Friday, June 29, 2018

Athlone Town FC

Athlone Town 0 Wexford 1 - League of Ireland, Division One

Athlone (meaning "town of Luan's ford") is a town on the River Shannon near the southern shore of Lough Ree. Athlone Castle is the geographical and historical centre of Athlone. Throughout its early history, the ford of Athlone was strategically important, as south of Athlone the Shannon is impassable until Clonmacnoise, where the Esker Riada meets the Shannon, while to the north it flows into Lough Ree. In 1001 Brian Bóru sailed his army up river from Kincora and through Lough Derg to attend a gathering in Athlone. Athlone railway station opened on 3 October 1859, with Irish Rail services travelling eastwards to Portarlington, Kildare and Dublin Heuston and westwards to the Westport/Ballina lines as well as to Athenry, Oranmore and Galway. Athlone Castle reopened in 2012 following a multi-million euro renovation to transform the castle into a state-of-the-art, multi-sensory visitor experience. It features eight newly designed exhibition spaces containing both a chronological and thematic sequence, including 3D maps, audio-visual installations, and illustrations by renowned illustrator Victor Ambrus. 

Athlone first competed in the League of Ireland in the 1922–23 season finishing sixth. They were the first non-Dublin club in the Irish Free State to compete in the national Free State League. They competed in the league until 1928 and not again until the 1969–70 season. Athlone Town won the FAI Cup, their first domestic success in 1924, beating Fordsons. Dinny Hannon scored the only goal of the game, as Athlone went through the whole competition without conceding a goal. Hannon was one of five Athlone Town players chosen to represent the Irish Free State at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games. The other players were Tommy Muldoon, Frank Ghent, John Joe Dykes and Paddy O'Reilly. The club finished second in the league in the 1974–75 season earning a place in the UEFA Cup, the first time they had ever qualified for European competition. Their first-round game was against Norwegian side Vålerenga who they beat. Athlone's second round tie was against Italian side AC Milan drawing 0–0 in the first leg at St. Mel's Park setting a record attendance of 9,000 before losing the second leg at the San Siro 3–0. Athlone won their first league title in the 1980–81 season. This feat was repeated in the 1982-83 season. 

A mid-morning flight from Stansted to Dublin suffered a delay of around two hours due to earlier air traffic issues. From Dublin Heuston I was able to catch the 14:45 train to Athlone. The modern rolling stock on this route has very efficient air conditioning, which was an absolute blessing on a very hot day. The complimentary bottled water at Heuston was also appreciated. This service was also delayed due to an obstruction on the track. 

Refreshments in the lovely town of Athlone took the shape of a really nice plate of cod and chips at the Genoa Restaurant. This was preceded by a visit to the Malt House pub where this Pieman enjoyed a large glass of Chieftan IPA brewed by Franciscan well in Cork.

The football club moved from St Mel’s Park to the Athlone Town Stadium in 2007. It takes a little over ten minutes to walk from the town centre to this venue. The only spectator facilities in the ground are located in the covered seated stand that runs the full length of the pitch. A total of 2024 spectators can be accommodated in the stand. This structure houses the changing rooms, two sets of toilets for spectators and a café/shop. In the latter, a selection of programmes and photographs from the club’s past are on prominent display. 

This season Athlone Town FC has been struggling, with just two draws to show for their efforts. Visitors Wexford FC were just above them in the table on nine points. Therefore, this match presented a good opportunity for the home side to restore some pride. Of course the same applied to the visitors and it was Wexford that had the little bit of quality to win the match and extend the gap between the two sides.

The decisive strike
John Morgan’s 33rd minute free-kick was struck home via the post and this proved to be the only goal of the match. There was plenty of endeavour from the home side but it was clear that they were lacking in confidence. They are a very young team and a few of the players showed decent ability. The pink shirted visitors had a few other chances but Darcy Lawless in the Athlone goal was equal to their efforts. On a warm evening a return to the Malt House was a good decision for some more of that Chieftan IPA.

Attendance: ?
Admission: €10:00
Programme: €4 ( 20 pages)

Click here for a full set of photographs

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