The new SSE Airtricity League season has been formally launched with the first piece of silverware competitively earned.
The Presidents cup is the traditional opener to the campaign between the reigning League and FAI cup winners, Dundalk continuing where they left off by beating Shamrock Rovers following a penalty shootout at the Tallaght Stadium.
The online launch was a landmark moment as the Women’s National League and League of Ireland share a title sponsor for the first time. The 2021 season marks the beginning of a new sponsorship deal with SSE Airtricity which has been in place for a decade.
Prize money will be at its highest level since 2010 in the men’s league with an over one hundred percent increase in the women’s league. The Premier Division starts this Friday with both Athlone Town teams commencing competitive action the following weekend.
The extra week has afforded men’s team manager Adrian Carberry more time to prepare his charges for the season opener against UCD. A hectic series of pre-season friendly games continued last Saturday with a double header against Midland rivals Longford Town and league new boys Treaty United.
First up was the game against Longford. Athlone had come close to gaining a draw against Sligo in the previous friendly and carried the optimism into the game against their great rivals. With two games to be played, Carberry mixed up his squad as Kurtis Byrne skippered the team in the opening game. The first half was evenly balanced and neither team was able to make the breakthrough.
The home team opened the scoring just after the hour mark through Derek Daly who has joined from Bray Wanderers. Longford though grabbed an equaliser through Dylan Grimes, but Athlone would have been pleased to have avoided defeat for the first time in 2021.
Next up was a first ever game against Limerick team, Treaty United. The league newcomers are managed by former Town player Tommy Barrett and also have Joel Coustrain and Dean George within their playing ranks. This time Kayleum Rice started in goals with Scott Delaney coming in as captain. The game ended scoreless as Athlone kept their first clean sheet in their friendly schedule.
Neither team were able to find a winner but have a further opportunity on Saturday when they renew acquaintance at the Markets Field. It will complete the preparation for the new season as Athlone then look to challenge for the title for the first time since 2013.
Meanwhile, women’s team boss Tommy Hewitt has also been busy as he continues to strengthen his squad with some further signings. Laurie Ryan became another useful acquisition having attained some outstanding achievements in both soccer and gaelic games.
On the playing field the spoils were shared following an eight goal thriller against Galway United. An away game against Peamount followed and, against one of the top teams in the country, Athlone lost by a single goal.
Another goalkeeper then joined when Ria Philbin from Galway put pen to paper as the squad takes shape.