Athlone Town face a tough start to the new SSE Airtricity League First Division campaign with three away games in their first four outings.
The fixtures which were unveiled on Monday last show just nine named teams involved. In line with previous seasons, all fixtures are being released before a final decision on licensing is made but should still feature a ten team format for the new campaign.
It is generally expected that new Limerick outfit Treaty United, under former Athlone player Tommy Barrett, will get the nod. The teams are due to play each other three times with a mid-season break taking place in early June. There will be no EA Sports cup competition this season while the FAI Cup will get underway at the end of July.
An away game in Dublin will open the campaign for Adrian Carberry’s men as the students of UCD provide the opposition on the last Friday of March. The Belfield team were beaten in the play offs in 2020 and would hope to at least match that feat this year. College won both games between the teams last season and Athlone will be glad that Yousef Mahedy has moved to new pastures in 2021. Scoring three goals in those two outings showed his goal scoring ability but Athlone will still face him as he has now signed for Shelbourne.
Athlone’s first home game in early April is another tough task as Galway United are the visitors. New manager John Caulfield has invested heavily in the close season with a number of high profile signings. It will be an early opportunity for last season’s top player Ronan Manning to renew acquaintance with his former team mates.
Two away games follow with visits to Cork City and Bray Wanderers. Newly relegated City will be looking to bounce back at the first attempt and any visit to Turners Cross is always an onerous task. Similarly, Wanderers will be attempting to get over last season’s disappointment when they came so close to lifting the First Division title.
Only pipped by Drogheda on the last day of the season, Bray were then tamely ousted in the play offs by Galway in the semi-finals. Games at home to Wexford and Cabinteely see out April and should give the Town a chance to put points on the league table. The other relegated club Shelbourne will be looking to gain revenge for last year’s cup defeat when they entertain the Town in early May.
The League season will conclude with a home game against Cobh Ramblers at the end of October. Barring winning the League, should Carberry’s charges be placed high enough then involvement in the promotion play offs will follow.
Victory over two legs in the semi-finals will be followed by a final to be played at a neutral venue. The winner of this match will then be pitted against the team that finished ninth in the Premier Division.
The overall victor will be celebrating playing top flight football as December dawns.