Preview by Kieran Burke (@KieranBTS/@BetweenStripes)
In what is surely a Midlands derby first, Athlone Town look set to travel to City Calling Stadium on Saturday evening (kick-off 7:30pm) without a goalkeeper in their squad.
Former Longford boss and current Athlone Town manager, Aaron Callaghan has hinted in the national media that this may very well be the case due to the fact the club are without their regular choices through injury and work commitments and that FAI rules permit the club from promoting one of the clubs underage players to the senior squad, while emergency deals are not open to amateur status sides, which Athlone Town fall under.
Teenage midfielder Luke Kelly played the full ninety-minutes between the posts last time out as rock bottom Athlone lost 2-1 to Cabinteely. Considering the circumstances in which Callaghan’s boys found themselves in, this was in fact something of a morale booting result for the Westmeath outfit, who have lost all three of their opening First Division assignments, included heavy 4-1 and 6-0 defeats to Galway United and Drogheda United respectively.
As for Neale Fenn’s Longford Town, it will be interesting to see how the hosts approach a game many are asking how large a margin they might win by as opposed to the result being in any doubt.
Regardless of outside perception, a win in this home encounter is of crucial importance for the ‘Red and Black’, who suffered a heartbreaking and somewhat cruel away defeat in Tolka Park last Friday. A hat-trick from club legend, Davy O’Sullivan downed the side ‘’Sully’’ represented proudly for five-years as the centre-forward converted two penalties, including a 90th minute winner to earn Shelbourne a 3-2 triumph over the 2014 champions.
Lessons will have to be learned both defensively, mentally and in terms of discipline by ‘’De Town’’, who had Dylan McGlade and Sam Verdon both dismissed during a heated encounter against ‘’Shels’’ last time out.
Neither of those players will be available to Neale Fenn this weekend, while Darren Meenan sadly suffered a hamstring injury in the opening half of that game against the Dublin club and is likely to miss a number of weeks.
Other than the goalkeeping crisis at Athlone, there is little team news to report at this time. Aaron Callaghan has opted for large scale changes in each of his team selection so far this this season, although he may opt for a more settled line-up considering the positive performance against Cabinteely, in which Athlone scored an equalizer, only to let parity slip in rapid time.
Callaghan is quoted as been impressed by the performance of ex-Longford youth, Aaron Brilly, who has also played for Cabinteely previously in the League of Ireland, while 2014 title winner with Longford, Etanda Nkololo is also a member of the current Athlone Town set-up and played in the humiliating 7-1 defeat at the hands of Longford at City Calling Stadium last season.
With a combined total of twenty-six goals either way in the six league games involving these two clubs and other opposition so far this season, get yourself down to the home of football in the Midlands this Saturday night if you want to be entertained.
Admission is just €10 for adults, €8 for students/OAPS and a bargain busting €5 for children under 12! Kick-off is 7:30pm.