Larne hero Tomas Cosgrove: I got flak after Reds exit but silverware justifies my decision
Larne's County Antrim Shield hero Tomas Cosgrove has gone from shepherding dogs to chasing silverware and he’s loving every moment.
Cosgrove, who scored the winner in Tuesday night’s showpiece with Linfield, was one of the first high-profile captures of the ‘Kenny Bruce era’ at Inver Park.
Swapping Cliftonville for the modest climes of the Championship in 2018, in the first year of the online mogul's takeover of his hometown club, sent some eyebrows scuttling towards the ceiling.
But a little under four years later and Cosgrove, one of the best full-backs to grace the Irish League in recent decades, can smile at one of local football’s more unconventional journeys.
“When I came here, I got a bit of abuse for leaving Cliftonville and people had their own reasons for me leaving, but when you win trophies it justifies that decision,” said the 29-year-old.
“Larne have been so good to me, the club will always have a special place in my heart and nights like this prove that I made the right decision."
Did the talented defender have any doubts when he opted to drop down a division to join the East Antrim club in 2018?
"If I’m being honest, I did," he said. "We were playing Knockbreda away on the first day of the season in the Championship and I did wonder.
“At one point I turned around to Marty Donnelly (who had joined Larne the previous year) and there was a dog doing ball boy.
"I was watching a dog chase the ball! It was terrible.
“I said to Marty ‘what is going on here?’ I was thinking of Cliftonville playing Crusaders at the likes of Seaview or Solitude and I thought ‘what have you brought me to?’
“It has certainly gotten a lot better over the past four years! Fast forward and the facilities at Larne and the support we have for a small community is massive.”
Cosgrove’s 77th minute header to secure a 1-0 win over David Healy's Linfield at Seaview was the right wing-back’s second goal of the campaign, but also his second in three games.
Sandwiched in between his Shield winner and the opener in a recent 3-1 league win at Carrick was an own goal in a 3-2 win at Glentoran on New Year’s Day.
“That’s ‘three in three’,” he chuckled. “The lads are calling me 'Tomas the goal'. They're saying I’ve scored ‘three in three’ now because of the own goal.
“I was just lucky to end up being the hero this time out. I saw Ronan Hale’s run, I raced to the back post - I don’t know why - and thankfully it went in. We’re delighted.
“The atmosphere from both sets of fans was incredible and it was a proper, proper Irish League game. It certainly whets the appetite looking forward.”
Next on the agenda for Cosgrove is climbing the Danske Bank Premiership and keeping Larne in the thick of a fascinating league title race.
Tiernan Lynch’s men lie fourth in the table, eight points off leaders Linfield who in turn are two and three points clear of Cliftonville and Glentoran respectively.
“I hope this gives us a bit of confidence looking forward,” he said. “We want to go on to bigger and better things. Hopefully we can push on from here and climb the league table.
“We’ll be the first to admit we haven’t been ourselves at times this season and we have let ourselves down in big games, drawing at home to Linfield and Glentoran.
“We feel we should have won those games and be higher up the table, but there’s a long way to go. If we keep producing performances like this, who knows where we can go.”