Cockhill Celtic are back on the giant killing trail on Easter Monday when they play their sixth game against League of Ireland opposition in the space of just four years in the shape of Galway United in the EA Sports League Cup at Eamonn Deacy Park.
Their 3-1 win in the impressive surroundings of the then Terryland Park in 2011 marked the beginning of a string of outstanding performances by the club in the League and FAI Senior Cups.
The odyssey has included a packed house at Maginn Park against Sligo Rovers and going ahead against Drogheda United at United Park in last season’s FAI Cup, and their army of travelling supporters will make the trip down the N17 keen to write the next chapter.
“There are players who have played with League of Ireland clubs who haven’t made six senior appearances so it has been a great period for our players and everyone at the club,” noted manager Donal O’Brien who enjoyed a distinguished career himself in senior football on both sides of the border.
“This is our sixth game against League of Ireland opposition in the last four years so we are on the map at this stage.
“We are unbeaten domestically in the last two and half years so this is another great opportunity for us to step up from that level and test ourselves.
“They are an ambitious group of players and they want to perform on this stage and see how good they are, particularly our younger players who would have aspirations of playing at this level in the future.”
Before the draw was made, Galway away was the least attractive of the six possible outcomes for Cockhill, whose first choice was a home draw but a second preference of a trip to the Sligo Showgrounds or the Brandywell was also appealing.
“Financially a home draw would have been our preference and bringing any of the three League of Ireland clubs to Maginn Park would have been a great occasion but it’s a good day out for ourselves and the supporters and it’s another game to enjoy,” admitted O’Brien.
Cockhill continued their outstanding start to the shortened Ulster Senior League season with a 3-0 win over a talented Derry City Reserves outfit at the Charlie O’Donnell Sports grounds on Sunday.
After playing second fiddle to Kevin Mahon’s side for much of the first half, a change in formation bore fruit in the second as a brace from new signing Matty Henry and one from Jimmy Bradley maintained their 100% start.
“The league has been going well, we’ve won three games in the league and two in the cup without conceding a goal so I couldn’t be happier,” O”Brien continued.
“I felt Derry bossed the first half but we changed our formation from a 3-5-2 to a 4-5-1 for the second and we played a lot better and got the goals to win the game.
“Our clean sheets have been a testament to the performances of all our defenders who have been outstanding and Galway won’t get anything easy in this game.
“The players still have the hunger to win another league title and the target of winning three leagues in a row has pushed everyone on.”
Greencastle man Henry has already nailed down his place in the Cockhill midfield alongside another new signing Ryan Varma who was a fixture in the Institute FC side who won promotion to the Irish League Premier Division before being deemed surplus to requirements at Drumahoe before Christmas.
While delighted with how that pair have settled in, O’Brien will be planning without a number of his established players for Monday.
“We started off with a squad of 22 players at the start of the season and we’ve been down to 13 or 14 players in some games so it’s been difficult,” he noted.
“Ryan came to the club a little bit frustrated with football after leaving Institute but he’s enjoying the game again and he’s been excellent for us.
“Matty is someone who has played at a high level with Finn Harps and Derry City and he wanted to step up again after playing with Greencastle. He scored two goals for us at the weekend and he’s someone who I feel there is much more to come from.
“Gerry Gill has been our top goalscorer this season and I’ve been particularly impressed with his performances.”
Galway defeated Finn Harps in the first round of this competition while Cockhill received a bye and O’Brien will no doubt speak to Harps coach and Cockhill club man William O’Connor about that game as part of his preparations.
They have recorded just one league win to date but their defeats have been narrow and he is expecting them to be fired up for the game, particularly after the result the last time the sides met.
“They are a much more professional club now and have a full time playing staff and although they’ve lost most of their league games so far they’ve been narrow defeats. Any club that competes in the Premier Division of the League of Ireland have a lot of quality.
“We probably have lost that element of surprise alright and they will want to get one over on us after what happened the last time.
“They have Shamrock Rovers on Friday night which will be a difficult game for them and they could be coming into Monday’s game having lost five out of six of their league games. They will naturally want to get back to winning ways and that means there isn’t much chance of them taking their eye off the ball.
“Dan Nolan has been studying the dvds of their games so the players will be well drilled on setpieces before Monday. We will train tonight (Tuesday) and get out on the grass on Friday before giving the players the weekend off before we travel down on Monday.”
Good luck to Cockhill Celtic from everyone at the Inish Times
By Johnny Craig
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