This weekend the SSE Airtricity League First Division 2021 season gets underway.

Many fans, pundits and media personnel are predicting an extremely close league this time around.

We have a Shelbourne side full of highly regarded new recruits, John Caulfield guiding Galway United for his first full season as manager at the club, and an Athlone side that has arguably done the best business within both leagues. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, we’re truly gearing up for an open race this campaign.

To make matters even better, supporters can watch all the action live, on LOITV, along with the opening weekend of the Women’s National League too.

So, to keep the anticipation going, we’re going to look at the opening round of fixtures from the First Division this season. While we’re at it, we’ll also throw in some predictions, and players to keep an eye on for the season ahead.

As always, let us know who you’ll be rooting for this season, and how you think they’ll cope in 2021.

Friday, 26th of March 2021

Galway United vs Shelbourne

Venue – Eamonn Deacy Park

Kick Off – 7.45 pm

Odds – Home Win 15/8 Draw 23/10 Away Win 6/5

Galway United v Longford Town preview - Galway Bay FM

Cracking match to help ring in the new First Division season.

Shelbourne and Galway are the two favourites to win the title, according to most bookmakers and fans.

Galway vastly improved once John Caufield arrived out West, back in August. Caufield is heading into his first full season as Galway boss, and is really beginning to put his stamp on the team.

Without being disrespectful, he trimmed off a lot of deadwood in last seasons bloated squad.

The signings of Conor McCormack, Ronan Manning and Gary Boylan are just some of the new additions that will bolster to the ever-improving Galway squad. Especially, as they look to make a real push for promotion back to the Premier Division.

Shelbourne will be in an identical mindset after been relegated from the top tier last season.

The Dublin club have recruited strongly again ahead of the 2021 season.

The likes of Yoyo Mahdy, Gerardo Bruna and Michael O’Connor make them the most dangerous attacking side in the league this season.

Both sides met last season, in the quarter finals of the FAI Cup. Shels won that meeting 5-2, hoping for another thrilling high scoring game this time around.

Key Players – Shane Duggan (Galway) & John Ross Wilson (Shels)

Ones to Watch – Carlton Ubaezuonu (Galway) & Denzil Fernandes (Shels)

Best Signings – Ronan Manning (Galway) & Yoyo Mahdy (Shels)

Match Prediction – Playing it safe with a scored draw.

Cork City vs Cobh Ramblers

Venue – Turner’s Cross

Kick Off – 7.45 pm

Odds – Home Win 6/10 Draw 13/5 Away Win 15/4

Why Cork City's Hallowed Turner's Cross Ground Is At A Crossroads

Getting spoiled with another belter of a game, as the two Cork rivals go head-to-head.

The only way is up for Cork City after a rotten 2020, that ultimately seen them get relegated to the First Division.

Manager Colin Healy will be hoping to steady the ship during a stormy spell at the club.

Regaining the services of players like Gearoid Morrissey, Cory Galvin, Alec Byrne, and Dylan McGlade will certainly be a massive benefit to Healy. Having men like John Cotter and Mark McNulty as coaches on the training pitch is key too.

Cobh will now look to shake off the bitterly disappointing finish to their 2020 season. They just missed out on the play-offs on goal difference, after a dramatic final night of league action back in October.

They’ve recruited heavily from the Cork sides like Midleton, Cobh Wanderers, Avondale United and Youghal United. A win in the derby would certainly make the Cobh faithful stand up and take notice.

Key Players – Gearoid Morrissey (Cork) & Charlie Lyons (Cobh)

Ones to Watch – Uniss Kargbo (Cork) & Caelin Rooney (Cobh)

Best Signings – Steven Beattie (Cork) & Jake Hegarty (Cobh)

Match Prediction – City to win the derby.

UCD vs Athlone Town

Venue – UCD Bowl

Kick Off – 7.45 pm

Odds – Home Win 5/6 Draw 23/10 Away Win 14/5

UCD offering free tickets for college students as club go in search of  First Division title on Friday night against Finn Harps - Dublin Live

A clash between two sides that will be duking it out for a play-off spot come the end of the season.

Some may feel UCD will struggle without Yoyo Mahdy, who finished as the league’s top scorer last season, with 15 goals.

However, Colm Whelan only finished up one goal behind Mahdy last season. The students will be delighted to have him back this season, along with the likes of Liam Kerrigan, Paul Doyle, and Mark Dignam.

Athlone are a bone fide dark horse this time around.

While they may not challenge for the title, the play-offs are more than realistic for this much improved Athlone team.

