Senior soccer is back in Limerick and Treaty United’s unbeaten pre-season has supporters excited for the First Division season ahead.
Tommy Barrett’s men took on Athlone Town in their third and final friendly on Saturday afternoon at Market’s Field. Barrett fielded what is perhaps his strongest eleven and the team enjoyed a brilliant first half performance to head into the break 2-1 up.
Excellent performances from the likes of Sean McSweeney, Clyde O’Connell and Marc Ludden were central to the effort and it looks like Treaty will have a decent balance of industry and ability in the side for the forthcoming season.
Although Athlone enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the second half, the home side held out to collect their first ever win.
Some courageous defending on the edge of the Treaty box proved vital and will breath further confidence into the set-up ahead of Sunday’s trip to Bray.
Similarly to last week, Treaty were the team to burst out of the blocks.
The men in blue and white pressed high up the pitch to force Adrian Carberry’s side into some scrappy clearances. Treaty were energetic, alert and more often than not first to latch onto second-balls.
Such positive endeavour allowed them to play on the front foot in the early stages as possession and territory swung in their favour. Treaty not only looked to pass the football along the deck but also showed desire to whip in good crosses whenever the opportunity presented itself.
With 23 year-old Sean McSweeney and the physical Kieran Hanlon up front, getting the ball into the box regularly was well within Tommy Barrett’s men’s interests and they were rarely wasteful in doing so.
Wingers Joel Coustrain and Edward McCarthy and fullbacks Marc Ludden and Charlie Fleming all enjoyed fine outings and could well provide some high-quality service for the Treaty strike-force this campaign.
When Treaty won a corner in the opening minutes, many players were committed forward to try and convert from the set-piece.
Though the initial delivery was dealt with by Athlone, the talented Joel Coustrain sent the ball back into the mixer where the visitors again had to scramble to stop a shot on goal.
As a result the ball deflected out to midfielder Jack Lynch on the right-hand touchline. Without delay, Lynch drilled the ball into the feet of Sean McSweeney who showed some terrific technique to turn and finish.
McSweeney was without doubt Treaty’s top performer in an all-action first half and could prove vital in providing the team with goals this season.
Treaty’s threat from crosses continued to trouble Athlone and in this instance it’s clear to see the bravery manager Tommy Barrett has instilled in his side’s attack.
The Limerick men regularly looked to get the ball into the feet of the midfielders who were seemingly instructed to feed wingers Coustrain and McCarthy nice and early each time. This particular attack does not come from a corner but there is still as many as seven Treaty players in the Athlone third.
By the time left-back Marc Ludden floats in a cross, there are four attackers in the box looking to pounce. One of them is fellow fullback Charlie Fleming who made his way as far as the six yard box before heading over.
The ambition of this kind of play will fill Treaty fans with a huge degree of excitement and optimism for the season ahead.
Marc Ludden’s influence continued to tell through the half and the 31 year-old Galway man played a pivotal role in Treaty United’s second.
The left-back showed great urgency and ambition to pick up the ball in midfield, drive forward and release Clyde O’Connell through on goal. Midfielder O’Connell uses his strength well and finishes impressively but what is most noticeable about this bit of play is how Ludden continues his sprint forward and goes looking for a one-two from the Fairview Rangers star.
Tommy Barrett appears to have no problem giving his defenders a license to storm forward and express themselves as long as they can get back in time to halt a counter attack. In this case Ludden ventures all the way from left-back to Athlone’s back-post where nobody picks him up.
Perhaps Treaty will be more pragmatic when the real season kicks off but based on Saturday’s evidence, fullbacks Ludden and Fleming will have a key part to play in their attacking strategy.
The most talked about Treaty United signing has perhaps been 25 year-old left midfielder Joel Coustrain. Coustrain has had spells at Sheffield United, Raith Rovers, Shamrock Rovers, Cork City and Saturday’s opponents Athlone in his career so far and brings not just experience but a great amount of quality to the set-up.
The Corbally man has an impressive pedigree in the domestic game having won Shamrock Rovers player of the month in July 2018 after starring in a Europa League qualifier against Stockholm’s AIK. In truth, Coustrain is good enough to be on the books of any Airtricity League side and Treaty are fortunate to have such a talented footballer on board.
Although the team is not expected to be on the ascendancy very often in the league season, what Coustrain will be able to provide no matter the opposition is a confidence on the ball that can relieve pressure on Treaty at crucial junctures.
In the GIF above, Coustrain is cool and calm dribbling out of defence before checking back inside to allow his teammates push further up the pitch. Rather than rushing a hopeless ball forward on transition, he is assured in possession, waits a couple of seconds and in the end creates an excellent opportunity for Sean McSweeney to score.
McSweeney did brilliantly to chest it down and turn the centre back inside-out but unfortunately just couldn’t find the finish he needed.
As earlier mentioned, the second half failed to provide as vibrant a performance.
Bodies tired, Treaty dropped deeper and deeper in a low block and Athlone took control of the football.
Treaty United’s shortage of movement off the ball was a cause for concern as a lack of options meant sloppy passes were played forward straight to Athlone feet. It is the second week in a row where there has been a drop-off in the second half and it is likely a matter of match fitness which will only come with time.
The consequence was an extended period of defending that could inadvertently stand to Tommy Barrett’s team going forward. The team are likely to come under serious pressure at times against heavy hitters such as Bray Wanderers, Cork City, Shelbourne and Galway so it was impressive to see Treaty hold a strong defensive shape.
Centre back pairing Sean Guerin and Anthony O’Donnell threw their bodies at everything, Clyde O’Connell and Jack Lynch showed huge amounts of commitment shielding the back four and as a result Athlone, for all their good possession, seldom threatened the Treaty net.
As much as the team will need to put ninety minute performances together to win points in an incredibly competitive First Division, it was comforting to see they will have the defensive strength to hold firm when under the cosh.