IN their last meeting, Cork City comfortably defeated Athlone Town, but I would envision a more difficult prospect for Colin Healy’s men this time, because of the appointment of Paul Doolin as Athlone manager.
The former City manager enjoyed success in his first game with Athlone, against Galway United, and he will be keen to prove any doubters wrong.
Previous to Athlone, Dubliner Doolin hadn’t managed a side in the League of Ireland since leaving City in 2009. Doolin has been linked with many jobs, but was never given the opportunity, which I’m surprised by.
I worked with Doolin when he was Republic of Ireland U23 manager, and even though it was only for a short time, I learned a lot and he is an excellent coach.
There’s no second-guessing for players with Doolin. His instructions are clear, and players know exactly what they have to do.
He doesn’t over-complicate as some managers do. Every player in that Athlone team will know their job and it will be a difficult game for City. Against Galway, Athlone were fortunate to win, but in football you need luck and that victory would have had the Athlone players believing in what their new manager was telling them.
It’s just two weeks since Doolin was appointed and I would expect those players to still have that extra spring in their step after a new manager walks through the door. Nine times out of ten, a new manager will have a positive effect on players at the beginning. Those players will be keen to impress Doolin and show that they should be part of his future plans and will be determined to get positive results.
The fact that Athlone were not in action last weekend will have helped them as well. I’m sure Doolin would have preferred more time on the training ground to implement his ideas.
Had they had a game, he would have had to be mindful of the toughness of his training, but I’m sure those extra few sessions will have benefitted Athlone more than playing a game, and they will be well drilled on how to play against Healy’s team.
With the playoffs all but out of reach, Healy can give fringe players some game time, players he is undecided about keeping at the club for next season.
Healy will have a good idea of the players he wants to keep and those he will be releasing, but there might be one or two players about whom he is unsure. Now is the time to give those players some game time and see if they should be part of a squad to get the club promoted next season.
The match provides Healy with the perfect opportunity to give Cathal Heffernan and Joe O’Brien-Whitmarsh experience of first-team football. Both players have only recently signed their first professional contract with the club and this is the type of game that would allow them to ease themselves into senior football.
There’s always pressure, no matter what game you play in, but there should be a lot less pressure in this game, considering City’s hopes of reaching the playoffs. I’m sure City supporters would love to see Heffernan and O’Brien-Whitmarsh given an opportunity and would encourage the players throughout the game.
Of course, Healy has a plan in place for both players, but when does he enforce this plan? He obviously wants to protect the players, because of their age, and he will know better than anyone when they are ready for first-team football.
My feeling is that he sees both players being a lot more involved in the first team next season, so I would give them some game time before the end of the season, and that’s not just for this game. They should be involved in a number of matches before the season concludes.
That way, they will be ready for first-team football next season.
Tonight’s game should be viewed as the beginning of City challenging for promotion in 2022.
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