The mid-season break in the SSE Airtricity League has become an established part of the calendar in recent years and it’s welcomed by both players and clubs alike. It allows the players a chance to take a summer vacation, while also giving the clubs a chance to refocus for the remainder of the campaign.
For those teams chasing titles, European places or promotion it is an opportunity to collect resources for a final push. For those looking to avoid relegation, it offers the chance of a welcome break and better luck for the remainder of the campaign.
In Athlone Town’s case it is the chance to regroup and try to avoid a second successive bottom place finish in the First Division. The 2018 campaign has been dreadful to date with no win after 17 league outings while making early exits from two cup competitions.
The season had started with a new manager as Aaron Callaghan returned to the hot seat, taking over from Roddy Collins. The new boss was under no illusions as to the task facing him. No playing budget left him trawling the non-league ranks for his squad. Results reflected the lack of spending power with Callaghan departing after just a few months in the job.
The opening fixture in February saw Athlone take on Galway United at Eamon Deacy Park. Shane Keegan’s men were anxious to bounce back following relegation and had little difficulty in getting their campaign off to a flying start. Nine players were making their debut for the Town with Aaron Brilly and Craig Shortt, who were returning, making up the starting eleven.
It was the first introduction to senior ranks for most of the new signings. Felix Perez opened the Town’s goal account but only one more goal was to follow in the next eight away outings. The result left Athlone at the bottom of the table. The next outing, also away, this time to Drogheda United, saw the hosts put six past an outclassed Town team.
The home campaign got underway with the visit of UCD but it ended with another defeat. Cabinteely came next and, with outfield player Luke Kelly lining out in goals, Athlone suffered a further loss. The first midland derby of the season away to Longford Town, had further embarrassment as the hosts won by five goals to one.
An early exit from the EA Sports Cup at the hands of UCD followed. There was a surprise though when visitors Finn Harps were held to a draw as Athlone finally collected their first point of the season. Confidence was quickly shattered when Shelbourne put seven past the Town in Tolka Park.
Cobh Ramblers were next to collect full points to be followed by Wexford FC scoring seven without reply at Ferrycarrig Park. Defeat in the Leinster Senior Cup against Shelbourne followed with Callaghan soon on his way out. Terry Butler took over but has been unable to stop the rot with just one more point collected, at home to Longford.