League Preview: Kerry -v- Cobh Ramblers
The build up to Kerry FC’s first ever League of Ireland game is nearly over and in just a few short hours their first result will have been entered into the records.
It’s hard to know how Billy Dennehy’s team will fare in their sold-out opening fixture but they are probably quite pleased to be facing a Cobh Ramblers team that finished seven points adrift at the bottom of the First Division last season.
It’s difficult to know how the new collection of players will get on in a Division that might look deceptively benign to those of an optimistic disposition but could nonetheless prove humbling.
Defensively Kerry will be relying on players who have largely come through the FAI’s National underage leagues, although Kevin Williams returns home after a couple of years playing in Germany, and there is LOI experience in the shape of Shane Guthrie and Kalen Spillane. That said, Spillane has been out of the League since 2014 while Guthrie hasn’t played at this level for 13 years.
In midfield Kerry welcome home Leo Gaxha from his time at Sheffield United which is a fascinating signing while it will be interesting to see if striker Steven McCarthy can replicate his goal-scoring exploits for Killarney Celtic in the more rarified air of the National League.
Until we see them play a few games we are shooting in the dark but most LOI fans will be hoping Kerry can hit the ground running, for a number of reasons. Apart from the natural inclination to root for the underdog there is also the novelty of watching a new team enter the arena.
But there will also be genuine hope that a team from a part of the country that has not traditionally been a hotbed of association football can not just survive but prosper.
Cobh Ramblers fans will be the first in the League of Ireland to enjoy a trip to Tralee as they open their 2023 First Division campaign away to the league’s newest team.
The Cork side had a season to forget in 2022, finishing bottom of the table by a margin of seven points and will be hoping that Shane Keegan can revitaise a squad that won just 4 league games last year.
New arrivals include goalkeeper Lee Steacy who comes in from Drogheda United, and Galway United’s Charlie Lyons and Wilson Waweru. Lyons started out at Cobh and will be welcomed home with open arms, while Waweru comes in on loan having scored three times for the Tribesmen last season.
The most impressive of Keegan’s close-season signings is Jack Doherty who had an excellent season at Wexford last year.
Keegan will be without Conor Drinan on Friday night but should have the rest of his squad available. And he will be looking for a committed performance from his men knowing that they will not only have to overcome the 11 Kerry players in front of them, but also the occasion which will be driven by a loud and partisan crowd.
Referee: Declan Toland.
The last team to make their debut in the League of Ireland was Treaty United in 2021. Their opening fixture was away to Bray Wanderers and finished scoreless. Matt Keane played for Treaty that day, and could play for Kerry in this game.
Cobh haven’t won their first game of the season since an Evan Galvin goal gave them a 1-0 win against Shelbourne in March 2016.
Kerry 1-2 Cobh Ramblers
Injured: Mark Carey.
Doubtful: Stephen McCarthy, Junior Ankomah, Cianan Cooney.
Injured: Conor Drinan.