Prior to a return to competitive action at the end of the month, Athlone Town have resumed training while also undertaking a series of friendly games.
Four months have passed since a ball was kicked in competitive action as the SSE Airtricity League was brought to a halt. The campaign had only started with the Town having played just two league games and one in the EA Sports Cup.
Both outings in the First Division had ended in defeat for Adrian Carberry’s men. The season opener in Galway had been postponed due to an unplayable pitch but subsequent games against Cabinteely and Cobh Ramblers bore no fruit.
Athlone’s last game did take place at Eamon Deacy Park when they made an early exit from the EA Sports Cup at the hands of Galway. Both league defeats have left Athlone at the foot of the table and the only team without a point.
Cabinteely are setting an early pace with a one hundred percent record from their three games played. While there was a lot of discontent, especially among Premier Division clubs, agreement on a return and the format was finally reached.
The revised fixtures have been released with two rounds of games in total, including those played to date, set to decide the season. The existing arrangements with regard to promotion and relegation remain. The champions will automatically get promoted with the next four all set to be involved in a promotion/relegation battle that could lead to a place in top flight football.
The second from bottom team in the Premier Division will be involved in the equation as they face the winners of the promotion play off. The Town resume their league campaign when they entertain Wexford FC on the last day of July. The rescheduled game against Galway is set for the August bank holiday Monday with the first Midlands derby against Longford following on Saturday. The campaign is set to end in October with a home game against Bray.
The draw for the first round of the FAI Cup has also taken place with Athlone handed a bye into the last 16. Due to the shortened season, only the 19 league clubs were in the draw with just three fixtures to be drawn out and the remaining clubs receiving byes into the next round. Local rivals Longford Town were the only First Division team drawn out and were handed a tough tie against Cork City in Turners Cross. The second round will get underway at the end of August.
The Town lined up a series of friendly games to get match fit again prior to the league resuming. First up was the visit of Finn Harps last Saturday evening. Played behind closed doors, both teams had a number of players on trial. As expected, the visitors had most of the chances in the early stages as they dominated the possession stakes.
However, midway through the first half, the home team came close when a half volley went just wide of the target from outside the penalty area. Harps were out of luck when play resumed after the break. An in-swinging corner kick was headed goalward but the crossbar came to Athlone’s rescue. There was little further action thereafter and Athlone will be pleased to have held the Premier Division opposition to a scoreless draw.
A further friendly at home against Shamrock Rovers followed two days later. The cup holders ran out easy winners with former Town player Dean Williams one of those on target for the Hoops in a four nil win. Games against Salthill Devon and Shelbourne will have completed a busy schedule of four games in a week.
Non-league Regional United will provide the opposition as the preparations for competitive action conclude. Carberry hopes to have a number of new faces in his squad as he then looks to get off the mark in his first senior managerial position.