The Early Days
Athlone Town Association Football Club was founded in 1887. We are the oldest club competing in the League of Ireland.
On February 9th 1887, the club played its first official game in a friendly against Castlerea FC of Co. Roscommon. The game finished 0-0 in front of a large crowd of spectators. The starting eleven on the historic occasion were as follows:
GK: E. Medcalf, DEF: T. Lahey, J. Medcalf, J. Halpin, L. Hogan and R. Baile. FOR: O.R. Coote, J. Hodson, G. Bale, M. Morga and T. Langstaff.
Read more about this historic game here.
The Town first competed in the League of Ireland in the 1922–23 season, where we finished sixth. Athlone Town AFC was the first non-Dublin club in the Irish Free State to compete in the national Free State League. We would only compete in the league until 1928 before returning in the 1969–70 season and we have remained at the top level of Irish football ever since.
First Taste Of Success
We won our first FAI Cup in 1924, beating Fordsons of Cork in the final. Dinny Hannon scored the only goal of the game, as the Town went through the whole competition without conceding a goal.
Hannon was one of five Athlone Town players chosen to represent the Irish Free State at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games. The other players were Tommy Muldoon, Frank Ghent, John Joe Dykes and Paddy O’Reilly.
Athlone’s first match back at the top level of Irish football took place on August 3rd, 1969. The first round of the President’s Cup (different competition to the current President’s Cup) was the occasion and the opponents on the day were Drumcondra. The Town won the game 2-1 thanks to goals from Johnny Kingston and Ray Bushe. The match was supposed to be played at St. Mel’s Park but the pitch wasn’t ready so it was then played at Tolka Park. A lot of work was done to have the pitch ready for the visit of Shamrock Rovers three weeks later in the first home match of the league campaign.
The club finished second in the league in the 1974–75 season earning a place in the UEFA Cup. This was the first time we ever qualified for a European competition. Our first-round game was against Norwegian side Vålerenga who we beat 3-1 at home in the first leg and then getting a 1-1 draw in Norway to send us through to the next round. Next up, in the second round, were Italian giants AC Milan. A record 9,000 people turned up to St. Mel’s Park to watch the Town take on the Rossoneri in the first leg. It was one of the most memorable games in ATAFC history as we held the Italians to a scoreless 0-0 draw. AC Milan would go on to win the second leg 3-0 in the San Siro.
The Glory Years
A 4-2 win in the League Cup Final of the 1979-80 season over St. Patrick’s Athletic kick started the most successful period in the club’s history. The Town would go on to win 2 League Titles and 3 League Cups in the space of four seasons.
We won our first league title in the 1980–81 season. A 2-0 victory over Waterford meant that the Town ended the season on a 27-game unbeaten run! Eugene ‘Pooch’ Davis who had an incredible campaign was the first ever player to score 23 goals in a League of Ireland season. The O’Connor brothers, Michael and Padraig were key figures on the pitch throughout the season and with their brother Turlough as manager, it was an occasion to savour for the trio.
We then played KB (Kjøbenhavns Boldklub) in the European Cup the following season. The first leg ended in a 1-1 draw in Denmark and in the second, the Town came back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw at St. Mel’s Park but it wasn’t enough and we ended up going out on the away goal rule.
In the 1981–82 season, the Town won the League Cup for the second time beating Shamrock Rovers in the final.
We were then crowned League and League Cup champions in the 1982-83 season which meant that we qualified for Europe again. On this occasion, Standard Liège of Belgium managed by Raymond Goethals provided the opposition. Les Rouches would go on to win both legs. 3-2 at St.Mel’s and 8-2 in Liège. We haven’t played in a European competition since this tie.
The Midlands ‘El Clasico’ Derby
The birth of The Midlands ‘El Clasico’ dates back to 1984 when Longford Town joined the league. As we are the only top flight clubs located in the region, bragging rights for the title ‘Pride of the Midlands’ are up for grabs in every fixture. With only 33km between us, the fixture has produced many battles over the years.