They had the worst defensive record last season. Bringing in goalkeeper Michael Schlingermann, and defenders Killian Cantwell and Dylan Hand to partner with existing players like Scott Delaney give them a more assured look at the back.

Kurtis Byrne, Shane Barnes, and Adam Wixted will ensure Athlone will have no issues in the other end either.

Key Players – Colm Whelan (UCD) & Kurtis Byrne (Athlone)

Ones to Watch – Danu Kinsella-Bishop (UCD) & Tlou Tumelo (Athlone)

Best Signings – Sam Todd (UCD) & Killian Cantwell (Athlone)

Match Prediction – Scored draw, probably 1-1.

Wexford vs Cabinteely

Venue – Ferrycarrig Park

Kick Off – 7.45 pm

Odds – Home Win 2/1 Draw 23/10 Away Win 11/10

Wexford FC v Longford Town Match Preview – League of Ireland

Realistically, we’re possibly looking at two teams that’ll be contesting in the lower half of the division this season.

Especially Wexford, who have finished in the bottom two over the past four seasons.

They’re the only returning side to have zero players leave the club from last season. Hanging on to key players like Daniel Tobin and Karl Fitzsimons.

Instead, they lured in young lads from the likes of St. Patrick’s Athletic, Waterford, Dundalk and their opponents, Cabinteely.

Speaking of Cabo, they finished last season on a bit of a whimper after spending much of the campaign in the upper echelons of the league table.

Another side that has looked to the amateur game for new players. Bluebell United’s Luke McWilliams and Greystone’s Andy O’Brien are just two of the men looking to make their mark in the League of Ireland with Cabinteely.

This is the third time these sides have met on the opening day since Cabinteely joined the league in 2015. Wexford hammered the Dublin side 5-1 last season, before that, Cabinteely hadn’t lost to Wexford in their previous four encounters.

Key Players – Daniel Tobin (Wexford) & Kevin Knight (Cabo)

Ones to Watch – Jimmy Corcoran (Wexford) & Eoin McPhillips (Cabo)

Best Signings – Alex O’Hanlon (Wexford) & Sean McDonald (Cabo)

Match Prediction – Tight Wexford win at home.

Sunday, 28th of March 2021

Bray Wanderers vs Treaty United

Venue – Carlisle Grounds

Kick Off – 3.00 pm

Odds – Home Win 8/15 Draw 14/5 Away Win 4/1

Statistics Bray Wanderers 20 Wexford SSE Airtricity League

Last seasons runners-up, Bray Wanderers will be dreaming of a similar league position come the final day.

Gary Cronin has assembled a brilliantly balanced squad, with an ideal mix of youth and experience. The Seagulls have also held on to key figures all over the park from last season.

The additions of Conor Clifford, Richie O’Farrell, and Brandon Kavanagh on loan, will just add an extra shot of quality into an already beefy squad.

On paper, Bray could seriously challenge for the title, and really should be disappointed with anything less.

On the flip side, Treaty United and Limerick in general will just be happy to see the return of League of Ireland football in their neck of the woods.

Credit to manager Tommy Barrett for pulling together the squad he did, on such short notice.

Players like Tadgh Ryan, Joel Coustrain, Charlie Fleming, Mark Ludden, and Dean George will be just some of the key figures with league experience Treaty will need to rely on this season.

They’ve also dipped into the Munster Senior League for a wealthy of solid players too.

No matter where Treaty United finish this season, it will just be a pleasure to see a team play in Markets Field once again this season.

Key Players – Conor Clifford (Bray) & Joel Coustrain (Treaty)

Ones to Watch – Andrew Quinn (Bray) & Tadgh Ryan (Treaty)

Best Signings – Brandon Kavanagh (Bray) & Charlie Fleming (Treaty)

Match Prediction – Bray, this weekend’s banker.

2021 Sse Airtricity Premier First Division Wnl Season Launched SSE  Airtricity League

First Division Predictions

Nathan’s League Prediction      

1. Shelbourne                                

2. Galway United                          

3. Bray Wanderers                        

4. Cork City                                   

5. Athlone Town                            

6. UCD                                          

7. Treaty United                             

8. Cobh Ramblers                          

9. Cabinteely                                  

10. Wexford                                   

Roy’s League Prediction

1. Bray Wanderers

2. Galway United

3. Shelbourne

4. UCD

5. Cobh Ramblers

6. Cork City

7. Treaty United

8. Athlone Town

9. Cabinteely

10. Wexford