ATHLONE Town will begin the 2012 Airtricity League 1st Division campaign with a home fixture against SD Galway (formerly Salthill Devon) in early March, as manager Mike Kerley gets closer to finalising his squad for the coming season.
The opening game of Athlone's season will take place at Lissywollen on Friday, March 2, with Athlone then travelling to Midlands neighbours Longford Town on the second weekend of a 28-game season.
The 1st Division comprises just eight teams this season, with one side (the league champions) to be automatically promoted to the Premier Division.
Athlone finished eighth in last season's 11-team 1st Division, while struggling Salthill Devon propped up the division.
To make matters more interesting, SD Galway (re-branded in the wake of Galway Utd's recent demise) are now managed by Athlone native, and former Galway Utd manager, Tony Mannion.
Meanwhile, Mike Kerley has added two more new signings to his squad this week, as preparations continue to gather pace ahead of the start of the season.
Former Limerick and Shamrock Rovers striker Robbie Kelleher, and defender Ross Kenny, have both signed on for the coming season.
Both players have been on trial with Athlone over recent weeks, and after been suitably impressed by both, Kerley decided to add them to his panel.
Kelleher has proven ability in the 1st Division, following a couple of spells with Limerick. He also spent a period with Shamrock Rovers (under Pat Scully's stewardship), where he performed well, before having to leave the club due to the level of travel involved.
Kelleher was most recently with Limerick junior outfit Ballynanty Rovers, and Kerley is hoping he can make an impact with Athlone.
"Robbie contacted us about getting back in the league, and about playing for Athlone. It shows his willingness to do well and he's done well over the last couple of weeks. He still has a bit to do, in terms of fitness, but once he gets to the level we want, he should get goals in the 1st Division," said Kerley.
Also joining Athlone is Ross Kenny, a 20-year-old defender from Ballina Town.
Kenny will be expected to step into the void left by the departure of Jamie Carr, who has opted to join Wexford Youths.
Kerley said: "I was disappointed by Jamie's decision to join Wexford, who finished below us in last season's 1st Division. We gave Jamie an opportunity to play league football, and he did well last season, so it's a blow to lose him. Ross (Kenny) can play centre-back, or left-back, and has done well in the last couple of friendlies. I've been aware of Ross for some time. He hasn't got league experience at this point, but hopefully he can do well."
The signing of Kelleher and Kenny brings the amount of pre-season acquisitions for Athlone Town to six.
Last season's captain, Kevin Williamson, has put pen to paper on a new contract with Athlone, despite recent speculation linking him to Premier Division clubs.
Kerley has also confirmed a potential move for Ballinasloe Town striker, Liam Lynch, is dead in the water.
"We contacted Ballinasloe Town about Liam Lynch, but unfortunately they refused permission to speak to the player, so it's not going to happen," said Kerley.
The Athlone manager has agreed terms with both Paul Danaher and Noel McGee for the coming season, and they will sign new deals in the next couple of weeks, said Kerley.
Kerley also continues to hope to come to an agreement with Jason Hughes, who scored in Athlone's 3-2 win over the Dublin FÁS Academy last Thursday.
"When Paul Danaher and Noel McGee sign, and hopefully Jason Hughes, that's likely to be it in terms of signings," said Kerley.
"We're still looking for a new goalkeeper, but with the transfer window for signing junior players shutting last night (Tuesday), we possibly have to look at the loan market," he added.
One player who won't be re-signing for the club is full-back Declan Fallon, who has rejoined St Peter's.
Athlone's pre-season schedule continues this weekend, when they're scheduled to face Drogheda Utd at Lissywollen on Friday evening (7.30pm).
Athlone, meanwhile, have also pulled off something of a coup by signing one of the most highly regarded teenagers from the Midlands region over recent years in former Birr Town schoolboy, Val Feeney.
Capped at underage level, 16-year-old Feeney has already attracted admiring glances from scouts across the water, and has spent time on trial with Manchester City. However, the youngster's immediate development will be with Mickey Collins' youth team.
Collins said: "We are delighted to welcome a player of the calibre of Val to the club, and we look forward to assisting his improvement as a player. He will be a huge asset to our club and it's testimony to the work that's being carried out at the club that a player of Val's stature has agreed to sign for us."