Two of the three relegated clubs meet on the opening night of the new SSE Airtricity First Division on Friday night when Finn Harps travel to United Park to play Drogheda United. (kick-off 7.45pm).
It’ll be a much changed Harps side from that which ended last year’s campaign in such disappointing fashion with only four players from last year’s squad retained for this season.
But Ollie Horgan and his assistant, Paul Hegarty, have assembled what on paper, looks a pretty decent panel for the new campaign.
New arrivals Michael O’Connor, John O’Flynn, Aidan Friel and Ciaran O’Connor are all in line to play on Friday night as Harps begin their quest to make a swift return to the Premier Division.
Ahead of the big kick-off, Harps hosted a press conference in Letterkenny on Tuesday evening where club secretary, John Campbell and defender Keith Cowan, joined Horgan in facing members of the local media.
Cowan, who missed all of last season as he recovered from serious injury, is also expected to feature tomorrow night on what will be a special night for the popular centre back.
He gave a flavour of what it took to battle back from the knee injury which has kept him out of action since October 2016.
“It was difficult,” he said. “It was hard to come to terms with the injury - but I think I did that pretty quickly, because I had come through a similar type injury before.
“But I suppose I wasn’t prepared to deal with the length of time it took me to feel relatively normal again. I mean, when you go for a run and you don’t feel pain or after a training session, the knee didn’t swell up.
“Hopefully the juice will be worth the squeeze as they say, and that they’ll be reward at the end.”
That reward will come on Friday night when, as expected, he is included in the defence. Just to make the night that bit more special, Cowan is also likely to captain the team in the absence of club captain Ciaran Coll who is a major doubt because of injury.
Coll’s absence is an early season blow for Harps and Horgan might well be tempted to give the nod to new signing Lee Toland at left back.
But whatever team he does go with, Horgan said he’ll just be happy to get down to the business of competitive games after all the trials and tribulations of pre-season.
“Preparations have gone okay, but only okay,” the manager said.
“I still think we’re off it, as regard where we want to be. It may take a bit of time - and I’m not trying to buy time or anything like that - but it may take a little bit of time with the amount of new players and faces that we have, for that to come together. But please God it will.”
The First Division has a new look with ten teams involved this year, compared to only eight last season. Horgan said the quality within the league has also improved significantly and he suggested that it’s hard to pick a favourite among the ten sides.
“I’m sure that people will install Galway as favourites given the fact that they are full time and Danny Furlong and Ryan Connolly are there now, to add to what they had last year. Look at what Shelbourne have added, what Drogheda have, look at Longford, it’s a serious, serious division.
“That’s not me trying to say, we’re going to struggle - absolutely not. I don’t know where we are going to be. I don’t think anybody will. But whoever wins it, won’t be coming back down the next year. It’s a hell of a lot better a division now than when we got up two years ago.”