Athlone Town finished the 2018 campaign with a game against Wexford FC and the South East team again provide the opposition when the First Division resumes again on Friday night. Last season ended inevitably on a losing note as a dreadful campaign saw the Town fail to win a game in any competition. A bottom of the table finish was on the cards from early in the season with Aaron Callaghan soon departing as manager. Terry Butler was appointed in his place and the club have again put their faith in him for 2019.
The 2018 campaign started with a four one defeat in Galway in February and ended in Wexford in late September with yet another defeat. Records will show that the Town did win a game but it was a hollow victory with Wexford forfeiting the three points for fielding a suspended player in the second game between the teams.
For 2019 hopes are high that the Town can get rid of their unwanted League record and, with Butler having a bigger budget, a win should soon be the reward for some astute signings. The pre-season friendly games have shown grounds for optimism with Finn Harps lucky to share the spoils in the final warm up. Sligo and St Patricks Athletic may have won the earlier games but Athlone were not out of their depth against top flight opposition.
The official opening of the new all-weather pitch by FAI Chief Executive John Delaney was the perfect start to the year for the club. Securing a First Division license for the new season would appear to indicate that the club is equally well prepared off the pitch.
The League season kicking off is now eagerly awaited. The fixture list has been reasonably kind with Athlone capable of beating both Wexford and Cobh Ramblers. The former are first up and similar to Athlone, have struggled following relegation. The visitors are somewhat of an unknown quantity with Waterford native Brian O’Sullivan in charge. Butler will hope to get off to a good start with an early win under his belt. The material looks to be there now under Aaron Brilly who is team captain. Kealan Dillon has also returned while the acquisition of Darren Meenan is a real coup for the team. Having played in the Champions league with Dundalk, the experienced midfielder is sure to add quality. In contrast, Ronan Manning has only featured in the Airtricity League for a short time but the former Galway United player has experience for Ireland at under age level. Realistically, Athlone will be competing for a mid-table position as they look to exorcise last season’s horror show.
A return to competitive action saw Athlone visit Dundalk last Monday in the Leinster Senior Cup. Following a scoreless opening half at Oriel Park, Dean Williams handed the visitors a surprise lead on 65 minutes shortly after joining the action. The goal from the substitute proved sufficient to settle the tie with Athlone advancing to the quarter finals.