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Athlone Town set to welcome back 1981 league title heroes

Story by Kevin O'Neill

Wednesday, 26th October, 2011 5:30pm

1981 was a most famous year for Athlone Town FC.

The club won its first ever League of Ireland title, sealing the crown with an away win at Limerick, before celebrating and receiving the trophy amid joyous scenes at St Mel's Park the following week.

This Saturday, the club welcomes back the members of that excellent squad, as well as manager Turlough O'Connor and his coaching staff, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the achievement. They will be introduced to the crowd at Lissywollen during half-time in the Town's last game of the 2011 League of Ireland First Division season against promotion chasing Monaghan Utd (7.45pm). They will also receive a memento from the club to mark the occasion.

The manager from that golden period in Athlone's history was, of course, the great Turlough O'Connor, originally from Sarsfield Square in Athlone, and whose brothers, Michael and Padraig, were key players in the team. Padraig lifted the trophy as team captain.

Speaking to the Westmeath Independent this week, Turlough said he's looking forward immensely to visiting Lissywollen on Saturday.

"I'm really looking forward to it. I can't believe it's 30 years since we won the League of Ireland. It will be very nice to meet up with the players from the team. I haven't seen a few of them for several years, but others I'm still in contact with. That was a tremendous time to be involved with the club, and we did brilliantly to win the league title," said Turlough.

The previous season was Turlough's first as Athlone manager, and after winning the League Cup, and finishing third in the league in season 1979/80, Turlough sensed things were coming right at the correct time.

"Before the season started, I thought we could win the league. Things were falling into place, and the squad had a good balance to it. The bookmakers made us 20/1 to win the title, which I thought was astounding, so I think a few people, outside the club, had a few bob on that! Athlone had come a long way in a relatively short space of time, and to be crowned champions of Ireland, and to represent the country in European competitions, was fabulous. I had six years as manager of Athlone, and as an Athlone native, it meant everything to help the club to success.

"There were truly great people involved with the club, people who put a lot of time, effort and money into it, and it was fantastic to be able to reward them and the supporters. There was huge interest in the team at the time, and people would come from all over Westmeath, and Roscommon too, to watch Athlone. They were great times," said the 65-year-old.

Turlough also won league titles as manager of Dundalk, but it's the title wins with Athlone that will always be fondly recalled in this part of the country.

Turlough's coaching staff of Jackie Quinn and Paddy Smith will also be in attendance this weekend, and he said it should be "a great occasion" for the former players.

"We were fortunate that when I took over as manager, there was a great core of exceptional local players. We had Michael (his brother), Denis Clarke, Noel Larkin, Stefan Fenuik, the late Anthony Keenan and Jimmy Jackson. I then brought Padraig (O'Connor) in, and a few more experienced players, and with the likes of Eugene Davis already there, we had a great mix.

It was just an unbelievable time for the club, and it will be great to be welcomed back by the club on Saturday. I'm back in Athlone very regularly, but have only been to the stadium in Lissywollen once. I've not seen a lot of Athlone's team over recent years, but it's going to be great to go back on Saturday," said Turlough.

Players of the ilk of Denis Clarke, Frank Devlin, Eugene Davis, Larry Wyse, Joey Salmon, Derek Carroll, Tom Conway, Harry McCue, and the O'Connors, are all expected to be present on Saturday, and the occasion should provide much cheer to Athlone supporters.