New pastures bring fresh challenges for local clubs

After dominating the Combined Counties Football League for more than a decade, new challenges have come calling for both Willow Park and St Peter's.

The traditional big two in Athlone have been huge rivals in the chase for honours, but a parting of the ways with the CCFL has ended the rivalry for the moment. Willow were first to seek fresh pastures as they went to the Leinster Senior League last season, while the Saints have followed suit heading west to the Roscommon League in 2017.

After consolidating their position in the Leinster League last season, Willow Park have pushed on in 2017 and they now compete in the Major Sunday division. Declan Holohan's men are well placed on the league table and have also made it to the last 32 in the FAI Junior Cup.

As Christmas approaches, Willow lie second behind leaders Kilbarrack United with fifteen points from their eight games played, a point behind United. An opening day defeat to the current table toppers was put to one side as just two further losses followed in the next seven outings. Three straight home wins and 13 goals have nullified the bad opener somewhat.

Crucially, Willow have kept some of their best form for the knockout competitions and an interest in the FAI Junior Cup will extend into the New Year. Having made it to the last 16 in the 2016/17 competition, Willow will hope to make it that far again and maybe further this time. Kerry outfit Killarney Celtic stand in their way on this occasion, but with home advantage always proving invaluable in the competition, hopes are high of advancing. The tie is set to take place in mid-January.

St Peter's decided to join the Roscommon League this season and have settled comfortably into the Premier Division, with just one minor blemish on their form book to date. The only points dropped by Philip Coffey’s men came at home against league leaders Castlerea Celtic, who shared the spoils following a scoreless draw in Lecarrow. Celtic lead the table on 28 points, three ahead of the Saints, who crucially have two games in hand.

Goals have flowed in from the boys in green and white, with an average of more than four a game being scored. The defence is also the meanest in the division, with just four conceded in nine games, as new goalkeeper Aidan Browne has been in top form between the posts.

The only major disappointment in what has otherwise been a fine campaign was the defeat in the FAI Junior Cup at the hands of Regional United. Many fancied the Saints to go a long way in this competition, but the disappointing trip to Limerick concluded with their first defeat of the season. A return to domestic action however followed with a big win over Ballymoe showing the cup result seemed to have no lasting effect. An extra time victory against NUIG in the Connacht Cup last weekend continued their recovery.

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