As Cobh enter their first season in the Champions League, Conor McDonald has aligned his focus on transfers mainly on bolstering the clubs’ youth team with talent from overseas.
The club did sign twelve first-team players starting with the arrival of former Everton winger Luke Garbutt and Sligo Rovers’ John Mahon.
To balance this, Cobh were able to offload twelve former first-team players stuck from the First Division days.
As previously mentioned, the focus was put on Cobh’s youth recruitment with nine players coming into the club’s Under-19s team, mainly from the Spanish lower tiers following the arrival of a Spanish scout.
Cobh played five friendlies in preseason before their restart in the Premier League against Dundalk and won all five with the biggest challenge being Galway United from the First Division.
With Luke Garbutt and John Mahon firing the starting pistol on first-team recruitment, there were ten other additions for Cobh’s 2023 assault on European football.
Mark Byrne arrived from Gillingham to cover for the retirement of fan favourite Jamie O’Hara.
Despite his age, Byrne has kept hold of his technical ability which has earned him over 500 career appearances since starting out at Nottingham Forest’s academy in the mid-2000s. In the 2020/21 campaign, Byrne created 11 league assists in League One before making 36 league appearances last season.
His career has mainly spanned between the fifth and third tiers of English football but his experience is something that most teams in our league will envy.
Coming in to challenge Byrne for his defensive midfield spot is another experienced player in Alan Power who arrives on a free transfer from Scottish Premiership side Kilmarnock.
Before the Irishman’s venture into Scotland, Power spent seven years in the English National League with both the now defunct Rushden & Diamonds as well as Lincoln City.
He will be reunited with Mark Byrne who he moved to Nottingham Forest with from Crumlin United in 2006.
Coming in as an attacking midfielder is Peterborough United’s Dylan Watts on a free transfer.
Watts is no stranger to the Irish Premier League having spent two seasons playing consistently with Bohemian and Shamrock Rovers before his free transfer back to English football.
After doing well with Shamrock Rovers in 2019, it is hoped that he pulls off similar performances for Cobh.
Coming in as Watts’ competitor for the attacking midfield spot is French 30-year-old Jonathan Isambart on a free transfer from US Camon in Ligues Régionales.
Despite coming through the Stade Rennais academy as a youngster, Isambart found his level among the lower tiers of French football with AC Amiens, Cannes and Camon.
Since he has never been outside the French league system, Isambart is somewhat of an unknown quantity coming into the Irish Premier League.
Following the departure of Reis Peggie and the injury to Matt Blake, Portuguese left-back Filipe Gaspar arrives at the club from Sintra Football on a free transfer.
Similar to the transfer of Jonathan Isambart, Gaspar comes in as an unknown quantity as he has never played outside of his home nation having spent his career in the Portuguese lower tiers.
Cobh’s final first-team mainland European import came in the form of right midfielder Javi Otero who arrives from Spanish Third Division side Arosa.
Otero came through the youth ranks of Valencia before his release and subsequent quest through the lower tiers of Spanish football. With Daniel Powell competing on the right, it will be interesting to see who wins the battle for the starting spot in Conor McDonald’s starting eleven in the league.
Conor McDonald’s first-ever loan signing came in from Scottish Premiership outfit St. Johnstone as 20-year-old Michael McFarlane arrived on Irish soil.
McFarlane will likely make his senior debut on loan at Cobh, having not featured for St. Johnstone in any capacity after graduating from their academy.
McDonald was impressed by the youngsters quickness on the ball as well as his ability to cross a ball in for the St. Johnstone youth teams.
Cobh did impressively add to their frontline with the addition of Glen McAuley from St. Patrick’s Athletic on a free transfer.
The former Liverpool youth graduate has become a consistent goalscorer in the Irish Premier League since his arrival in Dublin, scoring 21 goals in just over 60 appearances for St. Patrick’s Athletic in the past two years.
He will have a pecking order to topple this season however, with Cobh Ramblers hosting last season’s two top scorers in Rafiki Said and Alex Samizadeh as well as the extremely impressive Layton Stewart who played superbly in the second half of the season following his arrival from Halesowen Town.
Coming in as a right-back is Forest Green Rovers’ Liam Shephard on a free transfer.
Conor McDonald released the club’s backup right-back Charlie Fleming this January at the end of his contract having been kept out of the team by Jacob Hanson. However, the tables might be about to turn with Shephard already being given the number 2 shirt for the season.
Cobh’s latest and likely final deal of the transfer window is experienced English goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell who comes in on a free transfer from Wycombe Wanderers.
O’Donnell has made 429 career appearances over the period of his 18-year time as a professional footballer, starting out at Sheffield Wednesday and gradually forcing his way into their League One team in 2010.
After a series of loans out of Hillsborough, he finally signed a permanent deal with Walsall who made him a number one before three consecutive seasons in the Championship with both Wigan Athletic and Rotherham United.
The battle between the sticks will be interesting with young (Josef Perrin) going up against old (Richard O’Donnell) at St. Colman’s Park.
Over the course of January, Cobh have let nine of their players leave on loan including new arrival Pelayo Ventura and summer signing Dario de Pellegrin.
A lot of players have left to join Galway United in the First Division with no less than five players heading to the West of Ireland.
The only deal that made cash revenue was the departure of Khavarn Williams who joined Dundalk for a small fee of €24,000.
Cobh Ramblers’ first fixture of the season will be against Dundalk in the Premier League and will be looking to retrieve their crown this season.
Shelbourne and Limerick have both been promoted following University College Dublin’s automatic relegation and Shamrock Rovers’ shock relegation following defeat in the Play-Off against Limerick.
Definitely, the defence needed a lot of quality added following last season's games where we conceded a lot of goals. I'm certainly more interested to see Garbutt out there, though!
Let's hope we can retain it another year!