Saturday 21 September 2019

Kelleher backs Buckley as concern rises over Athlone investment

St Pat's manager Liam Buckley. Photo: Sportsfile
St Pat's manager Liam Buckley. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

On the day St Patrick's Athletic and Liam Buckley confirmed they are building for the future, question marks about the continuity of Athlone Town resurfaced.

News of Buckley remaining in charge at Inchicore came as he re-signed captain Ian Bermingham, Conan Byrne and Graham Kelly and recruited Bray Wanderers midfielder Ryan Brennan.

Buckley, the longest-serving manager in the league who will next week celebrate his sixth anniversary in the post, admitted that the worst season of his tenure had left him under pressure.

It took until the last day of the season for the Saints to ensure their record of never being relegated remained intact, but benefactor Garrett Kelleher kept Buckley at the helm.

Meanwhile, fresh doubts have emerged about the commitment of Athlone Town's mystery backers to the club.

The First Division outfit endured a tumultuous maiden season under new ownership, thought to be Lisbon-based company PRE-SEASON, and officials admit activities have ground to a halt since the FAI launched an investigation into alleged match-fixing triggered by intelligence supplied from UEFA.

Disrepute

In September, the FAI imposed 12-month bans on Athlone players Igors Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan for bringing football into disrepute, manipulating matches and betting offences.

Both players strenuously deny the allegations and are appealing the sanctions, with the Players Football Association of Ireland (PFAI) intent on escalating the case to the Court of Arbitration For Sport (CAS) in Switzerland.

It appears the episode, which could drag on for several months, has spooked the foreign investors. Athlone had originally stated that the partnership deal was to last for five years.

"The investors haven't officially gone but since the investigation by the FAI, sponsorship and investment into the club completely dried up," Athlone's coaching officer Michael O'Connor told the Westmeath Independent.

"There was a sponsor due to come on board in July as part of the investment but they want to wait and see where the investigation finishes."

Waterford are favourites to recruit Simon Madden, who has severed his ties with Shamrock Rovers. There was much surprise that Stephen Bradley didn't conclude a deal to retain the 29-year-old.

Dundalk are closing on the captures of defenders Dean Jarvis and Stephen Folan.

Irish Independent

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