Following on from last weeks excellent Premier Division special, 10 guests once again join Kieran & Jon in studio to preview the start of the 2018 SSE Airtricity League First Division. Shane Keegan, Aaron Callaghan, Gareth McCaffery, Kevin McHugh, Stephen Joyce, David O’Sullivan, Conor Keeley, Damien Locke, Daire Doyle & Stephen Henderson all feature. There’s also the usual Premier Division results round-up and plenty of laughs along the way.
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After much recent speculation and uncertainty on how Athlone Town could potentially line out on the opening night of the season away to Galway United, we have finally been given an indication into who Aaron Callaghan’s new side may feature following the club’s announcement on their new squad which will compete in the 2018 First Division.
Having open trials in Dublin and Athlone under the stewardship of both Aaron Callaghan and Terry Butler, the 2013 First Division Winners have assembled a squad that they believe is capable of competing in what will be an ultra-competitive First Division this season.
News has finally broken, and we now know who will make up the First Team Squad at the League of Ireland’s oldest club for the forthcoming season.
Three Goalkeeping options have been revealed as part of Town’s new squad as Michael Fogarty, Sean O’Donnell and Nathan Murphy have all pledged their commitment to the club for 2018.
The trio are all new additions to the club following the departure of Conor Gleeson to Galway United and the well-documented suspension of Igor Labut’s following a match fixing investigation by the Football Association of Ireland.
Former Longford Town man Aaron Brilly returns to the Athlone Town Stadium alongside Cormac Rafferty in defence while Felix Bape Perez, Dan O’Donovan, Ger Smyth and Bashmil Nyakambili all form the rest of the defensive options. Amazingly Perez was formerly on the books as a youth player at none other than Real Madrid!
In a stacked midfield containing no less than 16 players, including former Longford Town cult-hero Etanda Nkololo and Irish Under 18 international Darren Kavanagh, Callaghan has moved quickly to build a large midfield base to choose from. Another part of the midfield options include Joe Carmody and Ryan Gaffey who both return to the club having come up through the ranks at the Athlone Town Stadium at youth level.
Finally, the attacking trio of George Mukete, Tzee Mustapha, Martin Walshe complete Aaron Callaghan’s squad. Mukete is a former St Patrick’s Athletic Youth Player, while Tzee Mustapha joins after a spell in Northern Ireland with Carrick Rangers, while newcomer Martin Walshe completes the line-up for “Town”.
It will be interesting to see how Athlone Town fare this season in what will be the most competitive First Division in years having endured a nightmare two-year spell in the First Division with fan unrest regarding the running of the club.
To add insult to injury they have come rock bottom in their last two seasons in the First Division, marking a significant fall from grace since their hey-day of 2013 where the Lissywoolen outfit secured Promotion back to the Promised Land of Irish Football.
Athlone Town will look to kick-off their season with a bang, starting off with an away clash against recently relegated Galway United at Eamonn Deacy Park on the 23rd of February with a kick-off time of 7.45pm.
Full Squad List for Athlone Town
Goalkeepers: Michael Fogarty, Sean O’Donnell, Nathan Murphy
Defenders: Aaron Brilly, Felix Bape Perez, Dan O’Donovan, Ger Smyth, Bashmil Nyakambili, Cormac Rafferty.
Midfield: Josh Hogan, Steven Grogan, Brian Carbally, Shane Stokes, Ollie Hamzet, Craig Short, Barry Davies, Darren Kavanagh, Ryan Gaffey, Luke Kelly, Etanda Nkololo, Taigh Keogh, Robbie O’Leary, Eoin Roche, JJ Offorjama, Joe Carmody
Forwards: George Mukete, Tzee Mustapha, Martin Walshe
After much speculation and questions from both Athlone and League of Ireland fans in general, Athlone Town AFC last night revealed to Between the Stripes that manager Aaron Callaghan will reveal his senior squad for the 2018 First Division season tonight (Monday 05/02/18). However, Between the Stripes can exclusively reveal that former Longford Town and Cabinteely defender Aaron Brilly has agreed to return to the club he left for Home Farm last season.
