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Cobh Ramblers boss Stephen Henderson: 'We're going out there to enjoy it - not to fear it or let it drain us'

Mon, Aug 06 2018

Henderson's side haven't performed to the standard of the past couple of years but their cup form has been an unexpected positive. Credit: Steve Alfred (ETPhotos)

It was a drizzly evening in November when Kevin Murray netted for Cobh Ramblers to seal the First Division title in 2007.

Ecstatic scenes erupted as the Ramblers broke records with a 77-point tally and a 22-game unbeaten run, while the players such as Graham Cummins' stars rose quickly.

Since then it has been a mixed time for the Rams. Missing out in the play offs in 2010 to Salthill led to the famous club dropping out of the league entirely.

Five years on from their return, the Rams breathe life anew.

Having lost the play-offs in 2016 to Drogheda United, and finished runners-up in 2017, Stephen Henderson’s side now prepare for the challenge of Dundalk on Monday in the EA Sports Cup semi-final.

“We are genuinely looking forward to it,” Henderson told extratime.ie.

“I can only imagine Stephen Kenny won’t be playing his strongest eleven, which is only right because of the amount of games they have.

“But I think most people would agree that Dundalk’s second string would be challenging for a European spot in the Premier Division. It’s going to be a tough ask for our lads.”

Since the last meeting between the sides 2007 – a 2-1 win for Cobh in the First Division – things have gone a little differently between the Rams and Lilywhites.

While Cobh fought for consolidation and status within the pyramid, Dundalk rose from potential liquidation to the familiar story of success and silverware under Stephen Kenny.

Now, sitting second in the Premier Division and eyeing up a treble of successes, Henderson is hoping for home comforts and the local edge to give his side the chance.

“It gives us a sniff and a chance. Realistically though, what has to happen is they have to have an off-day and we have to be outstanding.

“Is that possible in cup competitions? It is, lets be honest. We’ve done really well in terms of our training, we’re a relatively fit young side. We do lack in experience.

“What we will be looking for is to be well organized and to try and close them down and try and hit them on the break.

“The key for us is to stay in the game for as long as possible and hit them with something on the break.”

Henderson remains fully focused on the task at hand and has taken a closed-doors approach going into’s Monday’s tie – which means bypassing Cork City’s John Caulfield for any word of wisdom.

“Cork and John Caulfield are nothing to do with me.

“We have watched them and videos and clips of them as well in the Leinster Senior Cup, so we are trying to get a rounded idea if they put a strong team out or what to expect.

“If a couple of lads coming back from injury are put out, we’ll know what to expect there as well. We have our own lads who have went and watched them.

He continued: “There’s no doubt they are the best team in the county by a mile.

“But they are coming down to Cork, it’s not the best pitch in the county by a mile and that won’t suit them either and we’ll have young lads running around after them for 90 minutes.

“So there could be an upset there. But we have to be organized and everybody has to do their jobs and not get caught up in the occasion.

“It’s our first time as a League of Ireland club that Ramblers have got themselves to a cup semi final and it’s important we don’t get caught up in the occasion of it.

Henderson summed up the mammoth task at hand by alluding to Dundalk’s tactical brilliance, which has seen the Lilywhites lose just once in 18 games this season.

“I think the main reason behind Dundalk’s success the last couple of years is that they don’t have off days and they don’t disrespect anyone who they are playing.

“They are always throughly professional. They are always thoroughly prepared.

“I don’t think we can catch them off guard in that context because they are so professional and that’s where their success comes from.”

The Ramblers will have experience of their own to draw from.

Former Ipswich Town prospect and Cork City faithful Shane O’Connor is in contention to start, while former Ireland underage international Craig Donnellan continues his comeback.

“Shane O’Connor is a great lad for us to have around the dressing room,” Henderson said of a player who backboned their success in 2016.

“He hasn’t played for around four months and he still is only just getting his fitness back so he has to play the game with his head.

“Craig Donnellean has been out for a year and he has only been back with us the last four weeks, Stephen Kenny is cup tied and he won’t be able to play.

“So, we are very limited in the terms of the experience that we have, but we will make up for it in terms of enthusiasm and organization.

“If people like Shane can use his experience to talk the lads through the game then we might have a chance.”

O'Connor is an example of the challenges Henderson faces with potential success – the midfielder left in 2017 for Waterford, who went on to win the First Division title.

“We are in a precarious position. Every time we do well our best players tend to go off. That’s the environment we have at the moment and it’s something we have to rectify.

“This year has been our youngest squad that we have gone with throughout the season. So our performances have reflected that.

“We have been so good but naïve and that has cost us goals at key teams this year. The last few year have been really positive for the Ramblers.

“We are after identifying some really good players who will take us on next year, but it would be fantastic here now to get to a national cup final.

“It would be a suitable reward for the last couple of years because we have been there. Last year we finished runners-up but there was no play off for us.

“This year it would be nice to wrap it up with a national cup final. It would be a fantastic achievement but something we would have to work really hard to achieve”

Before finishing, Henderson smiled in a relaxed moment ahead of Monday’s tie.

Taking everything in, from his side’s opening penalty shootout win over Wexford to a 90th-minute winner away to Limerick, he said it's the beauty and unpredictability of cup football.

“All cup competitions evolve as a process. You never know how you are going to do. That’s the beauty of the cup. You can go out in the first round or end up in the semi finals.

“That’s why when you start off every season, you don’t write off a cup run. You never know what way the draw will be and with the unpredictability of the cup.

“You never know what’s going to happen. What we’ve done is we have enjoyed it. To be honest, we needed it.

“The league campaign has been highly disappointing for us this year so to have something like an EA Sports Cup semi-final is huge to take off the edge of the pressure we are going through because of how poorly we have performed in the league this year,

“But we have played well and we have stayed in games and there hasn’t been any team that has hammered us, and we could have won every game that we played.

“The only game I can think of where we didn’t deserve anything at home was Shells at home.

“The rest of them we’ve been in there having a shout but we made a couple of mistakes and got punished.

“Our form has been disappointing, but the cup competition has been a nice surprise and we’re delighted to be there.

“We are going out there to enjoy it and embrace the occasion and not let us fear it or drain us."