There is light at the end of the tunnel for football starved fans of the League of Ireland with news that action is set to resume at the end of March.
The 2021 season is scheduled to kick off after St Patricks Day for Premier Division teams with First Divisions outfits following a week later. For Athlone Town it is a welcome return to competitive fare as the new look squad strive to make it to the top flight once more.
Amid all the gloom there was good news with the announcement from the FAI of the renewed commitment by SSE Airtricity to the league. The energy provider has also been confirmed as the new title sponsor of the Women’s National league. It is the first time both leagues have shared a sponsor with a deal now in place until the end of the 2022 season.
There was a major doubt about the sponsorship continuing once the previous agreement ended but SSE Airtricity will remain involved for a twelfth season. It is a significant boost for the domestic game at all levels with the company set to further support teams and clubs, both on and off the pitch. It is heartening to see that the domestic game still carries an attraction for sponsors.
Athlone Town last tasted action back in November 2020 when they exited the FAI Cup at the hands of eventual winners Dundalk. Since then manager Adrian Carberry has been busy in the transfer market preparing for the new campaign. There was major uncertainty as to when the 2021 season would get underway but, at last, action would appear set to resume with a definite date. The top flight fixtures were unveiled earlier in the week with the set for the First Division to follow next week.
At the moment, the composition of the lower division is somewhat unclear. Last season Shamrock Rovers Two made up the ten team division as Limerick FC were denied a place. It would appear though that senior football is set to resume on Shannonside with a new entity representing the historic city. Treaty United already featured in the Women’s league last season competing against Athlone and a men’s team is now set to revive the game under the same name.
All remaining teams have made plans for the new campaign in what is shaping up to be an exciting season. Having been relegated, Shelbourne and Cork City will be looking to bounce back at the first attempt but a number of fancied teams stand in their way.
Big spending Galway United under manager John Caulfield are obvious dangers while capital clubs Cabinteely and UCD will also fancy their chances. Even Cobh and Wexford will have play-off hopes of their own and the Town will need to be at their best to compete.
The Athlone Women’s team will also harbour ambitions of battling for honours when their campaign gets underway and with Tommy Hewitt remaining in charge should be able to build upon their inaugural season.