Having finally secured an SSE Airtricity League Premier Division victory, Athlone Town head for Turners Cross this evening hopeful of causing another surprise against Cork City.
Last Friday’s encouraging success over UCD has provided Keith Long’s squad with a dash of optimism and Athlone want to build on that positive result. Manager Long is relieved that Athlone’s almost three month search for a top flight win is over. “I suppose you could say that there is relief,” Long said.
“It was important to get a win as soon as we possibly could. My managerial reign has been four games now. You know, we had three games in a week, we had a couple of weeks in between from the Bray game where we were able to impress upon the squad some of our ideas and what we’re about and what we’re trying to do.
“So it was a tough week, but it was good to get the win against UCD on Friday night, good for everyone involved with the football club and hopefully it will springboard us going forward over the next while.”
Boss Long was happy with how Athlone seized the initiative after the restart when defeating the Students, a victory that nudges the Midlanders within nine points of UCD on the table. “I think our first-half performance wasn’t what we expected from the players,” Long acknowledged.
“I think we addressed a couple of things at half-time and certainly the second half was much improved. We were able to go at them and we took control of the game. We started at a good tempo and from that point of view I think the players got their just rewards. The 2-0 win is a monkey off their backs in many ways so hopefully now no one will talk about us not having a win on the board.
“It’s a question of now building towards Cork away which is going to be another tough game for us. But we’ll go down there in good spirits after Friday night’s win and hopefully it’ll give everyone around the football club that little lift that we all need. Football is a game where confidence is important. Obviously players’ confidence has suffered since the start of the season so it was important for everyone that we got the win Friday and hopefully it will springboard us for the rest of the season.”
With John Caulfield at the helm, City currently lie in second place just two points behind leaders Dundalk. A decent and expectant Cork crowd will be attendance, but Long reckons that it’s a challenge Athlone should relish. “They’re right up there,” Long commented. “They had a couple of results recently where things went against them but they’ve bounced back from that. That’s the sign of a good side. John Caulfield is a manager I know from my playing days. He seems to have got that spirit back into and that sort of vibrancy going down there.
“It’s one of the best places to play football in this country so from that point of view we’ll be asking the players to go and embrace that challenge. There will be a good crowd down there in Turners Cross. It’s not going to be easy but we’ll go down there in confident mood after Friday night’s win.”
Athlone intend to make a string of signings when the transfer window reopens as Long is striving to avoid relegation. “We’ve got one or two niggles that we have to be careful of and we’re mindful of that. We have a squad of players and everybody needs to contribute. We do have a light enough squad in terms of numbers so hopefully that’s something that we might be able to improve when the window re-opens. It’s important that we have everybody fit and challenging for each other because competition for places is important.”
Long envisages Kealan Dillon occupying an important and central role in Athlone’s revival mission. “Kealan is a player I’m fully aware of from his schoolboy days at Belvedere. He was an underage international, went to Derby County then moved up to Scotland. Now he’s plying his trade in the League of Ireland. He may have bigger expectations.
“From my point of view, when I came here I spoke to him, we put him in a position where we think he is more beneficial to the team and hopefully we’ll see the best of him playing in a more central role. Kealan is technically quite a good player and he’s one that with a little bit of help and reassurance could go on to bigger and better things.
“If we’re realistic, that’s what we want from all the players. He’s one that I’m sure is looking to push on and get himself started. It would have been a bit of a culture shock coming into the League of Ireland so I think he is finding his feet now so hopefully we will see improved performances from Kealan and all the other players from here on in.”