It may be a pre-season friendly on Friday night but when Midland rivals Longford Town and Athlone meet it is always a special and exciting occasion. Here to preview the game at City Calling Stadium is our reporter, Kieran Burke (@burko77_):
The long winter nights are starting to pass by and that can only mean one thing……League of Ireland football is upon us for yet another season of twists and turns, ups and downs and more drama than any television soap could bring you. The gates at City Calling Stadium will be swung wide open for supporters on Friday night as local rivals and last season’s First Division Champions, Athlone Town arrive for the first and only Midlands derby on the calendar for 2014. Roddy Collins may have departed the Lissywoolen based outfit during the off-season but fans of the “Blue and Black” will never forget the nine point turnaround orchestrated by Collins last season to clinch Athlone the title ahead of their neighbours Longford, claiming Premier Division football for the first time in seventeen years in the process.
However, it’s all change across the Midlands for 2014 with Mick Cooke now in the hotseat at Athlone while Longford boss, Tony Cousins has signed no less than eight new faces for what he hopes will finally be his team’s year in the second tier. As the old saying goes, “the more things change the more they stay the same” and that will be the case at The City Calling Stadium on Friday night with the word ‘friendly’ sure to be in little use on or off the pitch with the desire to get one over on the old enemy just as strong as ever.
Friday night will offer supporters on both sides the chance to see their new heroes in action with Stephen Rice, Kevin O’Connor, Pat Flynn, Pat Sullivan, Don Cowan, Peter Hynes, Lorcan Shannon and Sean Russell the impressive array of new acquisitions set to don the “Red and Black” of Longford for 2014 while ATFC have added well since Cooke’s arrival. John Mulroy (Bray), Graham Rusk (Drogheda), Kealan Dillon (St.Mirren), Alan Byrne (Drogheda), Jason Marks (Drogheda), Derek Prendergast (Drogheda) and Sean Brennan (Shelbourne) all bring with them plenty of top flight experience and followers of Athlone will be quietly confident of maintaining their Premier Division status at the first attempt.
Despite pre-season only being a few weeks old, both these sides have been in action over the past few days with Longford advancing to the quarter-finals of the 2014 Leinster Senior Cup with a win over Wexford league side, Shamrock Rovers A.F.C. Mick Cooke kick-started his Athlone Town career with a 5-1 away victory over non-league side, Drogheda Town leaving them in good fettle ahead of this trip to the Strokestown Road venue. Cooke will have positive memories of his most recent visit to Longford having overcome them with his Drogheda United FAI cup runners up in the knockout competition last season, 2-1 the final score.
Athlone Town open their Premier Division campaign with a mouthwatering trip to the Showgrounds to face title contenders, Sligo Rovers while Longford Town will be just one county over the night before as they launch their promotion assault with a head to head clash with title contenders Galway FC at Eamon Deacy Park, where President Higgins will be the guest of honour.
With a healthy attendance expected for Friday’s game we should be in for a very exciting pre-season encounter and we hope to see you there with kick-off at The City Calling Stadium scheduled for 7-45pm.