A Thinking Man’s Game for High-Flying Ramblers


They pulled off one of the shocks of the season by dumping Dundalk out of the EA Sports Cup. Now as Cobh Ramblers get set for the final, John O’Shea explores the effect Sport Psychologist James Claffey has had on Stephen Henderson’s team as Cork’s second club aim for bigger things. 

There has been a massive sense of excitement surrounding Cobh Ramblers over recent weeks. One of the most memorable occasions ever witnessed at St Colman’s Park transpired last month, as Ramblers booked their place in the EA Sports Cup Final following victory over domestic giants Dundalk.

From the outset, there was a belief in the display from Ramblers to suggest that they felt they could overcome the challenge posed by Stephen Kenny’s men.

This is a young side at Cobh and it is one which showcased the potential that exists when it all comes together.

The hard work and preparation being done by the players and the backroom staff paid off.

With that in mind, they might just have done something which has yet to properly take off in League of Ireland football.

As part of their preparation for match days, Ramblers recently appointed Sport Psychologist James Claffey to work with the club.

“The role of a sport and exercise psychologist is a role which I am hugely excited about to begin with Cobh Ramblers. It is really a job in the background a lot of the time and that has very much been the case for Cobh Ramblers so far anyway.

“I spoke to Stephen a few weeks ago on a Thursday. We spoke about the possibility of coming into Cobh Ramblers and looking at how we can improve the club from top to bottom from a psychological point of view.

“The role is at times a one to one basis, with discussing things with the players, how they are feeling, how is their mental health is, and general day to day wellbeing.

“I am also working with the group and trying just to elicit response where we can get them thinking a lot more than they maybe have been doing previously, with single tasks that they have to do during training sessions and the game.

“One of the first things I was saying to them was that the decisions they make on Monday to Friday will be the decisions that determines what happens on Saturday night for them.

“Possibly re-thinking some of the things that they previously had in terms of their own habits, whether they be good, bad or indifferent.

“I guess the hope and the desire would be to bring a more systematic approach to what we are doing throughout the club at Cobh Ramblers.”

From the first minute you encounter him, Stephen Henderson’s passion for Cobh Ramblers comes across right away.

As Claffey has found out in his early stages of working with him, “Hendo” is a man that lives and breathes for Ramblers and strives to have the absolute best for that football club.

“Although I have been with the club just over three weeks, I was kicking every ball and was feeling everything,” described Claffey with reference to Monday’s memorable EA Sports Cup semi final success over Dundalk.

“But that only happens because I am watching Stephen and I am watching somebody who cares so much, who gives so much.


“The coaching staff, the likes of Barry, Shane, Dec and Stuey, all hugging each other after the game. When the final whistle went, I mean that is why we are involved in sport, it elicits those emotional responses and euphoric highs.

“Stephen really deserves that. His passion and his drive to push the club forward and Stephen is the leader of that group.

“You can just see it, it is infectious. It makes other people there want to be better at what they are doing

“To be honest with an amateur club, with players who aren’t paid, it is very rare that you get that kind of camaraderie where you feel everybody just wants the very, very best for Cobh Ramblers.

“There is no ego where there is somebody wanting glory. It is a collective thing and I have learnt that from Stephen since coming in.”

Ramblers as a club are amateur in name but act as professionally as they can possibly be in everything that they do.

Claffey is at the club in what is a promising period and will hope to play his role in helping take Cobh Ramblers to the next level.

John O’Shea is a journalist covering League Of Ireland Football and is someone that has passionately followed the league for most his life. Follow on Twitter: @JohnOShea1993


Images: Sean Truscott Photography @seanietruscott 

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