*2018/19 Premier League Champions, Newmarket Celtic. Photograph: Oliver Fitzpatrick

It’s hours until the start of the Maloney Garden Machinery Premier Division signalling the start of the season in Clare junior soccer with action also getting underway in the first, second and third divisions.

Champions Newmarket Celtic get their title defence underway at home to Bridge Utd. Celtic are chasing their third League in a row but do so under a new management team. Mark O’Malley makes the step-up from their second side along with his able deputy Kieran Ryan, Paudie Hayes and Johnny Ryan provide continuity from last season’s set-up which also included joint managers Liam Murphy and Davy Ryan plus Stephen Austin. Bridge Utd have been boosted by the returns of John Mulready following a stint with Limerick club and former county player, Darren Murphy, they are once again managed by Anton Mannering.

Lahinch sees the meeting of Sporting Ennistymon and Avenue Utd. Having finished second in the season just gone, David Russell’s Avenue squad has strengthened with the additions of Ronan Kerin, Rory Brennan, Gary Roche, Cian McDonough plus North Clare trio Micheál Duffy, Liam Keane and James Tierney. Sporting Ennistymon survived the drop with a play-off win over Tulla Utd, for now the emphasis in the town is on gaelic football and until that concludes Michael Concannon’s charges will be under pressure.

Shannon Town were the last team apart from Newmarket Celtic to win the Premier League, they’ve snapped up Stephen Austin from their rivals management along with signing Brandon O’Halloran and Chris Lake who will add pace to their midfield. They face off with Lifford in Lynch Park who returned to the Premier Division last season and will now be targetting finishing in the top half of the table under the management of Lennie Franks.

Kilrush Rangers are back in the top flight and have home advantage over Shannon Olympic this weekend. Like Sporting Ennistymon, the concurrent Clare Senior Football Championship will test Kilrush’s squad but they will be confident of collecting three points to get off to a winning start. Shannon Olympic will have other ideas and have nabbed some players from their fellow Shannon clubs in a bid to their positive campaign just gone which saw them finish fourth in the League as well as reaching the semi-finals of the Clare Cup.

Since returning to the Clare District Soccer League three years ago, Shannon Hibs have secured promotion in every single year. Aaron Leahy’s side will relish going toe to toe with their fellow rivals in the town as well as proving their ability in the top flight. Their opening outing is in Lees Rd against Turnpike Rovers who have made some big signings including Gavin Cooney, Ciaran Russell, Sean Corry and Greg Howard which should see them climb up the table.

All games kick off at 7pm this Friday.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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