There was no joy for Athlone Town against Galway United at Eamonn Deacy Park last Friday night (February 23 ), as their 2018 First Division campaign started with defeat.
A Danny Furlong hat-trick helped United to victory, as a late goal from Felix Perez proved mere consolation for the Town.
A crowd in excess of 1,000 turned out to greet the new season and can have few complaints after seeing five goals and lots of goal mouth action. Furlong looked up for this one from the off, and sent an early chance wide of the Athlone goal.
Athlone had a great opportunity to open their goal account after 11 minutes through Martin Walsh. The Town striker raced clear and looked set to score, only to be denied by Tadhg Ryan, who blocked the shot.
The miss proved costly as United took the lead moments later. Furlong was on hand to steer the ball past the keeper’s left from 12 yards out. The referee was correct in overruling his assistant, who had judged the goal offside, as the ball clearly deflected off an Athlone player and not a Galway one.
The lead should have been doubled when Stephen Kenny’s cross bounced off the bar, but Eoin McCormack could only steer the rebound straight at Nathan Murphy. Athlone’s Shane Stokes then drilled a free kick at Ryan, with a first Town corner following on 30 minutes.
The lead was doubled, however, four minutes later when Furlong finished off a long throw from close range. Athlone ended the half on the offensive, but Craig Short sent a first time effort over the bar, and Walsh also fired off target.
A double substitution for the second half by manager Aaron Callaghan saw George Mukete and Etanda Nkololo introduced for the visitors. Athlone pressed hard to reduce the deficit, with Stokes firing over and sub Mukete heading just wide of the post. Brian Carabaley had a further chance for The Town, but Galway grabbed a third goal on the hour mark. Ronan Manning took advantage of some poor defending to claim his first senior goal. A left wing cross was not cleared to safety and the 17-year-old starlet fired a volley into the net.
It was then a lost cause for Athlone, but they kept trying. A corner kick and further chances for Mukete and Stokes raised flagging spirits. Galway, though, sealed victory when Furlong finally completed his hat-trick with just nine minutes remaining on the clock. Gary Shanahan’s low ball from the right into the penalty area was finished by the former Wexford Youths striker.
Athlone grabbed a late consolation in the third minute of stoppage time. It was a fitting ending to the game, as full back Perez, from the edge of the penalty area, sent a first time volley to the net following a corner kick.
In spite of the heavy defeat for his new club, the former Real Madrid youth player at least had the satisfaction of scoring the goal of the game.