Following a demanding few months, Athlone Town have finally found their feet, in the shape of several new youthful signings.
The journey back towards SSE Airtricity League respectability will be tough as Athlone currently occupy the bottom spot on the First Division table, but small steps are being taken.
A different approach is now being adopted. Youngsters are being afforded an opportunity to shine and manager Colin Fortune, a former Galway United midfielder, has used his contacts in the west wisely. Three former Salthill Devon youngsters Conor Barry, Jason Lyons, and Cormac Raftery, are currently part of the Midlanders squad.
Raftery, who joined last week, is a former Galway minor footballer too and made significant progress with Galway United last season. In 2016, the Glenamaddy native found his opportunities limited so he was delighted to accept Fortune’s invitation to join Athlone Town.
“It was a frustrating year for me with Galway this season because I was sitting on the bench week in, week out,” 21-year-old Raftery told the Athlone Advertiser. “I felt that I did OK last year when I got into the team so I was hoping to build on that this season, but I just wasn’t getting in enough. The age I’m at I need to be playing games regularly in order to develop. I’m happy to be with Athlone now and I’m looking forward to trying to help the team.”
Raftery will be re-united with former colleagues Lyons and Barry: “I played with the pair of them before with Salthill from around U15 on. It is strange to have the three of us involved with Athlone,” he admits.
Despite Athlone’s lowly status Raftery feels that progress can be made soon: “It is good that so many younger lads are all wanting to play,” he says. “Colin Fortune has brought in a few players. The club has gone through a tough patch, but Colin Fortune seems to be good and the players are happy working for him, he knows his stuff. What I really think Athlone are trying to do is to build a team for next season and hopefully they can do that.”
Athlone travel to St Colman’s Park for a clash with Cobh Ramblers on Saturday evening and climbing the standings is what the Midlanders want to do. The upcoming FAI Cup clash with Shamrock Rovers at Lissywollen promises to be interesting and Raftery is adamant that Athlone can develop.
“At the moment I just think that we need to get one result and the whole thing could then just get a lift. That is what is needed now,” he says. “We need to keep training hard. One big game would help us. A good win would help to lift the spirits. We just need to make sure we continue to work.
“The Shamrock Rovers game in the Cup will be a big game. I suppose it is hard to see us winning that game, but we will go into every match looking to do our best. Who knows what will happen.”