Athlone Town have been handed a tough test when the First Division campaign gets underway again in 2022.
Waterford FC have been relegated from the top flight and will be looking to make a quick return under new boss Ian Morris. The Blues open the programme for the Town when the season kicks off on Friday, February 18.
There will be four rounds of fixtures across a thirty-two-game calendar that will conclude on Friday, October 21, before the promotion/relegation play-offs and in line with the Premier Division, the nine clubs will now play each other twice, home and away.
With Bray and Cabinteely amalgamating, there is one club less in the lower division and the FAI did not actively seek a replacement to bring the numbers back to ten. All fixtures are subject to clubs meeting the licensing criteria to participate in the League of Ireland.
For Athlone, the task of getting back to the top flight looks to be easier as the champions will be automatically promoted with the sides finishing from second to fifth spots contesting a promotion/relegation play off series.
The team that finishes ninth in the Premier Division will then face the winners to secure the final top-flight spot for the 2023 season. New manager, Martin Russell, will be hoping to have his new charges well prepared and improve on their seventh-place finish in 2021.
Other opening day fixtures include relegated Longford Town entertaining Cobh Ramblers with newly amalgamated outfit Bray hosting Cork City. Galway United will be fancied to go one better in 2022 but sit out the first weekend of fixtures.
After opening against Waterford, the Town are next in action against another Munster club when they travel to Limerick to take on Treaty United. Another away game follows with a visit to Ferrycarrig Park to face Wexford FC.
Athlone are idle in round four and then resume with a home game against Cobh. There is a mouth-watering game to follow on St Patricks Day when Galway are the visitors. Athlone beat John Caulfield’s side twice in 2021 and will hope to keep their good record going.
The first Midlands derby of the season takes place in early April when Longford are the hosts at Bishopsgate thus ending the first series of matches.
The mid-season break will kick in from the end of May to early June, action resuming with a home game against Cobh.
The first round of the FAI Cup will take place at the end of July with the second round following at the end of August.
Athlone face a tough run in to the end of the season. Longford at home is followed by a visit to Galway. The home games conclude with the visit of Cork City while Waterford away ends the season.
Should Athlone finish high enough in the table to make the play-offs, the season will continue until the promotion/relegation issue is sorted, the final of the FAI Cup set to conclude the season on Sunday, November 13.