On the latest instalment of ‘the Big Kick Off League of Ireland podcast’, we waxed lyrical about the highly anticipated return of our domestic game.

The SSE Airtricity League Premier and First Divisions commence action this weekend, and you can find our initial thoughts on the upcoming campaigns on our YouTube channel, and all good podcast providers.

However, we’ll keep this content train chugging along by checking out the fixtures for the opening round, and assess each clubs’ chances for the 2022 season.    

Friday, 18th of February 2022

Athlone Town vs Waterford

Venue – Athlone Town Stadium

Kick Off – 7.45 pm

Odds – Home 7/2 Draw 11/4 Away 8/13

Watch On – LOITV

Athlone Town 1-2 Shelbourne: RESULT - Shelbourne FC

Mad to think this time last year, there was some serious expectation surrounding Athlone due to the recruitment drive at the time.

Unfortunately for Martin Russell, he hasn’t been afforded the same luxury.

Ultimately, last season was a huge disappointment for the Westmeath side, as they failed to reach the play-off places, as they shuffled through two managers in the process.

Thomas Oluwa and Dan Dobbin are serviceable recruits. But the squad looks severely weaker, in no small part to the likes of Scott Delaney, Kurtis Byrne, James Doona, Dylan Hand, Adam Wixted, Killian Cantwell and Stephen Meaney all leaving the club.

Waterford on the other hand are also coming off a disastrous season, but they look poised and ready to put that behind them.

The Blues traded places with UCD after their defeat to the Students in the 2021 relegation/promotion play-off final.

That was a newsworthy period for Waterford, as R&S Holdings LTD, fronted by Richard Forrest bought the club from Lee Power, and appointed Marc Bircham as manager.

Bircham done an excellent job at Waterford, but was shockingly sacked just days before the crucial clash against UCD.

With a fresh season before them, Ian Morris now finds himself in the hotseat, hoping to provide promotion to the Munster side, just like he did with Shelbourne in 2019, and 2021.

He’s done a fantastic job keeping the nucleus of last seasons squad in place. Lads like Anthony Wordsworth, Brian Murphy, Cian Kavanagh and Phoenix Patterson have all pledged themselves for another season. With striker John Martin looking like the only noticeable departure during the off-season.

This First Division Waterford side looks stronger than last season’s Premier Division side.

Prediction – Strong start for Waterford.

Bray Wanderers vs Cork City 

Venue – Carlisle Ground

Kick Off – 7.45 pm

Odds – Home EVS Draw 23/10 Away 23/10

Watch On – LOITV

Wicklow County Council respond to Bray Wanderers statement - Independent.ie

Bray enters their centenary year off the back of a momentous off-season.

The Seagulls completed a merger with fellow

First Division side Cabinteely, bringing the two clubs in as a single entity. While the merits of this move have, and will be debated for a long time to come, this decision has seen plenty of familiar faces return to the Wicklow side.

Bray legend Pat Devlin, returns for his fifth managerial spell, due to his involvement with Cabinteely, since 2017. Former players Dean Zambra and Kieran “Marty” Waters trade their Cabo shirts for Bray ones.

Plus, the homecoming all Bray fans have been waiting on, as Hugh Douglas returns from his spell at Drogheda United.

Rob Manley, Kurtis Byrne, Oscar Brennan and Paul Fox are some of the more recognisable signings, to what seems to be an incredibly beefy squad. Perhaps, the biggest throughout both divisions.

Their opponents Cork City will be looking to turn their full-time structure into a sustainable promotion run.

For a club as historic as the Rebel Army, a sixth-place finish last season will not suffice, as manager Colin Healy looks to push his side back to the big time.

Once again, Cian Murphy, Dylan McGlade, Cian Coleman and Barry Coffey will have a huge hand in keeping pace with the likes of Waterford and Galway United.

Ruairi Keating and Ally Gilchrist are shrewd additions, and incoming goalkeeper Jimmy Corcoran looks set to be the successor to veteran, Mark McNulty.

If you’re looking for a dark horse, keep an eye on the City.

Prediction – Difficult to call, we’ll say a draw.

Wexford vs Treaty United

Venue – Ferrycarrig Park

Kick Off – 7.45 pm

Odds – Home 17/10 Draw 9/4 Away 13/10

Watch On – LOITV

Ferrycarrig Park future 'up in the air' but club believe solution is likely  - Independent.ie

An article was penned over on our website, regarding the improvements made by Wexford since the arrival of manager, Ian Ryan. Check it out for a more detailed look on how Wexford are shaping up.

However, it credits the 22-man squad assembled by Ryan and his staff.

Of course, Dinny Corcoran is the outstanding signing. The 32-year-old has struggled with injuries over the past several years, but if he’s physically fit, he’ll be key to replacing the goals left behind by both Kyle Robinson, and Jack Moylan.

While Wexford finished bottom last season, their form towards the end of the campaign was play-off worthy. This is something they’ll have to maintain if that’s their overall goal, but you’d imagine they’ll improve on that rock bottom position.

Treaty United seemed destined to be basement dwellers during their inaugural League of Ireland run, in 2021.

Credit to Tommy Barrett and his players. Not only did they bring professional football back to Limerick, but they managed to find themselves in a play-off place come the end of the season, and deservingly so.

Goalkeeper Tadgh Ryan and their top goal-scorer, Sean McSweeney have since left the club. But, Denzil Fernandes, Enda Curran and Joe Gorman are sensible players to bring in.

While they’ll find it difficult to battle with full-time teams. Treaty United could very well be in that dogfight for the final play-off slot.

Prediction – It’s comfortable on this fence, another draw.  

Saturday, 19th of February 2022

Longford Town vs Cobh Ramblers

Venue – Bishopsgate

Kick Off – 7.30 pm

Odds – Home 3/4 Draw 13/5 Away 3/1

Watch On – LOITV

Longford heap further misery on freefalling Dundalk

Sadly, Longford are back in the First Division, following their season stay in the topflight.

They’re another club that has suffered from somewhat of a mass exodus. Aodh Dervin, Aaron O’Driscoll, Dylan Grimes, and the Manley brothers have all departed the Midlands club, following a horrendous relegation season.

New manager Gary Cronin has gathered a completely fresh-looking Longford side. They may struggle to keep up with the three full-time teams in the table, the same way they did in the transfer market, but after the doom and gloom of last season, a play-off fight would be a steady prediction.

Looking at Cobh, it isn’t setting up as the most glamorous season.

They find themselves in a First Division packed with other Munster teams, which has resulted in them shopping local with the Munster Senior League. In fairness, they took that route last season, but it’s not a recipe for quick success.

Charlie Lyons moving on to Galway will be a big loss, the 21-year-old is a cracking centre half.

Prediction – Longford win.

2022 fixtures for new-look nine team SSE Airtricity First Division have  been released

TBKO First Division Predictions

* Don’t @ us…

1. Waterford

2. Cork City

3. Galway United

4. Bray Wanderers

5. Longford Town

6. Treaty United

7. Wexford

8. Athlone Town

9. Cobh Ramblers

Roy Shanahan Predictions:

Champions Waterford

Promotion/Relegation P/O WinnersFinn Harps

Top ScorerDinny Corcoran

Surprise Package Christian Magerusan

Nathan Doyle Predictions:

Champions Waterford

Promotion/Relegation P/O WinnersGalway United

Top ScorerCian Murphy