Brilly (21), departed Athlone mid-season with the Midlands club gripped in the midst of a match-fixing scandal involving two of its foreign players, Igors Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan, who were subsequently banned for 12 months each by the FAI in a controversial case. With Athlone glued to the foot of the second tier and Brilly strangely being over looked by then manager Ricardo Monsanto on a consistent basis, the youngster decided to cut ties with the club and soon signed for Dublin based Home Farm.
Despite his tender years, Brilly is already a well traveled player in terms of the number of clubs he has represented. Starting out with Longford Town’s under 19’s in 2012, Brilly’s leadership qualities were evident long before he was named as captain of the underage side whom he would represent proudly until his departure from the club in May 2014. Having impressed Town boss Tony Cousins enough to earn a handful of senior appearances during his time with the club, it was a surprise to many Longford supporters that Brilly was shown the door by the former Galway manager.
A spell with Northern Irish Football League club Newry City was to follow before the Dubliner arrived at Cabinteely in time for their inaugural season in the League of Ireland. Brilly played in ‘’Cabo’s’’ famous opening day win over Wexford Youths and went on to make nineteen appearances for the Stradbrook club that season. Twenty-six appearances were to follow in 2016 before Brilly made the decision to join Athlone in February of last year.
Ahead of Aaron Callaghan’s squad announcement tonight it appears as if Brilly may be joined by two more former Longford Town FC players as Kaleem Simon and Etanda Nkololo both scored for the ‘‘ Blue and Black’’ in a 2-1 pre-season win over Lucan United at the weekend. Simon had only recently been on trial with Premier Division outfit Limerick, while Nkololo was a league winner with Longford in 2014 and starred for Athlone following his summer arrival at the club last season.
Late last night (Sunday, 10th of December 2017) Athlone Town announced a surprising new first-team management structure for the forthcoming First Division season. Since the conclusion of an utterly embarrassing 2017 campaign at the Midlands club, there had almost been a news blackout surrounding Lissywoolen with little or no updates regarding the leagues oldest club emerging. However, supporters of Athlone now know who will guide the club forward in what is an expanded ten-team First Division for next season.
Taking up the managerial reigns half-way through last season, following the resignation of ex-Longford boss Alan Mathews, Roddy Collins will remain at Athlone for 2018 but in the new role of general manager. Instead, the first-team manager position will be filled by Aaron Callaghan, who has previously managed the “Blue and Black” as well as other League of Ireland clubs Longford Town, Bohemians and UCD.
Assisting Callaghan will be Terry Butler, who has worked with the experienced manager at Bohemians, UCD and Carrick Rangers of the Northern Irish Football League.
As part of the announcement, Athlone Town revealed they will be hosting open trials for local players with an interest in forging a career in the LOI. The statement posted on the clubs official website stated the new management structure would now set-out to start recruiting for what they hope will be a successful 2018 campaign.
Athlone Town finished bottom of the second tier last season, while off the pitch the club were subject to an FAI investigation, following claims of betting irregularities in a league tie away to local rivals Longford. Athlone duo Igors Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan were both handed twelve-months bans as a result by the governing body.
Longford Town FC continued their impeccable record against arch rivals Athlone Town this season, but tonight it was the under-19’s who had their “El Clasico” moment as Darren McGarry’s side put six past a sloppy Athlone side. Continue reading →
Having started the season as joint bookies favorites for promotion alongside free-spending Waterford FC, defeat to the ”Blues” at the RSC last night effectively ended the already slim remaining hopes of seeing Longford Town return to the Premier Division at the first attempt. A Thirteenth minute long-range strike from Derek Daly condemned ”De Town” to a sixth league defeat of the season, only the two sides below them have lost more, Athlone Town with seven losses and Wexford with eight. The questions that must now be asked by followers of the Midlands club is why the total non event of a season to date and where do ”De Town” go from here? Are there any quick-fixes available or is a long-term remedy the only solution?
