While the League of Ireland’s top two divisions have a couple of weeks under their belts already, Castlebar Celtic won’t be in action in the Newstalk A League until late May, but they have a hectic schedule coming up over the next few weeks in the various cup competitions. On Friday night they kick off the A League Cup with a tie at home to Finn Harps A League side in Celtic Park, and on next Tuesday night they will welcome the Ballybofey outfit’s first team in the first round proper of the EA Sports League Cup.
Celtic manager Declan Kilkelly is using the cup competitions as a pre-season build-up for the league, which is the main ambition for the year he told the Mayo Advertiser this week. “We have two tough games coming up this week against both of Finn Harps sides, but we’re still in pre-season mode getting ready for the league that kicks off on May 23.” Tonight’s game in the A League cup is the first group stage game that will see Celtic also take on Galway United and Sligo Rovers, with the top team in the group making it through to a semi final against one of the other three group winners. “It’s a good competition to get the year up and running and will give us three tough games to get things moving for us.”
On Tuesday night it will be Finn Harps’ first team who come to Celtic Park, Kilkelly won’t be fearing the Donegal men. “We played Salthill Devon in the last round and, while they were about two months ahead of us in preparation, we put it up to them and deserved our win and, while Finn Harps will be further along in their progression this season, these are the kinds of games you want to be playing in.”
Celtic have the nucleus of last year’s squad still intact and have signed Danny O’Leary for the year who’ll be a huge addition, according to Kilkelly. “The lads are all back ready to go again, and we’ve signed Danny O’Leary who’s a top class goalkeeper, which will be big plus for us this year. We also have Shane Hynes and James Minogue back from injury and they’ll be like two new signings for the team, while Gary Price, who missed a good bit of last season with injury, is also fully fit which is great for us.”
Going for the A League title is the main ambition this year and Kilkelly believes his players have the ability to do it. “The lads all got such a great experience playing at this level, we went to places like Dundalk and Drogheda and came home with wins. We did pretty well in the league and it was only after we couldn’t catch Salthill at the top that our season tapered off and we stopped training so hard that we stopped picking up points. This year is going to be tough test, we have the likes of Shelbourne, Bohemians and Sporting Fingal all with sides in the league, but these are the kinds of sides you want to be playing against and have to if you want to be the best you can.”
Before the league kicks off, there is another big cup game on the horizon for Celtic. They’ll travel to take on Carlow FC in the preliminary round of the FAI Senior Cup on May 16 with the prize of a place in the first round proper of the cup up for grabs.