Part 1 – Athlone Town, Bray Wanderers, Cabinteely & Cork City
Having propped up the First Division table in 2020, Athlone have recruited heavily in the off-season and look well-placed for one of their highest finishes in recent years. Adrian Carberry’s side showed occasions of promise last year, including an FAI Cup run that ended at the semi-final stage, at the hands of Dundalk.
The likes of goalkeeper Micheál Shlingermann, attacker Kurtis Byrne and defender Aidan Friel bring Premier Division experience to the Midlanders squad, while the attacking trio of Jack Watson, Shane Barnes and Stephen Meaney arrive at the club with distinctive First Division knowledge.
Our meetings with Athlone last season saw a win apiece for either side, and nothing will come easy against the Westmeath men in 2021.
Last year’s runners-up, Bray will be looking to go one better in this campaign and avoid the play-off heartache that 2020 brought. Gary Cronin’s men have always been there or thereabouts at the business end of the season under his reign and the Wicklow side will be strong once more in 2021.
In Kian Clarke and Brian Maher they have two fine young goalkeepers battling it out for the number one jersey. The addition of Derry’s Conor Clifford bring an added edge to the Bray midfield, while Shamrock Rovers loanee Brandon Kavanagh needs no introduction having been shortlisted for the PFAI Young Player of the Year and First Division Player of the Year in 2020. Teen striker Darragh Lynch took the league by storm in his first year of senior football and is another to keep tabs on.
Our meetings with Wanderers last year saw a well-earned point at the Carlisle Grounds before a 2-1 defeat at St Colman’s Park.
A seventh place finish in 2020 will have been a disappointment for Cabo, having reached the play-offs a year prior. Pat Devlin continues at the helm of the South Dublin outfit and they will be eager to compete once more at the higher end of the table. The Stradbrook men are well-established in league football since their arrival in 2015, and will be a familiar sight to new Ramblers goalkeeper Corey Chambers.
Kieran Marty Waters, Kevin Knight and Daniel Blackbyrne are among the experienced campaigners at Cabinteely once more, while their youth set-up provides the likes of Vilius Labutis and Zak O’Neill as exciting young talents. The loan signing of Derby County goalkeeper Harry Halwax is an intriguing one to keep an eye on amongst a large Cabo squad this year.
Marty Waters’ injury time winner in October saw his side to the double over Cobh in 2020 and we’ll be keen on improving that record in the new First Division season.
This year will see Cork derbies return to the League of Ireland for the first time since 2008. While our derbies are always fierce encounters, the league meetings in particular bring a special edge to the fixture for players and supporters alike. Finishing bottom of the 2020 Premier Division, Cork will be eager to bounce back at the first attempt in the upcoming campaign.
Colin Healy’s squad boasts a number of former Rams, including goalkeeper Paul Hunt, midfielder Cian Coleman, defender Gordon Walker and striker Beineon O’Brien Whitmarsh. Darragh Crowley, on loan at Ramblers in 2020, is now back at his parent club, while Steven Beattie’s return brings clear experience to the City squad.
A number of the Ramblers squad have also spent time at City, with Ian Turner, John Kavanagh and Darren Murphy among those set to face their former club.
Friday’s meeting between the local rivals is hugely anticipated across Cork football circles and even in behind-closed-doors Covid times there is plenty to whet the appetite.
Coming Soon; Part 2 feat. Galway, Shelbourne, Treaty United, UCD & Wexford