Athlone Town are on the brink of making club history as they are just one game away from a place in the final of the FAI Cup.
An amazing run has seen the First Division strugglers make it to the semi-finals and the chance of lifting the cup for only the second time. The task facing Adrian Carberry’s men is immense though as top flight heavyweights Dundalk, looking to make it to their sixth consecutive final, provide the opposition. The Lilywhites have flown the flag for Irish football in Europe and, after taking on Athlone, face the Danish outfit Molde in the Europa league.
Dundalk have already disposed of fellow top-flight outfits Waterford and Bohemian FC along with Cobh Ramblers from the First Division. After receiving a bye in the first round, Athlone faced Wexford FC for a place in the quarter finals. An amazing tie which went to extra time ended with the Town winning by five goals to three after being twice in arrears. It was also a first win of the season for Carberry following his appointment.
The quarter final draw again handed the Town a home tie, with Shelbourne visiting at the end of October. The Reds were stunned as Dean George grabbed his first ever hat trick of goals in a four one rout. Scott Delaney was also on target as the Town hit the national sporting headlines.
Athlone have never faced Dundalk in the semi-finals of the FAI Cup but the last time the sides met in the Leinster Senior Cup in 2019 at Oriel Park, the visitors were successful. Only goalkeeper Aaron Myles along with Evan White, Ciaran Grogan and John Morgan remain in the Town ranks.
Sunday will mark only the seventh occasion in which Athlone have contested the semi-final and their first appearance at this stage since 1998.
The only cup success came in 1924 as Bohs were beaten with the Town knocked out by Shelbourne when defending their crown. There was a wait of nearly 50 years for the next appearance in the last four. Oriel Park hosted the game between Athlone and Finn Harps in 1974 with Mick O’Brien making the headlines. Having broken the crossbar, the Town keeper was sent off in a five-nil drubbing.
Turlough O’Connor’s arrival as manager lead to huge success at St Mel’s Park but a cup win proved elusive. In 1982 Limerick advanced following a replay while, three years later, cup specialists Shamrock Rovers needed just one game to go through.
Liam Buckley was manager the last time the Town made it to the semis in 1998. A crowd of over 5,000 packed into St Mel’s but Cork City proved too strong for the hosts with Stephen Mullan scoring for the Town in a three one defeat.
Sunday’s cup tie is eagerly awaited and, even though due to restrictions the game is being played behind closed doors, fans will still be able to watch the game live on television.