As the SSE Aitricity League First Division season edges closer, Athlone Town manager Colin Fortune is encouraged that the club are opting for a Midlands training base again in 2017.
For several campaigns Athlone Town’s players trained in Dublin, but midway through last season, when Fortune was appointed, a change to a local policy was implemented.
Fortune is delighted that any youngster from the area with an interest in playing in the League of Ireland now has a real opportunity to do so.
“Looking at it for more than a few years the training was based in Dublin,” Fortune said to the Athlone Advertiser. “Unfortunately in the Midlands it is too easy for a Dublin manager to base it in Dublin with all Dublin players. The Athlone players coming through the academy then had no place to go.
“Thankfully the board last year looked at it and deciding to change it because there weren’t enough coming through. Let’s go for all local based; let’s do it for the next few years to see how it goes, was what they were thinking. The way we have been going hasn’t worked.
“We’d be up for a season and then be down for 10. That is not the way to go. We need to build from the ground up, as a club that is what we are doing. We started last year; we are going to continue it this year to see if we can push on for the next few years.
“In the last couple of years, not every Athlone player got a chance to play with Athlone because of the Dublin base. Not every player was in a position to train up in Dublin so they moved elsewhere. We have an awful lot of Athlone players in the league playing with various clubs. That is sad to see as an Athlone man.
“I’d love to get an opportunity to get all these players back, to set a base in Athlone. We want to give the kids of Athlone a first team that they can be proud of, a team that they would like to play in some day.”
Last Friday, Athlone produced a committed display before eventually losing 2-1 to Premier Division outfit Galway United. “It was a great game, I really enjoyed it,” Fortune reflected. “For the lads it was our first game and it was a great workout.”
Jason Molloy is the latest Galway native to sign for Athlone, who also included Conor Barry, Jason Molloy, Cormac Raftery, and goalkeeper Connor Gleeson in the squad for the friendly at Eamonn Deacy Park. “They are great lads; they are very good players and they are young,” Fortune said. “Conor, Jason, and Cormac are eager and hungry. They have been great since they have come to Athlone.
“We have 10 or 11 from last year’s squad back. Last year’s squad, we said all along, was very, very young. Our plan this year is to add a bit of experience, a few older lads, cute heads around the pitch that can help the lads along.
“That is my plan. The window hasn’t closed so we are going to keep looking at that. We have added one or two like Jason Molloy, who is really going to add to our options. He has been around the game a long time. His experience and cuteness will help the lads along. He is a guy that wants to play football, which is what we are looking for.”
Igor Habut, Dragog Strifan, and Kirils Grigorous were interesting inclusions on the Athlone teamsheet for the clash against Galway.
“We have a few foreign players in to have a look at them - it isn’t the first time that it has happened in the League, and I’m sure it isn’t going to be the last time,” Fortune explained. “We’ve looked around the league. There are a lot of players looking for colossal money that maybe don’t want to put in the commitment we are looking for. We have looked further afield. We brought in three against Galway: the goalkeeper, a centre half and a central midfielder.
“I thought they did fairly well, we are going looking again. We aren’t finished. The main thing is that they will base themselves in Athlone, they want to come over here to play football.”