Article by Kieran Burke – @Kieran_B_Sport.
Over three years on from his departure from Cobh Ramblers, Stephen Henderson is back in a senior League of Ireland management position with the fifty-six-year-old last week confirmed as the new manager of Longford Town FC. Henderson, who had most recently been the Head of Youth Development at Shelbourne up until April of last year, replaces Gary Cronin who has since been announced as Declan Devine’s new number two at Bohemians. Speaking to the press for the first time on Tuesday, the former Waterford United and Cobh Ramblers boss revealed his excitement regarding to opportunity afforded to him by Longford Town chairman Jim Hanley.
“It’s a brilliant opportunity to manage a club where you can attract players, not only from Munster but from where you have a different demographic of players that you can approach and bring to the club, I’m genuinely really excited, it’s been non-stop since after that meeting, the process has started, it’s almost like I’ve never been away”, said the new Town boss.
Currently, Longford Town are yet to announce any re-signings or fresh additions ahead of the 2023 First Division season but Henderson did confirm he was set to meet members of last season’s squad this week in an effort to keep them at the club, something the Dubliner feels is important going into the new year.
“The fact of the matter is, all the players who were with Longford last season are key players because on their day last season that Longford team were exceptional, what we need to figure out is how we can get that consistency week in week out by adding to it.”
“I’ve already arranged meetings and during the week we’ll start making announcements on the current squad and who we’ll be bringing in”, remarked Henderson.
Since Henderson sat down with the press earlier this week, Longford fans have had to swallow some big name departures from the club with Gary Cronin’s assistant manager last term James Keddy bringing Ben Lynch and Aaron Robinson with him to Wexford FC where Keddy has replaced Ian Ryan as manager while Darren Clarke has signed a full-time contract with Galway United. It is understood more losses are expected from last seasons playing staff with Town fans now anxious to see the calibre of player their new manager will be able to replace such important players with.
With two full-time teams in the second tier again next season in the shape of Waterford FC and Galway United, as well as the introduction of new entity Kerry FC, plus strong backing for the new managers at Wexford FC and Bray Wanderers, next seasons First Division looks ultra-competitive but Henderson was quick to point out budgets don’t count for everything with the new Longford boss enjoying success at Cobh Ramblers despite playing budgets of just a few hundred euro per week.
“The thing about money is it isn’t the money that’s running around the pitch it’s the football players and the attitude of those players that is running about the pitch.”
“You can give a lad €1500 per week but if he gets injured for a long time he’s not going to have an impact so with the budgets of these teams and the amount of times they train I say good luck to them but in relation to what we have we’ll work on a core group who want to challenge for the league, that’s first and foremost, we’ll throw that challenge down to the boys and say can we challenge for this league? Can we get this mentality and go out and challenge for every game, no matter if it’s Waterford or Galway can we go out with a plan, and we will have a plan and it will be with a gameplan that’s designed to create as many chances as possible and we’ll see where that takes us.”
Mentality was a word used on numerous occasions at the press conference by Stephen Henderson, not only in regards to how he wants his players to think and go about their business on the field but also when it comes to those involved with the club. When asked how important it would be for him to try and create a bond and a culture of togetherness between players, management, supporters and volunteers, Henderson revelead he was keen to get all of the clubs volunteers into a meeting as soon as possible to ensure everyone feels valued and a part of the club.
“Let’s be honest, it’s huge (to create a togetherness within the club) because if even one part of the club becomes toxic it starts to run through the club.”
“That’s what I mean about the mentality of players, it’s not just about how they are as players but what they are like as people, we want an environment where people train at a really high intensity but enjoy it, we want to set really high standards and if you aren’t reaching it we’ll help you reach it but during that process don’t become toxic and drag people down with you, I’ve enough experience to identify these people fairly quickly.”
“There are lots of fantastic volunteers at this football club and there’ll be lots of meetings with them, there’ll be lots of conversations and I’ve already said to the chairman that we need a meeting with everyone involved in the club because anything that we’re going to do we have to do together, the football club is its entirety, it’s not just about on the pitch.”
With a long winter ahead, Longford Town fans can at least start looking forward to pre-season with Henderson confirming he has already penciled in friendlies against Premier Division opponents UCD and Shelbourne. Meanwhile, Henderson also confirmed he is in the process of finanlishing his backroom staff for 2023 but he was not in a position to name those who may join him at Longford next term as some of those he has targeted for his backroom ticket are currently at other clubs.