Hanley insists passion is all that matters for Longford
LONGFORD TOWN chairman Jim Hanley reckons it is impossible to measure the price of promotion to the League of Ireland's Premier Division.
Financially, he knows it is worth €150,000 – small change compared to the €150m Crystal Palace pocketed by virtue of their Championship play-off victory over Watford earlier this year.
Yet in a world where every penny counts, victory tonight in the second leg of the promotion/ relegation play-off between Longford and Bray Wanderers will be the difference between a happy Christmas and a winter of discontent.
"Can I put a figure on going up?" Hanley asked. "I can do the sums and bore you with details from profit and loss columns, but I'm not in League of Ireland football for the money.
"If I was, I'd have run away a long time ago. You're in it because of community, because of your love of sport, because you want people to have something to look forward to on a Friday or Saturday night.
"You can't put a price on passion. We saw last Friday night (when Longford defeated Mervue on a penalty shootout to make the play-off final) what the game means to people. Great football nights get people talking, brings them together, inspires the youth to get involved in sport. That's why we're here."
Well, that's only half the reason they are there. The other half comes down to a persistent and inspirational manager in Tony Cousins, who has rebuilt a team from the rubble of a mid-season crash.
Now in his fifth season at Longford, Cousins has just been promised a sixth by Hanley. "He was loyal to us when we were in trouble. He deserves us to be loyal too," he said.
The trouble Hanley refers to dates back to their last period in the Premier Division which ended with a relegation and a €400,000 debt.
Recognising the crisis his club was in, the chairman cut his budget firstly and then talked tough with the taxman and the bankman. This morning they are debt-free "and ready again for the Premier Division. Financially, we're ready".
But football-wise, they have got work to do because even though the momentum of this tie swung their way on Monday after Longford recovered from a 2-0 deficit to enter tonight's second leg on level terms, the truth is Bray were the better team.
Yet for Longford, 2013 has been a year of survival and revival. After emerging from a financial black hole, they've escaped from the sporting equivalent in the last month.
"We have tried to put a model together," said Cousins. "We have tried to develop the club not just a team. The first two years was about erasing a debt. Since then we have become stronger."