Tommy Barrett in action for Athlone Town ... the defender has retired from playing to take up a coaching role.
ATHLONE Town have this week attempted to shore-up the gaps in their squad by adding some new acquisitions ahead of Saturday's Midlands derby - the third of its kind this season - against current league leaders Longford Town (Flancare Park, 7.45pm).
Last weekend, as Athlone beat SD Galway to consolidate fourth position in the First Division, veteran defender Tommy Barrett had to leave the action at half-time (having netted Athlone's second goal in a 2-0 win), after sustaining a knee injury.
However, since then, it has emerged that Barrett has now officially retired from playing, after taking up a coaching offer from hometown club, Limerick.
Barrett (33) played for Limerick, Shamrock Rovers and Athlone, and will be remembered as a solid and committed performer over the past year and a half by Athlone supporters.
Mike Kerley's squad has been hit by a number of injury problems of late. Defender Paul Danaher has missed the last seven matches with a bad knee injury and is ruled out for the rest of the season, while Mark Walshe and Ross Kenny have been absent for several weeks and are unlikely to figure against Longford.
As Garvan Broughall and Stephen Relihan are currently in the United States (for work reasons), and Darren Coleman having departed for Australia for similar reasons, Athlone have been left short of options.
To add further to the problems, centre-back Brian McCarthy, who has excelled at the heart of Athlone's defence this season, serves a one-game suspension against Longford, while the injury problems have not abated either.
Youngsters Warren Conroy and Roy King are unavailable through knocks, while Niall Scullion picked up a toe injury last weekend and is rated doubtful for Saturday's clash.
To counter Athlone's personnel problems, the club signed attacker Eric Molloy and midfielder Barry O'Mahoney (formerly of Sligo Rovers and Finn Harps), but neither were eligible to feature in league action until July 1. Now that both are fully registered, they're expected to be part of Athlone's squad this weekend, as is former Bray Wanderers centre-half Stephen Last, who joined the club over the weekend.
Athlone assistant manager Padraig Moran said: "Stephen (Last) has looked good in training and is an assured defender. He communicates well and isn't afraid to put his body on the line."
Last (20) was formerly on the books at Cardiff City, and joined Bray in February last year, making nine appearances and scoring once.
Athlone are also in ongoing talks with Sligo Rovers over the possibility of loaning two or three players, thought to be a striker, a midfielder and left-back, while Neil Harney is also expected to sign for his hometown club on-loan, from Bohemians, very shortly.
It's also believed that former Monaghan Utd midfielder Shane Dunne could sign before the weekend.
"We're chomping at the bit ahead of the Longford game," said Padraig Moran.
"It was important to get back to winning ways against SD Galway, when we were excellent in the first half but never reached the same level of intensity after half-time. We could've scored four or five goals in the first half, but the most important thing was to pick up another three points. Personally, I think we deserved something from both games against Longford this season, and various things went against us at important stages in those games.
"We have absolutely no fear going to Longford. All the pressure is on Longford. They're top of the table and have Limerick breathing down their necks. Longford are certainly not unbeatable, and it's a fixture we look forward to. I'm sure we'll have a few new faces in the squad, possibly even in the starting team, and though we've had injury problems of late, a few new signings gives everyone a lift, and hopefully we'll see the benefit of that on Saturday," Moran added.
Longford have beaten Athlone 2-1 twice this season, but the most recent fixture, in Athlone, is probably best remembered for two penalty appeals (for Athlone) that were somehow turned down, including one in the very last minute of normal time.
Longford's form has been impressive this season and they currently lead the way in the First Division, ahead of Limerick by a single point.
Athlone, who have their eyes on finishing third, and ensuring a promotion play-off against the team that finishes second, are presently 12 points adrift of Longford, but only four behind Waterford Utd in third.
Longford have only lost twice in 15 league matches, but interestingly both defeats came at home (to Finn Harps and Limerick). They were involved in a bizarre game last weekend when they fought back from 3-0 down at half-time, and then 4-2, to beat Mervue Utd 5-4, with two of Longford's goals coming in injury-time.
Former Athlone captain Des Hope started that match and has been a regular feature for Tony Cousins' side this season, but is doubtful for the weekend after coming off on 22 minutes against Mervue.
Meanwhile, Athlone have also announced a friendly with English League 2 side Port Vale for July 24 with a 7.45pm kick-off.
Managed by Mickey Adams, Port Vale last visited Athlone in July 2010, when they defeated the home side 2-0.