Tackling the first of those two questions, Longford’s problems this season are clear. Unfortunately for manager Alan Mathews, his side have found themselves stuck in the lethal combination of not conceding soft goals at one end while failing to convert glorious opportunities at the other side of the pitch. With a record of conceding a goal a game so far this season, the importance of been ruthless in front of goals is massive for Longford, but with only nine goals on the charts after thirteen games the results are only ever going to go one way sadly.
Perhaps fingers can be pointed at the backroom staff for not signing enough cover in forward areas should injuries occur, as they have done this season. However, when you look at the pedigree of players such as David O’Sullivan and Enda Curran and consider the fact that wide men Don Cowan, Cody Mulhall and Jake Kelly can all play up front too, it was hard for anyone to envisage such a lack of goals.
As mentioned, injuries have taken their toll yet again this season at the City Calling Stadium, where attendances have hit desperate lows, with attacking units O’Sullivan, Curran, Cowan, Kelly, Boyne and Mulhall all spending time of the treatment table this season. Other new arrivals such as Dylan McGlade, who so much was expected of have totally failed to perform and that has led to calls from the fanbase for local players such as Dan Beya and Aodh Dervin to be given their chance, especially now that any hopes of promotion are seemingly dead in the water.
While chances have been spurned on a regular basis this season by the likes of Curran and O’Sullivan, overall the lack of creativity in this Longford team is startling. Alan Mathews has opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation throughout the 2017 campaign, with an emphasis on possession football. However, while Longford undoubtedly have one of the higher possession rates in the First Division, the majority of their play is coming in their own half and as a result they are inviting pressure on themselves. When the ball eventually does reach the final third the move more often that not breaks down in an aimless lofted ball over the top and it is easy to see why the likes of Enda Curran in particular, who appears more and more isolated at the top of the pitch each week, are becoming visibility animated by the week.
Tony Cousins was often lambasted for his direct style of play, particularly when he had a target man in Gary Shaw at his disposal but at least there was a clear style of play (or lack of it as his critics argued). However, when you watch Alan Mathews current side it all appears just too nice, with pointless passing across the back four and no needle where it is needed in the centre of the park and further on. While new signing Dean Zambra has grown into a holding role stronger and stronger by the game, his midfield partner Kevin O’Connor just can’t seem to rediscover his 2014 form.
With O’Connor reaching the latter stage of his career and Zambra more of a destructor than creator, there is a clear lack of mobility in the Longford midfield, which has been overrun on multiple occasions by opposition sides this season.
So can these issues be fixed by a couple of simple tweaks in the upcoming transfer window? A young box to box midfielder similar in style to when Mark Salmon signed from Athlone would certainly add some much needed mobility to a robotic looking Longford midfield. In wide areas ”De Town” are crying out for some much needed quality but unless the club are willing to let go of some of the current squad already at their disposal, it is unlikely the board would be willing to spend any more on a wage bill that is already the second highest in the league.
Despite Longford’s troubles this season, the back four has looked a lot more solid than it did at the start of the campaign with Langtry, O’Reilly, Walsh and particularly Hofmann impressing greatly. With Noel Haverty out injured at present and Rhys Gorman and Aidan Friel ready made options on the Longford bench, that part of the squad needs no real adjustment. In fact, If the coaching staff can find a way to just cut out the needless unforced errors at the back, it would be among one of the more solid back-fours in the division.
At the far end of the pitch, O’Sullivan has failed to rediscover the First Division form that brought him to prominence in 2013 and 2014, while Enda Curran has been a real disappointment since arriving from Galway United in the off-season. With free scoring strikers at a premium, Mathews may be forced to look outside of the League of Ireland if he is to consider a new front man and that constitutes a gamble in itself, although David O’Sullivan is a prime example of the talent that can be found in the non-leagues, having signed from Wayside Celtic in 2013 prior to becoming Longford Town’s all-time leading goalscorer by the mid-way point of the 2014 season!
