The 2017 SSE Airtricity league season is barely one month old but already Athlone Town are experiencing a somewhat chaotic season. There are plenty of new faces at Lisseywoolen and much uncertainty among the fans as to what precisely is happening behind the scenes.
Despite this a team reportedly managed by Colin Fortune opened up their First Division campaign with wins over Waterford and Wexford, two performances that suggested the Midlands side might be heading for a decent season.
That soon changed and with Ricardo Monsanto newly announced as being the club's manager a 3-0 defeat to derby rivals Longford heralded a run of three ignominious defeats which included a 5-1 hammering away to Cobh and, last weekend, a 4-1 home reversal against Shelbourne.
In previous years a home tie against Cabinteely might have been just what the doctor ordered but Athlone cannot assume anything against Pat Devlin’s men this time around. Athlone have shipped 12 goals in their last three games and now face a team that put four past early pace setters Cobh last weekend and are on a run of three straight league wins.
Monsanto will be without club captain Niall Scullion on Friday night after he was sent off against Shels last Saturday. However, he might find some solace in the fact that Athlone’s goal that night was scored by new signing, 36 year-old striker Walter Invernizzi.
Being new himself and with so many new faces in his squad Monsanto can be excused for not having yet established his best starting XI but there is little sign yet that his preferred choices are improving the team’s performances.
Athlone have some quality players on the roster with Jason Molloy, Cormac Raftery and Val Feeney all capable of putting in commanding performances but on-field cohesion will be required if the club’s season isn’t to slip into the abyss.
In Cabinteely’s only two seasons of League football they have finished 8th and 7th in the eight-team First Division. In that time they had won just nine of their 56 league matches. Hard to deny, then, that they have become established as one of the League’s whipping boys.
But over the winter the managerial reins were taken up by former Bray boss Pat Devlin and the current squad representing the South County Dublin side look to have an altogether more impressive gait.
In direct contrast to Athlone, ‘Cabo’ lost their opening two fixtures, failing to score on either occasion. Since then, however, they have recorded three impressive wins on the bounce and bagged eight goals in the process, again in stark contrast to the the form of Friday's opponents.
Last weekend they took on and beat the Division leaders Cobh Ramblers with a performance that spilled over with pace, commitment and no little amount of skill. Striker Joe Doyle got his third goal in three games that night and winger Kieran Marty Waters has scored in his last two outings, perhaps suggesting that he might be rediscovering the form that earned him a move from Bray Wanderers to Shamrock Rovers in 2014.
Full of youthful energy, Cabinteely can also count on the experience of players such as Daire Doyle and Jason Byrne while the likes of Victor Ekanem, Waters and Kevin Knight are also entering the territory of reliable seniors.
It will be interesting to see if Devlin can keep his side focused and hungry as expectations rise and whether the squad possess the concentration and discipline to maintain their momentum.
Centre back Ekanem was subbed off with a groin injury last Saturday night and is a doubt for the Athlone game but apart from that Devlin will have a full squad to choose from this Friday night.
Referee: Adriano Reale
In last season’s meetings between these team it was a case of ‘there’s no place like home’. Athlone won 3-1 and 4-0 at Lisseywoolen while Cabinteely won the Stradbrook games 2-1 and 5-1.
Five of Athlone’s 2016 league goal-scorers remain at the club this year. Conor Barry, Val Feeney, Colm Coss, Sean McGrane and Ryan Gaffey. Between them they got ten of the club’s 26 league goals last year.
Defender Kevin Knight is set to make his 50th appearance for Cabinteely against Athlone and is the club’s record appearance holder.
Athlone 23/10, Draw 12/5, Cabinteely Ev.
Athlone Town 1-2 Cabinteely
Suspended: Niall Scullion.
Doubtful: Victor Ekanem.