Contrary to popular belief, the 2018 season is far from over for Longford Town FC.
The Under 19’s, led by the talented Darren McGarry produced a heroic fightback win over Derry City at the City Calling Stadium last week to set up a huge Shield Semi-Final home clash against Shelbourne on the Strokestown Road this coming Sunday. (Kick-off is at 2.00pm)
Ahead of the mouth-watering clash at the City Calling Stadium, under-19 goalkeeper and first team squad member Uli Keller caught up with LTFC.ie reporter Andrew Dempsey to reflect on his year gone by and look forward to the upcoming clash against Shels on Sunday afternoon.
There was no shortage of drama last week as Longford Town’s Under 19’s secured a heroic win over Derry City at the aforementioned City Calling Stadium. After going two-nil down, Darren McGarry’s talented group of young guns produced a stirring fightback win over a crestfallen Candystripes.
Speaking on the win last weekend, Keller noted that it was a team effort that secured the unlikely win as the never-say-die attitude amongst the group became strikingly evident as the game progressed despite the rollercoaster nature of the game.
“It was brilliant. To come back from two nil down when the heads looked down was great. All of us, from myself up to the striker, including the midfield and the defence, to pull together, miss a penalty, and then to go on ahead and score straight after that and then equalise to bring it into extra-time and turn it around to win the game. It was brilliant to be a part of and a great achievement!”
The National League’s structure introduced by the FAI has produced a player pathway like never before in the League of Ireland. Benefiting from this new scheme which has seen the likes of Aodh Dervin and Tristan Noack Hofmann make their first-team bows, the Drogheda man Keller revealed that it would be a dream for him to make his mark on the League of Ireland senior set-up in the coming years.
“It’s everyone’s dream I suppose! Anyone from schoolboys’ level all the way up to the level I’m at now all dream about that. To step out onto the pitch and represent a team like Longford or any other team in the League of Ireland would be a fantastic achievement!”
Every player has an idol, none more so than goalkeepers who have a thankless job at times. Having grown up in Drogheda, the 18-year-old noted that the man who he’s looked up to for the majority of his underage development is current Dundalk shot-stopper Gabriel Sava who has won many league titles with the Lilywhites.
“I would’ve looked up a lot to Gabriel Sava when he was at Drogheda United, which happens to be my local club. I looked up to him a lot and I got lucky last year when I actually got to train alongside him at Dundalk! I never thought that something like that would’ve ever happened!”
Still only a teenager and now facing into his last year of secondary school education, it is rare for any player of Uli’s age to have such experience in a first-team environment.
Sharing a dressing room with the likes of Darren Meenan and Chris Mulhall, who left De Town during the summer, Uli noted that the things he picked up from the experienced heads of the Longford Town FC dressing room has brought him on leaps and bounds as he still learns the tricks of his very trade.
“From that point of view, sharing the dressing room with the likes of Chris Mulhall and Darren Meenan, the experience I’ve got from being around them was brilliant. I’ve learned an awful lot from the two and it has brought me on as a player and as a personality even outside the dressing room. If it wasn’t for my experience in and around the first-team I wouldn’t be at the level, I’m at today!”
Naturally after a win there is a great fantastic buzz around any team, no matter the circumstances. With the Red and Black of the Midlands reaching a national cup semi-final, the mood was even more so improved as mentioned by Keller who is already raring to go for the Sunday afternoon clash at the City Calling Stadium.
“The boys are over the moon! Chuffed they are! We were raring to go again even straight after the match last week. The lads all wanted to train the very next day, but the manager had to tell us to relax and calm down after the game! Darren told us all to re-group and we were in training on Wednesday evening and we’ll train again on Friday as we look to get a big win on Sunday afternoon against Shelbourne to get to a cup final!”
Given the close correlation in age groups between under 19 and senior League of Ireland football, it is only natural to see a young coach like Darren McGarry work closely alongside Neale Fenn, the first-team coach in terms of the development of players.
Commenting on this, the talented Drogheda native remarked on the relationship between the duo as both Neale and Darren sink their teeth into the realm of underage coaching and player development early on in their coaching careers.
“The two of them work side by side. Obviously, Neale is the first-team manager and has more experience while also having experience at the top level as has Darren (McGarry). Darren was once a goalkeeper which helps my bond with him. He’s always happy to see us progress to the first-team and he’s more than happy to let us travel with the first-team if it means missing a game with the 19’s. He really does enjoy having the likes of us with the first-team and coming back to play with the 19’s!”
Giving his thoughts on the upcoming game, Uli noted that he is expecting a tough clash against the Dublin side as De Town look to write the wrongs of the prior two defeats against the Reds so far this year at least.
“It’s going to be a tough game. We’ve come up against them twice already this year and unfortunately, we’ve lost to them twice. However, so did Derry City and we were able to turn that one around. There’s a couple on Shels’ side who I know also play with the first team there and they are very skilled footballers, but we’ve got a great bond among the group at the moment. After the win last week, we can get through thick and thin!”
And finally, Uli had this message for any supporters thinking about heading to the game on Sunday afternoon.
We also have an audio interview with Uli on our SoundCloud page. Click on https://soundcloud.com/longford-town-tv/player-interview-uli-keller to listen.