The new year started with the good news from the FAI that SSE Airtricity would be the new title sponsor of the women’s national league.
This is the first time that the women’s league has shared a sponsor with the League of Ireland in a deal which will be in place until the end of the 2022 season. It was a major boost for the women’s game which has grown in strength at all levels in recent years. There is a growing interest in the game and Athlone Town were aware of this when they entered a senior team for the first time last season.
Under manager Tommy Hewitt, the Town women’s team enjoyed a satisfactory inaugural campaign and now look forward to a new season.
The 2021 campaign will run in tandem with the men’s senior season with Athlone playing at home on Saturday evenings. The top tier will once again consist of nine teams with Peamount United looking to retain their title. A mid-season break will take place in June while the preliminary round of the cup will be the centre of attention at the end of July. The cup final will bring the curtain down on the campaign in November.
Hewitt will remain in charge for the new season and would hope to at least consolidate his team’s position in the top tier. The opening fixture though could not have been tougher as a trip to Tolka Park on the last Saturday of March is the ultimate test. Shelbourne finished as runners up in 2020 and will be challenging for honours once more. The Reds were only bettered by Peamount as they were unbeaten otherwise.
The Town’s frst home game sees a more reasonable task being faced as Treaty United visit in early April. The Limerick outfit were also first time participants in the league in 2020. Athlone got the better of fellow debutants winning both games by the odd goal in five, the first of which was the team’s first ever win at this level.
With an odd number of teams participating, all teams will have idle weekends and it is the Town’s turn in the third series of games. Action will resume with a long journey to the South East to take on Wexford Youths in Ferrycarrig Park. A third placed finish last season shows respect must be shown to Wexford who have been one of the leading lights for a number of years.
There is little respite with another top four team and the champions coming up in series five and six respectively at the beginning of May, Cork City will be the visitors to be followed by an away game against the champions Peamount.
Athlone, though, will not be overawed by any opposition and last season’s experiences will stand them in good stead. The last three games in the first series look more manageable.
Firstly, DLR Waves are the visitors with an away game against Galway and a home outing against Bohemians seeing May out.