“We’ve got unfinished business” says Ashton ahead of Cork derby

Author: Kieran Burke – @Kieran_B_Sport

It’s hard to know what is the stranger prospect this Friday night at
Turners Cross, a Cork derby being played in front of an empty stadium or
the fact that the second-tier of Irish football is the stage for such an
occasion. Just four-years-ago Cork City FC were not only league
champions but double winners while it’s just under ten years since Cobh
Ramblers rejoined the League of Ireland after a spell in the wilderness.
In fact, during the Stephen Henderson years at St.Colman’s Park it
appeared the Rams may even secure promotion to mix it with their mighty
neighbors in the top-flight but runners-up finishes and play-off
heartbreaks ended such dreams but now both Cork clubs are operating in
the same division in what should be an intriguing 2021 First Division
campaign.

While it was clear a long way from the finishing line last season that
Cork City would end up plying their trade in the First Division in 2021
this is a derby that may not have happened if Stuart Ashton’s Cobh
Ramblers team had managed to squeeze their way into the First Division
play-offs last term. A disappointing scoreless draw at home to Shamrock
Rovers II on the final day of last season saw the Rams miss out on the
final play-off position by not five points but five goals as Cobh’s
tally of just 22 goals in 18 league games came back to bite.

Speaking at a virtual Cobh Ramblers press night Stuart Ashton admitted
his group of players still carried the disappointment of last season on
their shoulders and plan to use it as motivation to achieve thrir goals
this time around.

“We feel we’ve got unfinished business from last season, the lads felt
they missed out (on the play-offs) and we’ve kept the core of that group
together so we have a desire to carry on where we left off last season”
said the Cobh Ramblers manager.

Given Ramblers won 7 of their last 11 games at the conclusion of last
season it’s easy to see why Ashton would be so eager to pick up where
his team left off in 2020 but he also admitted to being under no
illusions as to how competitive the new campaign is going to be.

“You’ve got last season’s teams that missed out which includes ourselves
but you’ve also got two historic clubs in Shelbourne and Cork coming
down who should add to what’s going to be a great season. Everyone has
aspirations of leagues and cups and we include ourselves in that but
we’ve got to be realistic that there are some great players coming into
First Division and it’s going to be as competitive as ever. Hopefully
from a fans point of view it will be as entertaining as last year where
we went into the final day with 5 or 6 teams still in the mix” remarked
Ashton.

Questioned on what exactly an opening day Cork derby means to him and
his players the former Cork City assistant admitted that while the
occasion has certainly lost something without the fans that there will
still be plenty of “spice” about the fixture on Friday.

“No crowds take away from derby a little bit but that won’t change the
players view and while a lot of the players will know each other out on
the pitch that friendship disappears for 90 minutes on Friday so you’ll
get a normal derby in that respect” commented Ashton.

Even though Ashton could not hide away from the fact this game does mean
slightly more than most the Ramblers boss was keen to stress that in the
grander scheme of things this is “just a league opener” and ambitions
for the year won’t be decided on the night even if bragging rights in
the County are. That was a point one of Ashton’s most experienced
players Ian Turner, also once of Cork City, was keen to back up.

“It’s a different squad at Cork to last year but we need to take the
occasion out of it as this game won’t defy our season. Our targets are
ones we have to stick to and be professional about sticking to them, it
starts Friday it’s a big derby which won’t be same without fans but we
have got to be professional and it starts Friday said to former Limerick
FC and St.Pat’s star.

In terms of the preparation and build up to this season opener Stuart
Ashton revealed he is more than happy with the progress his squad has
made in pre-season despite some up and down results in pre-season
friendlies.

“I’m happy with pre-season, we’ve had some good games albeit some not
great results but it’s not about that it’s about game time and the new
lads getting to know systems and what’s expected of them. That’s gone
well and while we’re all disappointed when we lose the results have
probably looked worse than they are and with that frustration the lads
are buzzing to get going on Friday now” remarked the former Galway
United player turned manager.

As touched on earlier, Stuart Ashton shares a history with Friday’s
opponents having been a coach and number two at Cork City during his
managerial career in the League of Ireland making it unsurprising that
he was asked by a local reporter what this derby meant to him
personally. Ashton’s reply left little doubt over where his current
allegiances now rest.

“For me it’s just another game. I’m Cobh Ramblers…. Whatever about my
past history, I’m Cobh through and through and while you don’t lose your
history and I’ve still got great friends at Cork City my job this week
and this season is Cobh Ramblers” said a passionate Ashton.

While it’s clear Ashton’s side will have to find ways to convert more
chances this season if they are to avoid the pitfalls of last season’s
play-off avoidance the Cobh boss also feels it’s of crucial importance
his side maintain their defensive structures of 2020 which saw Ramblers
finish the regular season with the fourth best defensive record in the
division.

“Whatever division your in you’ve got to have that foundation (at the
back) but also getting the balance right with the attacking formation to
try and break down the opposition but we’re happy with the balance (in
our squad)” said Ashton.

Despite revealing his content with the makeup of his squad for the
season ahead Ashton wasn’t shy in letting the press know he had made
attempts to bolster his ranks even further right up until the transfer
deadline closed shut.

“We’re always looking can you improve; we’ve added to last season’s core
with people we think are the right personnel. Right up to the close of
the transfer window we were still trying to get lads in and that never
changes. I’ve got to keep trying to improve the team to keep it going
forward but what we have now I’m delighted with.”

Also on the call was Cobh Ramblers chairman Bill O’Leary who not only
seemed equally happy with the squad Stuart Ashton had put together for
the year ahead but O’Leary also spoke about his delight at off-field
progress being made at the club despite the challenging financial
situation faced by the wider business community.

“The progress on the pitch is being replicated off the pitch and this
opening fixture is a great chance for us to have such a showcase.
There’s been good back and forth on social media (between the Cork
rivals) and we have increased sponsorship massively which is a credit to
everyone. We’ve the ladies team coming up, 100-year celebrations, ground
improvements, we’ve added two ladies on the club board and we’ve a good
developing relationship with FAI so I’d love a run at the play-offs
because that’s when you really capture the fans imagination but I think
with the improvements we’re making off the field that footfall through
the gates will be greatly up when we can open again” said a very proud
Cobh Ramblers chairman.

For a full match preview with discussion and predictions on Friday’s
Cork derby be sure to tune in to S5EP3 of Between the Stripes LOI
podcast available now via this website or on all good podcast platforms!

Further reading