Mathews is hopeful Pat’s can close the gap in this season’s title race

By Stephen Leonard

NEWLY-appointed St Patrick’s Athletic manager Alan Mathews is hopeful the Inchicore side can close the gap on the top two sides from last season Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers, as the club gears up for the start of the new season.

The Saints open their 2020 campaign with a tough match at home to Waterford in Richmond Park tomorrow night hoping to turn the table on the Munster side that beat them in three of their four encounters last year.

St Pats V Drogheda 42

Alan Mathews and Stephen O’Donnell in the dug out for St Pat’s 1-0 win over Drogheda in their final pre-season match in Richmond Park on Friday night (Photos by Paddy Barrett

Mathews, while appreciating the difficulty of this opening test, believes this Pat’s squad is better equipped to secure an early three points and push on towards a solid season.

“It’s a blank sheet for everyone” he stressed. “There are no easy games, particularly at the start of the season when it’s a fresh start and everyone is feeling confident.

“Hopefully we can get a good start and build up that rapport with the supporters.

“Waterford at the start of the season is going to be a difficult challenge. I know Alan Reynolds [Waterford Head Coach] well and he’ll certainly have his players full of confidence so it’ll be a tough match.

“At the end of last season a lot of the supporters would have been a bit down after seeing where we finished up.

“But this is a new campaign. We’re not setting ourselves any specific targets, but the challenge is to close the gap on, what I feel, will be the top two sides Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk.

“Hopefully if we can pick up a trophy or qualify for Europe along the way that will be great” he told The Echo.

Mathews, a two-time FAI Cup-winning manager with Longford Town, joined Head Coach Stephen O’Donnell and assistant Patrick Cregg as part of the backroom set-up in St Pat’s last month.

It is a move that, Mathews feels has gone smoothly, saying “I’ve been working well with Stephen, particularly in identifying targets, recruiting players and working with those intermediaries that you need to to get players in place.”

So far, their work has resulted in a positive pre-season that has featured friendly wins over the likes of Galway, Cobh and Drogheda.

“With pre-season, you can look at results and, while they have been positive, it’s really about getting the fitness and getting players to play to that level of intensity and push themselves.

“The attitude of the players has been very good. We want to have a tight squad than can dig each other out when an individual is having a poor day. We want them to play with a purpose and we can see the signs of that.”

For Mathews, a huge positive has been the influx of young talent from a flourishing underage system in the club which enjoyed Airtricity League success last year at Under 13, 15 and 17 degree.

“I think that’s great testament to the work of Ger O’Brien and all the coaches and managers at the club.

“We want to genuinely provide a pathway for these young players to first team football.

“It’s so important because we want to attract the best players to our underage structure and make it as strong as can be.

Mathews is also pleased  with the experience they have in the first team saying “To get Robbie Benson was great. What he can bring both on and off the pitch is huge and Stephen’s [O’Donnell’s] reputation in the game was very strong in getting him to the club.

“We also have the likes of Chris Forrester who is a very experienced and talented player, Lee Desmond has played a number of seasons in the league and Ian Bermingham is very nearly a one-club player.

“So we have a lot of experienced players who are at that right age and can lead the squad.”

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