Athlone Town suffered another Division One defeat to Cobh Ramblers last Friday at St Coleman’s Park, Cobh, their fifth on the bounce.
Charlie Fleming put Cobh ahead on 17 minutes in this one. Athlone had a few good chances at this early stage, the best one being a Ryan Gaffey header that came back off the post. Ronan Hanaphy equalised for Athlone on 33 minutes and the teams went in at half time at one goal apiece.
It appeared as though things were going The Town’s way after the break when Cobh had a Shane O’Connor penalty saved on the hour mark by Jamie Quinn. However, the game turned on 65 minutes when Joe Moloney conceded a second penalty, receiving a second yellow and subsequent red card in the process. Connor Ellis put the penalty away to give Cobh the lead and they held on to claim the win, their superiority in numbers making the Athlone task all too difficult.
The result means Athlone remain rooted to the foot of the table, still two points behind fellow strugglers Cabinteely. The Town face a stern test on Friday when they travel to Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup third round. Rovers, who have been placing an emphasis on youth in recent months, will be expected to reach the quarter-finals of a competition they have not won since 1987.
Despite the gap, Rovers remain synonymous with the FAI Cup, a trophy that has been claimed on 24 occasions by the famous Dublin club. Athlone’s only success was achieved in 1924, but Colin Fortune’s new-look side will know all about the importance of the upcoming clash with the Hoops. Financially it is relevant for the club, who will be aided by the biggest crowd of the year, and on the pitch Athlone’s youngsters will be seeking to cause a massive shock.
While the First Division has brought plenty of painful losses this term, Athlone are optimistic about the fact that so many budding footballers are being given an opportunity to shine.
Currently fourth in the SSE Airtricity league table, Rovers only trail table-toppers Dundalk by seven points. The Hoops have scope for improvement with Monday’s win over Wexford Youths providing a reminder of the strides being taken by the talented newcomers.
Athlone’s seasonal ambitions are much more modest. In the First Division, Athlone have registered two wins from 21 matches. Ten points have been registered by the Midlanders, who have been ravaged by off-field difficulties. Fortune’s knowledge and passion for the League of Ireland is a valuable asset and he will be anxious to put Athlone back on the road to respectability. A daunting task awaits Athlone against a particularly nifty Shamrock Rovers outfit.