Athlone aim to end a twenty year wait for the Flanagan Cup to return to Pairc Chiaran when they begin their Westmeath senior football championship campaign against Coralstown-Kinnegad in TEG Cusack Park on Saturday evening (throw in 6pm ).
Under the guidance of former Westmeath Under 21 manager, Emmett McDonnell, the Shannonsiders endured an inconsistent league campaign, during which they won just three of their nine games. Finishing mid table, their Division 1 status was only confirmed when they beat local derby rivals Garrycastle in the penultimate round robin fixture.
Assisted by former All Star Rory O’Connell and Richie Daly (who were members of the 1998 winning team ), Athlone will be hoping to start their campaign in a positive manner against last year’s surprise semi-finalists Coralstown Kinnegad who completed their league campaign a solitary point behind Saturday’s opposition.
Having returned to the senior championship ranks in 2016, Athlone narrowly missed out on a place in the county final in 2016, losing to Tyrrellspass in the semi-final, but failed to advance past the quarter final stage last year when they lost out to The Downs after a replay.
Recently crowned Division 1 league champions Garrycastle will be seeking a swift return to Group 1 of the senior championship, following their relegation, along with Mullingar Shamrocks, last year.
A successful league campaign has no doubt boosted confidence levels within the squad and amongst the management team of Gary Dolan and John Keane and the former Westmeath duo will have their eyes firmly set on a place in the knockout stages of this year’s championship.
They will have to overcome three south Westmeath derbies however, if they are to progress with Rosemount, Maryland and Castledaly providing Group 2 opposition.
Seeking to add to their county title tally, the last of which was achieved in 2014, Garrycastle will be hoping that the experience of stalwarts Dessie Dolan, Doron Harte and John Gaffey proves key as they commence their campaign against St. Mary’s Rochfortbridge in Moate on Saturday (throw in 7.30pm ).