Tony Cousins joined the Hoops at the beginning of a new era after the club left the RDS. Being a Tallaght lad it would have been just nice for ‘Couso’ had he been able to play at the new stadium, plans for which were launched just a couple of months after he joined Rovers. Like so many others during that time Tony never did get that opportunity. He did have a decent career in the green and white though during which time he proved himself to be a prolific goalscorer.
He first found the net for Rovers in a pre-season friendly on the 30th July 1996 at the club’s new and what was to be temporary abode, Tolka Park. That night the Hoops beat Crewe Alexandra 3-1 with Paul Whelan and Karl Gannon also scoring. It was a season that promised so much and yet one that could have gone horribly wrong. Leading up to 1996 there had been some talk for a while that Rovers’ tenure at the RDS could be coming to an end. John McNamara had taken the club as far as he could and a new consortium led by Alan McGrath, Mark Howell and Jeramiah O’Reilly bought the club that summer.
Plans for a new stadium in Tallaght were unveiled at The Stables venue in Molloy’s in the village two weeks before Christmas. There was much excitement amid renewed optimism amongst the fanbase. Results on the pitch were mixed though. When matters became a little worrying the players were offered a bonus scheme to ensure that the club did not face relegation. Whether this was needed or not could be something for another debate as one would imagine the team would have fought tooth and nail anyway in each game coming towards the season. Rovers finished 7th that season. Our new striker didn’t let us down. Tony Cousins scored 16 league goals over the course of the campaign. In all, he scored 20 goals in all competitions.
Tony’s league goals were scored as follows:
13th September, 1 in the 2-0 win at home to Bray Wanderers
18th October, 1 in the 3-2 win at home to Bohemians
3rd November, 1 in the 1-1 draw at home to UCD
15th December, 1 in the 1-1 draw at home to Derry City
26th January, 1 in the 2-1 win at home to Sligo Rovers
4th February, 1 in the 2-2 draw at home to Finn Harps
14th February, 3 in the 6-4 win at home to Shelbourne (Remember that night!)
23rd February, 2 in the 2-2 draw away to St. Patrick’s Athletic
28th February, 2 in the 2-2 draw at home to Bray Wanderers
21st March, 1 in the 3-1 win away to Dundalk
28th March, 1 in the 2-1 win away to Finn Harps
27th April, 1 in the 1-1 draw away to Cork City
Anyone present at Tolka Park on St. Valentine’s night will not have forgotten that game. There were two hat-tricks and ten goals altogether. And very little love in the air! Rovers win in that game and Dundalk managing only a draw at home against St. Pat’s gave the Hoops a neat four-point gap ahead of the border side who were third from the bottom. It was a critical win in the drive to get away from the bottom group. Shelbourne went into the game in second place behind leaders Derry and the defeat by Rovers enabled Bohs to leapfrog their northside rivals. Tony Cousins gave the Hoops the lead in the 10th minute, adding a second six minutes later. Pat Morley got one back for the Reds in the 25th minute but then ‘Couso’ completed his hat-trick with number three just two minutes later. John Toal made it 4-1 coming up to half time. Shels got it back to 4-3 at one stage in the second half (Morley completing his hat-trick) but goals from Pat Fenlon and Sean Francis put the Hoops well ahead before some lad by the name of Dessie Baker made it 6-4 with five minutes of normal time remaining. It could have ended 6-6 had Morley and Pat Scully made better of the chances both had in the dying minutes.
The final game of the season was away to Cork City on 27th April when ‘Couso’ got the Rovers goal in a 1-1 draw and closed the season on 16 goals. Any striker would be happy with that in his first season at the club. The season didn’t end without controversy though. On that last day (23 years ago today!) Cork needed at least a draw to qualify for the Inter Toto Cup. With the game scoreless coming into the final 10 minutes Rovers were awarded a penalty. A furore from the Cork side followed as the City players feared their chances of qualifying for Europe were about to vanish. Amid the protests and drama, Tony Cousins had to ensure he kept calm. Up he stepped and planted into the net to put Rovers 1-0 ahead. A last gasp equaliser by Colin O’Brien saved the day for the Corkmen. Shelbourne failed to find the net in their final game of the season at home to Dundalk and the penalty in Cork ensured that ‘Couso’ finished the season level with Stephen Geoghegan as the top scorer in the Premier Division.