Athlone Town won the first competitive fixture between the sides, winning the game 3-2 in Longford on September 30th, 1984. Since then, the teams have faced each other over 60 times competitively. Longford Town had a spell of dominance but Athlone Town have had the upper hand in recent games, including back-to-back away wins for the very first time in the Derby.
Introduction Of The Second Tier
In 1985, six new clubs were elected to the League of Ireland, increasing the leagues participation to 22. As a result, the current two-division (Premier and First) structure was adapted with Athlone Town remaining in Premier Division. In 1987 the club finished last and were relegated to the First Division. However, our stay was short lived as we finished top of First Division the following season, gaining promotion back to the Premier. The club remained in the top flight until the 1991–92 season, when we finished eleventh and were subsequently relegated to the First Division.
The Town again gained promotion to the Premier Division in the 1993–94 season, finishing runners-up to Sligo Rovers. The club were once again relegated in 1996 and narrowly missed out on promotion in 2001 by one point to Monaghan United.
We wouldn’t return to the top flight again until 2013. Under the stewardship of Roddy Collins, Athlone Town were once again a Premier Division side. After a bad start to the season the following year, Keith Long was appointed manager but unfortunately a good run of results wasn’t enough to keep the Town up as we went down by the closest of margins. We have since remained in the First Division.
The New Stadium
In 2007, the club moved from St Mel’s Park to our current home, Athlone Town Stadium in Lissywollen. The new stadium was opened on March 9th, when Kilkenny City came to town on the opening game of the season. We won our first fixture at our new home 3-0. The main stand holds up to 2,024 people and is one of the best stands in the League of Ireland.
The Stadium plays host to many national finals such as the EA Sports National Underage League of Ireland finals.
In recent years the club has expanded its underage structure and now has eight teams. They are as follows:
EA Sports Men’s u20 League of Ireland Academy
EA Sports Women’s u19 League of Ireland Academy
EA Sports Men’s u17 League of Ireland Academy
EA Sports Women’s u17 League of Ireland Academy
EA Sports Men’s u15 League of Ireland Academy
EA Sports Men’s u14 League of Ireland Academy
u16 Dublin District Schoolboy League (DDSL)
u15 Dublin District Schoolboy League (DDSL)
u15 Girls Midland Schoolboy/Girls League (MSL)
In 2017, the u15 Boys team won the inaugural u15 SSE Airtricity League beating St. Patrick’s Athletic 2-1 in the final in the Athlone Town Stadium, thanks to 2 goals from Dylan Gavin.
In the 2018 season, the u17 Boys team, many of those who would have won the u15 league title the year before, won the u17 SSE Airtricity League Shield. Dylan Gavin (2) and Adam Lennon with the goals that secured a 3-2 over Cork City.
The Athlone Town u17 Boys team would also be successful in 2022. Crowned Mark Farren Cup champions after beating holders Cork City 1-0 at the Athlone Town Stadium thanks to an injury time winner from Kevin Sweeney, where he scored directly from a corner!
During the 2017-18 season, both the u14 and u16 girls’ teams completely dominated their Midland Schoolboys/girls competitions winning both their Leagues and their Cup with a 100% record.
We first entered a women’s team into the then Women’s National League in 2020. Tommy Hewitt led his team to a runners-up finish in the league and were FAI Cup finalists in 2022, second only to Shelbourne in both competitions.
In 2023, Athlone Town women had a highly successful year, marked by significant achievements. They began the year by winning the inaugural Women’s President’s Cup Final against the 2022 double champions, Shelbourne. Despite being 2-0 down at one point, The Town fought back, forcing the game to penalties, with Ciara Glackin made crucial saves in the shootout to secure the victory.
Despite finishing 5th in the Women’s Premier Division, Athlone reached back-to-back FAI Women’s Cup Finals. Ciarán Kilduff took over as coach mid-season, guiding the team to an impressive Cup run. In the final against familair foes Shelbourne, the game went into Extra Time after a late equalizer by Gillian Keenan. Athlone eventually won the penalty shootout 4-3, ending a 99-year wait for a Senior FAI Cup to return to The Town.
Click below to read more about the famous FAI Cup Final victory.