Before signing for Larne in 2018, the only times Tomas Cosgrove visited the harbour town was to board the boat bound for Stranraer.
Now the place feels like home for one of the club’s most influential players who is a huge crowd favourite thanks to an ability to create waves going forward on the right flank and perform rescue acts in defence when his team-mates find themselves in choppy waters.
At 29, Cosgrove is playing the best football of his career and has become one of the most consistent performers in the Irish League. He smiles at the comparison that he’s like an experienced Trai Hume, who has just left Linfield for Sunderland. Tonight at Seaview, the former Cliftonville ace will be a key figure in the ToalsBet.com County Antrim Shield decider against the Blues.
Cosgrove is relishing the prospect of a full house after last season’s penalty shoot-out triumph over Glentoran in the final was played in an empty stadium when Larne won their first trophy as a top flight team since 1987.
“Every game without fans was like a training game, even the Shield final,” he says.
"The only thing you heard was the coaches and it wasn’t the same as your supporters roaring you on and the other team’s supporters getting on your back. Having a crowd makes you play better so I’m really looking forward to this final with Linfield.
“They always bring a big support and we will have a big support there so it will be a good occasion. They are a very good side but I actually enjoy playing against Linfield because them, Glentoran and Cliftonville bring a strong support and it gets the atmosphere going and it gets Larne fans up for it more and makes it a better spectacle.
“After our fans weren’t there to see us win last season’s final, it would be massive for them if we could do it in front of them this time.”
In May, 1000 supporters — 500 from each club — were allowed into the Irish Cup final won more convincingly by Linfield than the 2-1 scoreline suggests.
“That’s dead in the water. That’s last season. You can’t be thinking about that game,” comments Cosgrove.
“We have played Linfield since and most of the matches we have played in recent years have been really close. Everyone knows in the Irish Cup final that we let ourselves down and Linfield turned up and fair play to them.”
When Cosgrove signed for Larne, they were in the Championship. Manager Tiernan Lynch and coach Seamus Lynch were instrumental in the move along with close friends from his Cliftonville days Marty Donnelly, Christopher Ramsey and Conor Devlin.
“I never thought I would leave Cliftonville, ‘’ says Cosgrove, who grew up supporting the Reds.
“It’s my local club and I thought I would stay there forever but I didn’t see eye to eye with the then manager Barry Gray and these things happen in football and I had to make a move.
“I’m really glad I did. Being at Larne is very enjoyable. I didn’t think I would see what has happened to the club. When our owner Kenny Bruce was telling me his plans, it felt like a pipedream but he has been right and all the stuff he said would happen has and you can see what it means to the people of Larne.
“I had never been in Larne before apart from going out on the boat but I’m there a lot now and it’s a brilliant place and I love being part of the club. It feels special.
“If you were a Larne supporter 20 or 30 years ago or even just before Kenny came in, you wouldn’t have imagined where we would be now. It’s not just about the football. Kenny does a lot for the community and for a small town like Larne it is brilliant to see.”
Larne’s latest signing Lee Bonis is eligible to play tonight after switching from Portadown. The striker has been the most talked about player in the Irish League for the past fortnight.
What’s the verdict from Cosgrove who has made his transfer to Larne a major success?
The defender says: “It’s great for the people of Larne and the club to beat off competition from Glentoran and Linfield who were supposedly interested in Lee and for him to sign for us.
“He is a different player to what we have and he will give us a different dimension. He’s a strong boy and works really hard. I’ve only really seen him playing against us but you can’t judge him on that because, no disrespect to Portadown, he is going to get a lot more service at Larne.
“It will be interesting to see how Lee goes. The management and staff really like him and they have got most of the signings right so far and hopefully this is another one.”