The SSE Airtricity League 2019 fixtures have been released by the FAI. With the Presidents Cup a week earlier, the Premier Division campaign gets underway on February 15, the action starting in the First Division seven days later.
Athlone Town will start their season at home to Wexford and also end the campaign with a home fixture. Then Galway United will be the visitors in September with the promotion/relegation play-off series getting underway two weeks later. The ten teams will once more play each other three times with the winner being promoted while the next three teams will enter the play offs. The winner of the play offs will then play the ninth placed team in the Premier Division to decide who will compete in top flight football in 2020.
Athlone’s first away game sees them travel south to take on Cobh Ramblers in what is, on paper at least, a favourable enough start to the season. The first round of the EA Sports Cup will follow before Shelbourne are the visitors on March 8. Bray Wanderers and Limerick were relegated from the Premier Division and both will be fancied to bounce back at the first attempt.
The first Midlands derby of the season takes place in series number five when Athlone entertain Longford in ‘el classico’. The League takes a mid-season break in June with the campaign for Athlone resuming at the end of the month with a visit to Galway. The first round of the FAI Cup takes place in August with the second round a fortnight later, also in August.
Athlone complete their away programme in Dublin when Cabinteely are the hosts. At this stage, the Town should know whether their campaign will continue into October or not. It is sure to be a very competitive division with both relegated teams and big spending Shelbourne installed as early season favourites. Realistically, a successful season for Athlone would be one in which they do not finish at the bottom again.
Last season was another one to forget for all Town fans. Bottom of the table once more and without a win on the field of play. The only victory secured was when Wexford were penalised for fielding a suspended player, handing Athlone the full points after initially losing the game at home. Just four more points were secured with defeat coming in twenty two of the twenty seven games played. An average of three goals conceded per game added to the gloom around the team.
A new campaign will bring renewed hope and manager Terry Butler has already been busy in the transfer market. The first priority of the Town boss will be to finally get a win under his belt. With a limited budget though, Butler must again trawl in the bargain basement market. One highlight of a bleak 2018 campaign was the form shown by promising local youngsters Darcy Lawless and Paddy Kelly. Both have resigned and are sure to have a part to play in 2019.