Duleek man Shane Dunne ready for Friday night kick-off
Shane Dunne from Duleek is looking forwad to the start of the League of Ireland First Division tomorrow night with Athlone Town.
The Meath man has returned to the clubs this season from the USA, but he has had his fair share of football tribulations in the League of Ireland, but he wants to play at the highest level here.
And with Athlone Town he will be aiming to help the club regain a place at the top level after a number of seasons in the doldrums.
SHANE DUNNE AHEAD OF A GAME FOR ATHLONE TOWN LAST WEEK
For a number of seasons Athlone Town FC was making headlines for all the wrong reasons - most notably over betting on a fixture against Longford Town in April 2017 that caught the attention of UEFA and Interpol.
It became national and international news with the FAI announcing an investigation - the subsequent fall-out produced lengthy suspensions for a number of Athlone's foreign brigade.
Fast-forward to February 2019 and Athlone Town can reflect on a 2018 season where they didn't actually win a First Division game on the pitch and where the average crowd was about 125.
That's all a far cry from the dizzy heights of the famous scoreless draw that Athlone Town achieved against AC Milan in a UEFA Cup first leg game at the old St Mel's Park in 1975 when some 9,000 spectators packed the stadium.
THE AC MILAN PLAYERS ARRIVING AT ST MEL'S PARK IN 1975
But the tide may be turning as Athlone went to Oriel Park last Monday night and with Dunne, and another Meath player Kealan Dillon in the team, won a Leinster Senior Cup game by 1-0 against Dundalk.
So what is it that attracted a young man from Duleek to sign for the Westmeath club for the 2019 season and he admites that he is fortunate that he has a very understanding employer, his brother who was a monthly winner in the Meath Sports Awards in 2017.
“My brother Casey is a plumber and I'm working with him, that's very convenient as it allows a bit of flexibility for when I have to go training and for games,” he told the Meath Chronicle.
“Casey plays rugby for Ashbourne and won an All-Ireland title with the club a few weeks ago, he has also played Rugby League for Ireland and he understands the demands for training and that sort of thing.
“I started playing under-age with Duleek soccer club and got lots of help and coaching there, this season I'm aiming to get as many games as I can with Athlone, I'm also hoping to complete my UEFA A coaching licence.
“I really enjoy football and if I can help to get Athlone moving in the right direction, then you never know where it might take us, fortunes in football can change quickly from one season to the next.
“There is a great tradition in Athlone and it would be great to be part of a revival of the club's fortunes.
“I was in the USA last year after I finished in IT Carlow where I did sports management and coaching in conjunction with the FAI.
“I played with OSA (Seattle), they're in a tier below the MSL, I got the chance to go to the USA on a graduate visa and I thought it would be good experience, it was also about travelling a bit.
“But football can throw up opportunities and I got the chance to coach and to play, so it worked out well as I got to travel and got paid as well,” he added.
Looking back at his time with Athlone in 2012, there was plenty of turmoil for the Duleek man that season and it wasn't anything to do with the Westmeath club.
“I ended up with Athlone in 2012, that was after starting the season with Monaghan Utd in the Premier, they withdrew the team about a week after they knocked holders Sligo Rovers out of the FAI Cup.
“That was a great result for us against Sligo who had a good team, they went on to win the Premier title that year, but it didn't work out for Monaghan, Roddy Collins was the manager at the time.
“The news from the Monaghan committee was a shock for all of us and it was totally unexpected, it was just after the mid-season break, we were just told the club had withdrawn.
“Fortunately, I got a move to Athlone with Mike Kerley Who was the manager at the time, I was also in IT Carlow.
“Eventually I got a chance with Wexford, it was more convenient to IT Carlow than trying to go to Athlone, I had a few seasons there and got promotion to the Premier with Wexford.
“Shane Keegan was the Wexford manager and I had a season in the Premier Division, the step up is noticeable as the pace of the game is faster and you would be playing against better players every week,” he said.
There was also international recognition for Dunne when he travelled to Taiwan in August 2017 as part of Team Ireland for the World University Games. He was included in the men's football squad for the tournament and featured in games against France, hosts Taipei and Mexico.
SHANE DUNNE (CENTRE) WITH MEMBERS OF TEAM IRELAND
“That was a great experience also, but for now the focus is firmly on my role with Athlone when the serious business starts this week.
“Terry Butler is the Athlone manager this season and I think we will do well, there is a good atmosphere around the place, a lot of positivity.
“The club has had few tough seasons, but this year will see an improvement and I think they will get a bit more support from the locality.
“The facilities are great, for the players and the spectators, they have a new pitch which is one of the best I have seen for an astro surface.
“We had the first game on the new pitch two weeks ago in a pre-season friendly against Sligo Rovers and then we played Finn Harps and there is a Leinster Senior Cup game against Dundalk, but the serious business starts this Friday night against Wexford.
“It would be great if we could get a good crowd into the ground, put on a performance and then build on that,” he added.
ATHLONE TOWN HAS A NEW ASTRO PITCH THIS SEASON
Apart from his commitment to helping Athlone Town, there is a new role on the horizon with Drogheda Utd.
“I have taken on the role of manager / coach of the Drogheda Utd u-13s and we start the season on St Patrick's weekend in March,” he said.
“It's the first season of the u-13 age group in the League of Ireland and it should a great experience.
“Our opening game is at home to Shelbourne and we are in the group with Bohemians, St Patrick’s Athletic, Dundalk and Kildare.
“There is a pathway now for talented young players to make progress locally and I'm really looking forward to my football, on and off the pitch, this season,” he concluded.
FRIDAY NIGHT 7.45PM
Athlone Town v Wexford, Athlone Town Stadium.