Bidding farewell to 2018 was an easy and welcome task for everybody attached to Athlone Town. 

Founded in 1887, it is oldest club in the League of Ireland and boasts a long, proud history. In 1975, they famously held the mighty AC Milan at St Mel's Park, drawing 0-0 in their second-round first-leg UEFA Cup clash in front of over 10,000 supporters.

They lost in Italy 3-0, all three goals came on the last 20 minutes, with future Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni part of the Milan coaching set-up.

Those heady days are long gone and the Midlanders have endured some very tough times in recent years.

Last season, the only three points Athlone Town gained came after Wexford were penalised for fielding an ineligible player. They finished bottom of the First Division with seven points to their name.

Two former players - Igors Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan - were found guilty of breaching FAI rules relating to manipulating matches and gambling, receiving 12-month suspensions.

Having gone through four different managers in 2017, Aaron Callaghan walked away last May, resulting in his assistant Terry Butler stepping up to the plate.

The slow, arduous process of building the Town back up again began in earnest.

A new state-of-the-art AstroTurf pitch was laid at Athlone Town Stadium in the summer; experienced campaigners like Darren Meenan, Shane Dunne and Kealan Dillon arrived in the winter and a batch of talented youngsters have begun to come through the ranks.

After scalping Dundalk in the Leinster Senior Cup, Athlone began their league campaign with a thrilling 4-2 defeat of Wexford. Finally, there's some optimism.

"It was badly needed," Butler told the RTÉ Soccer Podcast.

"The result up in Dundalk, and the way we played, was a good confidence builder for us going into the game.

"Obviously we try to keep the pressure away from the players, but we needed a win. I think it was 18 months since we'd had a league win. It was long overdue. 

"We're the oldest club in the league, we're ambitious. This is a working project going forward, it's not a quick hit. I just hope it will be a long-term thing for everybody involved. We've brought in 16 new players so it's a whole new team that's been put together.

"We've some very young, exciting players there as well. It's looking good going forward."

There was a vibrant atmosphere at Athlone Town Stadium.

A healthy crowd got behind the home side who swept to victory thanks to goals from Dean Casye, Dean Williams, Dillon and Kaleem Simon.

"It was brilliant," Butler said of the support. "We'd been getting crowds of probably a hundred on a good night so to go out and see nearly 400 there, it was great for the lads to walk out and see. 

"I just hope the people of Athlone get behind them.

They did that last Friday night and long may it continue. It's up to us to put on a good show on the pitch, which I think we did. If you get results it will attract people into the ground. 

"Things that went on in the past should be left in the past. It's a good midlands club with a fantastic tradition, a great history.

"There's a fantastic academy in place and now with the new astro it brings everyone together. It's not as disjointed. There's a pathway forward for everybody."

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