Preview by Kieran Burke - @KieranBTS
The long wait is finally over as on Friday night, Longford Town will finally return to competitive action with a trip to the Market Fields to tackle recently relegated Limerick FC on the opening night of the 2019 SSE Airtricity League First Division.
So much has happened since "De Town" ended their 2018 campaign with a draw at home to champions UCD. Sadly, there have been some big name departures in the likes of Mick Kelly, Daniel O'Reilly, Sam Verdon and of course last season's top scorer, Dylan McGlade. However, manager Neale Fenn has once again spread the net far and wide in terms of recruitment and in the likes of Lee Steacy, Anto Breslin, Conor Kenna and Aaron Dobbs to name a few, the former Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers star looks to have picked up some potential gems.
In full, Longford Town have added no less than twelve new names to the squad during the course of a very long off-season and with some valuable pre season encounters against the Ireland's very best in Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, Cork City, Dundalk, Sligo Rovers and Cliftonville, it is hoped the squad can gel together quickly and get off to a flying start in what will undoubtedly be one of the toughest First Divisions in many a year.
Friday's opponents, Limerick have had something of a turbulent few months. However, despite relegation last term, popular boss Tommy Barrett has been able to add some real experience to his ranks with former Longford midfielder, Sean Russell, re-joining the club after time abroad, while Robbie Williams and Darren Murphy are names most League of Ireland followers will be familiar with from recent years.
While Neale Fenn appears to have opted for a particularly young group once again this season, Tommy Barrett appears to have attempted to find a winning formula of youth and experience, with youngsters Aaron Fitzgerald and Karl O'Sullivan highly rated by many on Shannonside.
The Muster outfit played a number of locally based friendlies during pre-season, comulating in a 2-1 victory over the Irish army side just a few days ago. Whether Longford's run outs against higher calibre opposition translate into a quicker start out of the blocks on Friday night remains to be seen but Neale Fenn must be pleased by the selection headache he is likely to have on opening night.
In terms of injuries, Jamie Hollywood has managed to get some minutes under his belt in pre-season as he continues his fight back from a serious knee injury picked up in Galway last season, while Dean Byrne is also back on track after an early end to his 2018 campaign. Peter Hopkins is another key man who suffered injury woes last season but again, the winger has picked up some minutes in recent weeks. New signing from Dundalk, Carlton Ubaezuonu is the squad's only absentee ahead of opening night, having not featured in the lead up to the new campaign, while there are no suspensions to worry about this weekend.
There is no team news available for the hosts, but what we do know is picking up early points could prove vital to Neale Fenn's side given the difficult fixtures thrown out by the FAI's computer. After a long trip to the Market Fields, Longford Town will play in front of their own fans next Saturday as last season's play off rivals, Drogheda United come to the City Calling Stadium.
Kick off in Limerick on Friday night is 7.45pm and Jason Mannix will oversee the opening night's festives with the whistle in his hand.