The Rams finish this season’s opening round of fixtures on Friday night, travelling to Athlone Town. The Midlands side sit third in the table after a flying start to the campaign but have lost their last three outings.
Cobh come into the tie on the back of last week’s 2-1 loss to league leaders Shelbourne. Conor Drinan’s early strike had put Ramblers in the lead but it was Shels who left with three points thanks to two second half goals.
The sides met twice in 2020, with both results ending in home victories. The 3-2 win at St Colman’s Park on March 7th was our last home game in pre-Covid times, as the supporters saw Ian Turner’s winner grab all three points that night.
Athlone also suffered defeat last weekend, losing 1-0 at league newcomers Treaty United. Manager Adrian Carberry saw his side lead the table early on in the year but three recent defeats has seen them slip to a still-impressive third place. They have added a number of experienced faces to their dressing room this season, with Killian Cantwell, Stephen Meaney, Kurtis Byrne and James Doona among the stars now playing in an Athlone shirt.
On the injury front, it’s a more positive story than in recent weeks for Ramblers. Conor Drinan, Martin Coughlan, Ben O’Riordan, Corey Chambers and Darren Murphy all returned to the squad last week against Shelbourne. Pierce Phillips and Stephen O’Leary are back in on-field training for the first time, while Caelin Rooney and Regix Madika remain out for the longer term. Ciaran Griffin is being monitored closely and this week could come too soon for his return.
Cobh fans will of course have fond memories of Athlone, having won the First Division title there in 2007, and securing a play-off spot there in 2016.
Manager Stuart Ashton spoke to the assembled media before the game, firstly regarding the announcement of the Burnley partnership.
“It’s absolutely fantastic. The board have been working hard behind the scenes and it’s great for all of us. It shows the club’s intent, that we mean business. It’s a great move for the community and for the club as a whole. It’s an incentive for our young guys. If they showcase themselves at our level then they could move onto Premier League level. It gives players at all ages exposure. For us to learn from their structures and methodologies is huge.
I’m a Burnley fan myself, from my dad and from my grandad. I did my apprenticeship there as a player and that made it even more special. It’s a community club, built on youngsters coming through. Like us, they have that ethos of working with underage players.”
He was also asked about the likelihood of the partnership leading to incoming Burnley loanees as early as this summer,
“That’s part of it, but it has to be right for both clubs. If they are looking for players to go on loan, they’ll talk to us and see if it’s the right fit. It’s a great opportunity for us. There’s a possibility of it happening this summer. Their seasons are finishing this week, the underage seasons as well, so that timing might just count against us with the transfer window. It’s definitely a possibility, but it has to be looked at in more detail at this stage.”
Turning to Friday’s game with Athlone, it’s clear the squad is eager to turn recent results around,
“We have to get the mentality right and get back to our solid foundation at the back. Last week we did well in the first half, we matched them [Shelbourne]. The turning point was the missed penalty. It would have given us freedom to express ourselves even more in the second half. We came in at half-time, said let’s keep doing the same things. It didn’t happen and we’ve looked at that during the week. We know we can produce against the top teams, but we need to do that for 90 minutes.”
“The lads believe in what we’re doing. If we keep it tight, cut out the mistakes and the poor decisions, we’ll give anyone a good game. We have to start showing that, it’s no good feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s putting us at the wrong end of the table and we have to put it right, hopefully tomorrow.”
Kick-off on Friday night is at 19:45 in Athlone, with the game being streamed live on LOI TV