AVONDALE will get their 2021/22 campaign underway on Saturday when they travel to College Corinthians for a Keane Cup clash (3pm).
In what could be seen as the most difficult of the eight Keane Cup groups, Avondale and Corinthians will have Cobh Wanderers and Midleton for company, with the latter two squaring off in Knockgriffin tomorrow evening (7.15pm).
Avondale are many people’s fancy for the league title, as they were last season before it ended prematurely with less than a third of the programme completed.
Midleton and Avondale were joint leaders at the time, with Avondale having a game less played.
For Avondale manager Frank Kelleher, it was a disappointing end to his first year in charge, though, he admits, the league’s decision not to complete the league last season was the right one.
“I suppose it was disappointing, but it was understandable given the circumstances. It wouldn’t have been good for player welfare trying to squeeze the remaining games into a few months and playing two or three games a week was not really an option,” said Kelleher.
“We had only a third of the league played and at the time the Covid situation was still a big problem.”
Kelleher had assembled a strong squad before the start of last season and, indeed, he had added to it just before the lockdown with the arrival of goalkeeper Ed Finn and Dave McCarthy from Douglas Hall.
During the lockdown Avondale lost two key players to League of Ireland sides Cork City and Cobh Ramblers, Jack Walsh and David O’Leary, but they’ve also brought a few more in and Kelleher hopes to add a couple more before the season starts.
“We’ve signed Andy Gannon, who has returned from Canada. Andy is former UCC and a former Irish amateur international.
“We’ve also signed Jamie O’Sullivan from Douglas Hall. Jamie is a fine centre-back and we hope to sign a few more players.
“At the moment there are about 23 in the squad and I’m hoping to get it up to 25 and we will be giving everyone game time before the league starts.”
Kelleher is happy enough with his side’s preparations for the new season.
“It hasn’t been too bad, we’ve had about six weeks since returning in pods and we had a very good friendly against Cobh Ramblers U19s which finished 1-1.”
Avondale followed up with another friendly at Castleview last Sunday morning which also finished 1-1.
After a good workout at O’Sullivan Park, Kelleher and his players will now turn their attention to College Corinthians on Saturday.
“It’s a tough group, the top four in the league from last season, and we will start against a very good Corinthians team.
“We drew a very close game with them 0-0 last September and it’s a good start for us and it will be a chance to see where we are at.”
Kelleher believes Corinthians will be one of a number of title rivals to Avondale this season, and the Dales boss is very focused on bringing the premier division trophy back to Avondale Park, though he accepts that they have plenty of rivals with similar ambitions.
“That is the goal, to win the league. An Avondale league win is long overdue; I think it was 2016 when the club won the league so that’s our priority” Kelleher added.
“It’s going to be a tight race though, there are a lot of good sides in the league. Corinthians will be there, Rockmount will be back and strong, as will Ringmahon.
“Carrigaline have a very good young side; Davin O’Neill is gone in at Cobh Wanderers who did well last season. So, it’s going to be tough and it will be interesting to see how it pans out.”