However, even if Longford were to make adjustments in the transfer window it is unlikely they will ever claw back the fifteen-point gap that now separates themselves and Waterford, who occupy the only promotion place on offer this season. That begs the question, with nothing of note to play for, attendances on a dramatic slide and sponsors unlikely to get involved between now and the end of the season, would a more dramatic approach make sense?
The issue of local players, more so the lack of them within the senior set-up at the club has been a talking point ever since Longford Town joined the League of Ireland in the mid-eightees. While Darragh Doherty, Aodh Dervin and Dan Beya have all represented the club in pre-season and in a Leinster Senior cup tie away to Firhouse Clover, they have yet to feature in the league.
Bar Tristan Noack Hofmann, no local player has represented the club at senior LOI level since Michael Lee. The fact that four local players saw action against the likes of champions Dundalk in pre-season garnered great attention on both social media and local press so you would have to imagine that would be amplified if they were to play a number of First Division games in the second half of the season. With only 245 people turning out for the last home game at City Calling Stadium versus UCD, it is possible that figure could fall even lower when bottom side Wexford visit on Saturday. Prior to the UCD clash there was still a faint hope Longford could mount a title challenge this season but following that defeat to UCD and now to Waterford, those hopes are now long gone and with no relegation from the second tier, Saturday’s tie is now effectively a dead rubber.
As already mentioned, only Waterford spent more on their playing squad than Longford for the 2017 season. With attendances as low as they are, the end of season prize money not even worth mentioning and a lack of match day/pub sponsors now likely given the lack of interest in the club locally, one would have to question if the wages been paid out are worth it going forward? Sitting third from bottom in an eight-team division and level on points with a side who are currently subject of an FAI investigation into irregular betting patterns, it does raise the question if a predominantly locally based side could do much worse?
Sadly senior local league football in Longford is a far cry from the strength it experienced decades ago, with a lack of suitable playing surfaces available within the county and the standard suffering greatly as a result. However, with the under 17’s and under 19’s LOI now in place, there is finally a proper pathway on offer to talented youngsters with an ambition of playing LOI football. However, even those young players will admit the gap between under-age and First Division football is a large one to bridge so the club would have to explore other options.
Nearby counties such as Westmeath and this season in particular Roscommon have grabbed attention with their local sides performing well on a national level. Boyle Celtic’s FAI junior cup run saw them surpass any local media coverage Longford Town have gained this season and the fact that a huge crowd came to show their support at their semi-final at the Showgrounds in Sligo shows the feel good factor that can be generated by a local team. Recently, Boyle had two of their players selected to represent the Republic of Ireland’s amateur international side, a team that David O’Sullivan was a key player for during his non league days. Perhaps these are the sort of players Longford could look to add in around young local lads such as Doherty, Beya, Dervin and Hofmann?
These suggestions are of course just that, they would require a hell of a lot more thinking and analysing by the powers that be at Longford Town Football club, however we all saw the consequences of a lack of action at the top last season, when though decisions clearly had to be made but in-action followed. While there are no sporting consequences for finishing towards the bottom of the First Division, it would be a dangerous move for the club to just allow this season to drift away without some sort of plan for the future in place, other than just tossing money at another new manager and squad of players next season. Now is the time for a long term plan at Longford Town and perhaps a local emphasis is the way to go both on and off the pitch?
Prior to the start of the 2017 SSE Airtricity League season, very few would have predicted the meetings between local rivals Longford Town and Athlone Town would carry such significance, at least not in the lower reaches of the First Division standings. While Athlone’s off season sagas led to predictions of a wooden spoon finish for the year ahead, Alan Mathews Longford set off as joint favorites among the bookmakers for promotion back to the Premier League, which the “Red and Black” were of course relegated from in 2016. However, nine games into the new campaign and it is the “Blue and Black” of Athlone who lead the way in the battle of the Midlands clubs, as the currently managerless side sit seventh, one point above their arch rivals