As the Airtricity League season edges closer Athlone Town continue to prepare for the exciting challenges that await and manager Mick Cooke remains optimistic.
Last Friday's friendly success over Longford Town was achieved with a solid performance and Cooke is 'happy' with the squad that is being assembled. Cooke wants to make at least one more signing before Athlone visit the Showgrounds for their top flight opener with Sligo Rovers on Saturday March 8. “Every manager would like more players, but at this stage I am fairly happy. Pre-season has gone very well and I have to thank Athlone IT and Gordon Brett. We are using the facilities there which are wonderful. The players are in good shape and we still have four weeks to go,” Cooke said.
“If I could bring in another experienced player it would help the squad greatly. At this moment we have James O'Brien, Neil Harney, and Ian Sweeney injured so that leaves us a bit scarce on the ground. Going into the first game of the season in Sligo Barry Clancy and Derek Prendergast are suspended so that will be difficult for us going there. If I can bring in one more that would be great, but I am very happy with the way the squad are working.”
Though Clancy and Prendergast will be banned for the tussle with the Bit O'Red Cooke wants Athlone to be resourceful. There is sufficient talent to make an impact this year according to Cooke. “You want to have a strong spine in your team. When players are suspended, though, it gives other players a chance. When the three lads are fit which they will be by the time of the Sligo game I will go into every game confident with what we have.”
Cooke also feels the spirited manner in which Athlone eked out a victory over Longford was a positive sign. “It is nice to win any game because you want to get into a good habit. I thought it was a very good quality game by both teams considering the conditions. It builds confidence especially for the younger players.”
The arrival of Kealan Dillon, who has first team experience with St Mirren is a major boost for Athlone, who will give youngsters an opportunity to shine. “I think he can add to the team,” Cooke commented. “He was a bit unlucky because he was with Hull City when they got promoted. He went to St Mirren and got a few first team games with them.
“Obviously living on his own in Glasgow was tough, he was a little bit homesick and I was glad to get him. He has shown up very well in training and had an excellent game in Friday's friendly against Longford Town.”