He encourages you to make mistakes in order to improve and he’s always on your case looking to get the best out of you and being the best that you can be. The experience he has as well is an added bonus, he has 25 years worth of experience at a professional level so if its anyone I’m going to learn from its him but he’s an absolute pleasure to be around and be at the same club as each other.”
Having joined the club from Sheriff YC who ply their trade in Junior Football, the Dublin native admitted that he did find the step-up from a more amateur set-up challenging, although not on a footballing level, but on a fitness level standpoint.
“The biggest challenge for me to be honest was really just getting back into the League of Ireland sharpness and getting back into the level of fitness required with the lads. I used to play for St Pats at under 19s level and played a few games for the first team as well, but it was all about getting back up to this level and getting back up to speed with the sharpness of the game because I know that I can play at this level. There’s a big difference between amateur and League of Ireland football and it was really down to the fitness levels required at this level. I’d know most of the lads that play at this level having played with them all my life, but the standard of play was a little bit hard coming from Sheriff to Longford Town but I’m getting there, and things are getting better!”
With the re-introduction of the Playoffs to the First Division and new ten-team format of the second tier of Irish football, Hopkins has welcomed the new change in structure saying that it only helps his teammates secure a return to the top flight.
“To be honest I think that the new league structure is good because if you don’t finish first it still gives you a chance if you finish in the top 4 to still play in the Playoff. If you don’t win the First Division, you still have a chance to show that you can go up. It also gives you chance to fix your mistakes that you might have made during the season which I think is good!”
Despite suffering defeats in the opening few games of pre-season against Shamrock Rovers, St Patricks Athletic and Bohemians respectively, the former Pat's Under 19 star is well aware that these friendlies are unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
“I think this team we’ve got this year is a really good side. I see a lot of improvement and look, I know that we lost our opening few games of pre-season, but this is all about working and gelling together while getting to know each other better. The friendlies are there for us to be making mistakes.”
Personally at least, Hopkins is hoping to have an injury free season at the City Calling Stadium while at the same time improving his overall game both on and off the pitch.
“Personally, my goal this year is to keep myself in top fitness and basically to keep on watching injury and making more improvements to my game both technically and professionally. Coming from Sheriff there isn’t a lot you’d know from Sheriff coming up to the League of Ireland because its so different. It’s a lot more professional and there’s a lot of more hard work required and that’s been something I’ve been looking to work on as I have been working really hard to be the best I can be at this level.”
Finally, with a loud and clear message from the Longford Town dressing room, Hopkins, along with his teammates, knows that promotion back to the Premier Division at the second time of asking is the aim at the Strokestown Road Venue for 2018.
“The goal collectively is that we want to get promoted automatically. We don’t want to be fighting in the playoffs at the end of the season. I believe that we can get promoted automatically but I think that its going to take a little bit of time for us to gel together as a team since there is a lot of new players but once we do, I think we can go on and win the league or come in the top playoff place.”