Athlone Town will be hoping for better luck in 2017 compared to 2016 when they kick off the new SSE Airtricity First Division tonight at home to Waterford United.
Like their Midlands neighbours, Longford Town, 2016 was a year to forget for Athlone Town. They finished 8th (last) in the First Division. They only won three of their 28 fixture. They suffered a seven game losing streak at one stage too. The heights they reached in gaining promotion to the Premier Division in 2013 seemed a long time ago.
The Westmeath side have undergone huge change during the winter. Colin Fornture was named manager on a full terms basis just before Christmas. Fortune took over as caretaker manager mid-way through last season. Former Fatima coach Ricardo Monsanto is now involved with the coaching staff. This has led to a number of Portuguese joining the club. Kirils Grigorovs Jose Viegas, Frederico, Dragog Sfrijan have all signed since the end of last season. Conor Gleeson has also signed from Galway United, joining Cormac Rafftery and Jason Lyons as ex-Galway United players now with the midlanders. On a local front, Andy Nevin and Ethan Keogh have both signed from Roscommon & District League side Moore United. Like their midlands rivals, Longford Town, it is a very young squad with only four players over 24 years old.
Pre-Season preparations didn’t go too well. Athlone played five matches and suffered some heavy defeats vs Bohemians (5-1) and Bray (6-0) but did manage to get a 2-2 draw with Sligo Rovers last weekend. The adaption of getting used to a new squad is something Athlone are still getting used too.
Like Athlone, Waterford United have undergone a lot of change. Former Hibs and Shamrock Rovers manager Pat Fenlon is now at the helm. The South-East side, who finished 5th last season, have brought in a host of players since last October. Kenny Browne, who won the Premier Division with St. Pat’s in 2013, has joined the club from Cork City. Mark O’Sullivan, Dave Mulcahy and Matthew Connor have also joined from Turner Cross. Other high profile signings include Patrick McClean from Derry City and Tom Smith from English League One side Swindon Town. McClean is a younger brother of Republic of Ireland International James. With all these signing, Waterford will fancy themselves as a dark horses for promotion.
In their four meetings last season, it was very much advantage Waterford. Their first meeting ended in an entertaining 3-3 draw. Waterford won the three remaining fixture. Athlone will be hoping for better luck