ULSTER Senior League champions, Cockhill Celtic, will sail into unchartered waters this Monday night when the Inishowen “hoops” stride onto Galway United’s Terryland Park to make their debut in the EA League Cup competition.
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
And, interestingly, while the Buncrana side will be facing senior opposition for the first time in their history, both Derry City and Finn Harps will also be playing in the Galway region on the same night.
Managed by former City and Harps midfielder, Donal O’Brien, the Cockhill club has made significant strides over the past two decades and now boast superb facilities on the outskirts of Buncrana.
Two full size playing pitches; a training pitch and a nine-a-side floodlit third generation grass facility has clearly brought the club high profile intermediate status.
And when one considers the fact that the players actually pay E5 per week each for the privilege of training and representing the club, it would appear that Cockhill Celtic continue to fashion that vitally important parish element in their make-up, hence the progess which has been made.
But on Monday night at 7.45 p.m. there’s no doubt that a few nerves will be noticeable among the playing staff when facing Sean Connor’s Premier Division side.
However, O’Brien immediately dismisses such talk suggesting that all the pressure will be on Galway as his “hoops” have “absolutely nothing to lose.”
Delighted at the progress of the club, O’Brien is also making steady progress as a manager and he holds the opinion that it has been an honour to both play for Celtic and manage the first team over the past eight years.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it since I arrived at Cockhill,” procliamed the native Dubiner who also played in Australia during his career.
“We joined the Ulster Senior League just four years ago and having done so well last season, we’re now preparing to face a Premier Division club in the League Cup on Monday night,” he boasted.
“We did really well to win the League and League Cup last season and this is the reward, a trip to Terryland to play Galway United.
“We’re following in the footsteps of other Inishowen clubs such as Quigley’s Point Swifts, who played in the League Cup nine years ago, Culdaff and Buncrana Hearts, so we’re representing the Inishowen area and we take that seriously,” he insisted.
He was delighted to be involved in a new chapter in the club’s history and he applauded all those who worked so hard behind the scenes to bring Cockhill to the level it is has now achieved.
“We have strict no pay policy and that’s been observed by all associated with the club.
“The first team squad is also dominated by players from the Inishowen area with just one player from outside the jurisdiction who lives in Strabane, so we’re basically a local side.”
And the team is not without senior experience with former Derry and Finn Harps players John McElroy and Gerry Gill (pictured on left), now representing the club and Malachy McDermott, son of former Derry City skipper, Liam “Roper” McDermott, also involved.
Team captain and a highly experienced Inishowen League and Ulster Senior League player, Liam O’Donnell, has spent a lifetime at Cockhill and as he closes in on his 30th birthday, Monday night’s match will give him great satisfaction, that’s provided he’s selected!
And while he may joke about and enjoy the Press coverage which Cockhill will capture following their achievement, O’Brien hopes of helping develop potential senior players remains high on his agenda.
“Obviously, Monday will prove a great highlight within the club because it just doesn’t get any better than playing a Premier Division side in a competitive competition.
“We’ve achieved this because we must be doing something right. My lads all pay E5 per week to train, we respect our strict ‘no pay policy’ and our priority is to develop young players.
“Many past players have come through the ranks and the latest of which is Garbhan Friel who has now secured a contract at Finn Harps. We intend to continue our progression and provide a facility for local players to express themselves, that’s what it’s all about,” maintained the Celtic boss.”
And looking forward to the match at hand, O’Brien insists that “pressure” is not a word contained in the Cockhill vocabulary.
“Obviously a game against a Premier Division team is always going to be extremely tough for us. But the fact is we have absolutely nothing to lose. I will be telling the lads to go out and play and try to enjoy the occasion on Monday night.
“Some of them will have to take time off work to play in the game, but it will be a great occasion and, hopefully, we can give a good account of ourselves,” he concluded.
The Cockhill Celtic team, of course, will not travel alone as it’s believed two buses have also been secured to ferry the ‘Hoops’ fans to Terryland Park for a match, they hope, will bring a fairytale ending.
Derry, Harps also
Meanwhile, while Cockhill run out onto Terryland Park, Derry City will be at The Drom to face Salthill Devon and Finn Harps will line-out at Fahy’s Field meeting Mervue United.
Both local senior sides are not expected to field at full strength with Derry City and Finn Harps teams expected to be dominated by players in their underage and Under-21 set-ups at this stage of the competition.
However, Derry and Harps will have some members of their senior players included, particularly those players who require match time having recovered from injuries.
All three games will kick-off at 7.45 p.m.