With the SSE Airtricity League First Division only six weeks away, Athlone Town manager Alan Mathews is busy preparing for the new campaign.
Mathews has agreed to remain in charge of the Midlanders, who have been boosted off the pitch by the arrival of Philip Nolan as commercial and marketing manager. Training facilities in Dublin have been secured by Athlone with Mathews hopeful that the Midlanders will be ready for the significant challenges which await.
“I’m happy to go forward now that there has been a change in the structure of the club and we can develop in the year ahead,” Mathews said. “I’m satisfied with what we are trying to put in place as I felt certain issues needed to be addressed and I feel they have been now. There is a structure being put in place and that is what we need. Players must be able to prepare properly in order to do the best that they possibly can.
“We will be doing everything we can between now and the start of the season to make sure that we can be very competitive in the league. That is what we intend to be.” Having managed Longford Town, Cork City, Drogheda United, Shelbourne, and Bray Wanderers previously, Mathews is keen to make an impact with Athlone. “I like being involved in the league, I always have as a player, coach, assistant manager, and manager.
“I have been successful in relative terms and I can do things with a small or no budget. That part of the job doesn’t bother me too much, I feel that as someone who knows the league well we can achieve.”
Mathews is keen to stitch a squad together now. “I’ve been speaking to a few players already and I think we have something to offer any young players who are interested in being involved at this level,” he said. “There is an opportunity for young players here. Of course, we will be looking to get in a few experienced players too, but I would hope to sign some the guys we had last year. We can put a good team together.
“Nobody will be signing for us to make money, they will want to test themselves in League of Ireland football. We have something to offer anybody interested in developing themselves and it will be a busy couple of weeks for us.” Considering the heavy investment being made by Limerick FC, Mathews accepts Martin Russell’s charges will be ‘the team to beat’ in the First Division.
“With the budget Limerick have and the players that have already signed they are looking to go straight back up,” he said. “You could say something similar about Drogheda, who will want to go back up straight away, but we will have to see how it all goes when the action starts. Being realistic, Limerick are out-and-out favourites simply because of the calibre of players that they will have at the club. Most of their squad has Premier Division experience and they will be the team to beat.”