Town goalkeeper Craig Hyland in conversation with Kieran Burke, ahead of this weekend's El Classico.
Q: Welcome Craig, first off congratulations on an excellent season so far for you both personally and team wise. You must be delighted with your form considering this is your first full season with the club?
A: Thank you. Yea, I would say I am happy with how the season has gone thus far for both the team and me personally. It is my first season with the club and really the first time I’ve been given a chance as first choice in the league of Ireland, something which I am grateful for but I know I can’t take anything for granted and that I need to keep working hard to improve and keep playing.
Q: Seven clean sheets so far this season, which I’m sure most people will agree is unusually high for Longford especially compared to past seasons. What do you put that success in keeping clean sheets down to this season?
A: It's hard to pinpoint exactly what has gone right. I think as a team we have worked really hard this season to make sure we’re defensively sound. Credit has to go to Gary Cronin for the defensive shape work he does with the back five. I think it has really given us all a better understanding of how to defend as a team and means all the defenders, whether involved in the starting 11 or the bench, know their roles.
Q: “De Town’s” back four has been extremely impressive at times this season with Noel Haverty one of the back four’s top performers. Just how big of a blow has his recent long term injury been to you and the rest of the team?
A: ‘Havo’ is a quality player and has arguably been our best and most consistent player. But all the lads in the squad are more than capable of stepping in and replacing any player not just ‘Havo’. We have great competition in the squad for all positions and we have a big squad so we’re well able to cope with the recent injuries.
Q: Speaking of injuries this past week we were all very disappointed to hear the news that striker Gary Shaw has broken his ankle. How big of a role will injuries play for all the teams as we approach the final stretch in this title run in?
A: As I mentioned before we have a big squad full of quality players so we are capable of replacing anybody. The injury to Gary is a blow because there is no doubting he has great ability but the recent injuries will bring us closer together as a group and hopefully we can get the job done for the lads.
Q: Before we talk about Friday night’s Midlands’s derby I have to ask you about the other massive game taking place in the First Division this weekend as league leaders Limerick take on their bogey team Waterford. Can Waterford United do Longford Town a massive favour on Friday night or are you only concerned about what happens in Athlone this weekend?
A: To be honest we aren’t thinking about other teams we are only worried about our own games. Were confident that if we do well in our final 6 games we will have every chance of being up there. The pressure is on Limerick and all we can do is keep winning and make sure we give ourselves a chance should anything happen.
Q: This is the fourth and final Midlands derby or “El Grand Classico” as it is affectionately known in these parts. Do you enjoy playing in these derby games and what makes it so special?
A: The games (between Longford and Athlone) so far have been great. They have a more special feel to them because of the huge turnout of support we get for them. You can see what these games mean to the fans and that spurs you on to do well for them.
Q: A huge away gathering is expected in the Athlone Town Stadium on Friday night, does that put any added pressure on you to perform for the fans or will that pressure help focus you and the rest of the lads?
A: I don’t think it puts pressure on us no. The lads are all experienced and enjoy playing in front of big crowds. It’s always great when we have a big turnout and it is great motivation to do well for the team and the fans. The fans have been great for us this year and with 6 games to go I hope we get big turnouts to help us over the line.
Q: Late Monday night the news filtered out that Athlone Town FC had parted company with manager Mike Kerley. Personally I was quite surprised with Kerley’s departure but do you think it will have any impact on Friday’s game? It’s not unusual for a fresh face to boost players for his first game after all with players trying to impress and put an early marker down for the new boss. What are your views on this?
A: To be honest I was surprised myself. I thought Kerley and Athlone had done well and they are in a better position than last year, so for me it is a strange one. With the new manger all the players will be out to impress, as you said, so it will make the game a bit more lively. We just need to remain focused and play our game the way we know we can.
Q: We mentioned earlier that Gary Shaw and Noel Haverty will miss out through injury but Keith Gillespie, who has been captaining the side of late, will also miss out through suspension. How big of a blow is it to lose such an experienced figure as Keith and has working with such a top professional like Keith Gillespie helped you personally despite the obvious positional differences?
A: Keith is not only an excellent player; he’s also a great pro and a very hard trainer. I think this rubs off on all of us and makes everyone work harder. It’s good to get a feel for the level of effort he has put in for his whole career and it allows us to see what it takes to be at the level he was. Again his suspension is a blow but as I mentioned earlier we have the players in the squad that can step up in place and the team gets no weaker.
Q: Your last club was Shamrock Rovers but you have come down to Longford and really made a name for yourself this season. Where do you see yourself going from here? Would you like to continue building your reputation with Longford Town or can you see your name up in the lights so to speak in the not so distant future?
A: I haven’t really thought about my future too much to be honest. What I will say is I am very happy playing with Longford and I enjoy working with the lads. Tony is also a great manager, he has given me my chance and I’d like to repay him for that. He also has confidence in me which helps a lot as a goalkeeper.
Q: These days it’s very rare you find a footballer at any level that isn’t on Twitter but you are one of those. Have the rest of the Twitter heads in the dressing room been at you to get on it yet or do you feel even at this less publicised level of football it’s just too much of a distraction?
A: To be honest it’s not something that interests me really. There is a lot of banter between the lads about it and it’s all good fun but personally it’s not for me.
Q: You appear to be quite an athletic goalkeeper, where does that athleticism come from? Is it simply through hard work or have you some sort of other sporting backgrounds perhaps?
A: No I’ve never really had any interest in any other sports. I think it’s just from working hard and I’ve been very lucky to work with some of the top goalkeepers in the country and I’ve been with top goalkeeping coaches over the last number of years which helps a lot. It’s something which no one should underestimate and is really important to every ‘keeper’s game.
Q: It’s been a pleasure speaking to you Craig so finally, can you tell us the best and worst thing about been a goalkeeper in the League of Ireland?
A: Hmmmh... that’s a tough one.. I think the worst thing would be pressure you’re under to perform at your best for every game. Outfield players can get away with little mistakes as they have 9 others that can help them through. If a keeper is having an off day it usually results in goals. The Best thing about being a LOI goalkeeper would have to be the banter with the lads. There’s a great bunch of lads at Longford and it makes the training and match days good fun away from the actual game itself.