The talking is over, the prep is done and the Azzurri Premier League commences in earnest this weekend, along with the various adult leagues as the domestic soccer scene makes a welcome return.
Ten teams will battle it out in what's set to be a fiercely competitive league with Villa the current holders. They commence their campaign on Wednesday evening next (re-fixture following agreement from both clubs) when they welcome Hibernians for a 7pm kick-off.
Before that there are four games taking place over the weekend starting on Saturday evening (both underway from 7pm). Bohemians have home advantage against Ballinroad while Southend travel to face Tramore.
On Sunday morning, Ferrybank are away to Waterford Crystal while Carrick United welcome Dungarvan (both games kick-off at 11am).
Richard Gaffney is back at the helm once again with Ferrybank FC for the season ahead and he featured on Monday evening's "On The Ball" programme ahead of the opening round; "Yeah, looking forward to next weekend, we've a good pre-season, everyone is looking forward to the start of the season ahead so roll on Sunday". Richard admitted it's been a hectic few weeks of getting players ready with a number of them picking up knocks with the rock hard nature of pitches at the moment; "It's been challenging especially the last two weeks, we've started out back training the 3rd or 4th of July so we're probably five weeks in at the moment but in the last two weeks we've upped the pre-season in relation to challenge games and I've noticed we've picked up a couple of small injuries - calf injuries, hamstring injuries with the way the ground is".
Richard is anticipating a very competitive league again this season; "There's no easy games now if you look at the ten teams in the league at the moment. You've Villa, who went unbeaten in the league last year and went on to win the FAI Junior Cup, and were unlucky not to win the Munster Junior Cup and were in the Final of the Ardagh Cup (which is now the Jimmy Searson Cup) which was a fantastic season for them. Very good squad, plenty of strength and depth so obviously they'll be the favourites again this year. By all accounts, Hibs have recruited very well in pre-season so they've got in 4 or 5 very good players to an already good squad so they'll be very competitive and I can see them going very close to challenging Villa this year. Ourselves (Ferrybank) and Tramore are probably in a bit of a transition, from the Ferrybank perspective we've gone with a younger core group this year which might take two or three years to be competitive again but we hope to be very competitive. Then you have the Crystal who have recruited very well this year, I think the brought in five or six, Brandon Deedy being one, they've brought in a couple of lads from Tramore and I believe Andrew has them training very well at the moment".
The opening round of fixtures are as follows;
Saturday 13/08 @ 7pm; BOHEMIANS Vs. BALLINROAD, TRAMORE Vs. SOUTHEND
Sunday 14/08 @ 11am; WATERFORD CRYSTAL Vs. FERRYBANK, CARRICK UNITED Vs. DUNGARVAN
Wednesday 17/08 @ 7pm; VILLA Vs. HIBERNIANS
Another interesting season in store, can Villa retain their titles? Will Hibs mount a strong challenge? Are Crystal ready to make a breakthrough? It promises to be a fascinating season with plenty of twists and turns along the way, here's looking forward to a cracking season and wishing the very best of luck to all clubs involved, along with the various match officials who will also play a big role over the course of the season.