There was much relief when the FAI approved the formation of the SSE Airtricity league for the 2021 season with Athlone Town being awarded a First Division licence.
The lower tier will, as expected, comprise of ten teams with new club Treaty United invited to take up the final position.
The licences were awarded by the Independent Licencing Committee but the whole process was not without some controversy. Shamrock Rovers Two had earlier broken the news on social media that they had been awarded a licence but the Hoops will not have two teams competing this season. The National League Executive recommended that the First Division comprise of ten teams which was backed by the FAI.
As a result, Treaty will be the tenth team with Rovers losing out after facing stiff resistance to their participation from other clubs. The fixture list had already been released before a final decision on licencing with a ten team format as one participant was to be confirmed.
To add to the confusion, the FAI had indicated that if additional clubs are successful with their licence application and are granted entry, then the fixtures would be amended accordingly.
With Rovers obtaining a licence and new entity Dublin County FC also hopeful, it appeared that a twelve team First Division could be on the cards. Clarification from the FAI though scuppered the two Dublin team’s chances and the proposed 27 game season will now proceed in a months time.
Athlone will be pleased to have obtained their licence and a lot of work behind the scenes during the close season has been rewarded. The campaign will kick off therefore as planned with a visit to Belfield to take on UCD at the end of March.
The Town’s first ever game against Treaty will go ahead in mid-May at the spiritual home of football in Limerick, the Markets Field. Athlone will again be in Limerick for their final away league outing in mid-October as senior football makes a welcome return on Shannonside.
Manager Adrian Carberry already has his charges back in training and a number of pre-season fixtures have been organised. A number of further acquisitions have also been announced as the squad takes shape.
The Town’s first outing was against Shamrock Rovers last Sunday evening in Dublin. It was an all-new starting line up taking the field with the only familiar faces being goalkeeper Michael Schlingermann and defender Aidan Friel who are returning to the Midlands.A number of last season’s squad featured among the substitutes. Goals in each half steered the Hoops to victory and further outings against top flight opposition including Finn Harps and Sligo Rovers will follow.
Two more signings were also announced, both of whom lined out against Rovers. Defender Tristan Noack-Hofman joins from Bray Wanderers having previously played with old foes Longford Town. Jamie Hollywood, a midfielder, has also played for Longford and was most recently with non-league outfit Crumlin United as Drogheda United and Bohemians also feature on his playing CV.