Last season's double-winners Dundalk begin the defence of their SSE Airtricity League Premier Division crown with the visit of Sligo Rovers to Oriel Park on Friday night (kick-off 7.45pm).
The Lilywhites began life after Stephen Kenny last Saturday, picking up where they left off in the FAI Cup final with a 2-1 win over Cork City, only this time in the President's Cup match at Turners Cross.
It's been a winter of change that's not only seen Kenny replaced by Vinny Perth, but also the retirement of the influential Stephen O'Donnell, who's been replaced by Brian Gartland as captain.
“It's good to be back. We were back at the weekend with the President's Cup but it's good to be back playing and have matches to look forward to. You miss the games,” said Gartland.
“It's good to be back in that atmosphere and it was good to be back and get the win last weekend.
“Our preparation has been brilliant. We had a good trip away (in Spain) and got two competitive games over there. We have had a tough run into the season but that's pre-season.
“We have enjoyed it. Our pre-season schedule has been good and we feel it has prepared us for the season ahead.
“We are ready to go. It is good to start the season at home but we dropped points in the opening game last year so we can't be too comfortable and it's going to be a tough game.
“Sligo are a bit unknown with some of the players that they have signed from outside the league and they have some experienced signings with the likes of Ronan Murray and Johnny Dunleavy.
“They will be a good side this year, everyone is raring to go and we will be ready for it.”
Dundalk have added four new signings themselves and Jordan Flores – signed from Wigan Athletic – could make his debut for the club after missing last week's President's Cup match through injury.
New signing Daniel Kelly, who was an unused substitute last week, could also make his competitive debut but the match comes too soon for the injured Jamie McGrath, who didn’t feature at all in pre-season.
The Bit O'Red have also seen a change in manager during the winter with former St Patrick's Athletic boss Liam Buckley taking over from Ger Lyttle, who left the club in a lowly 8th position in the league.
Buckley's first competitive game in charge really couldn’t be any more difficult as they pay a visit to last season's double-winners Dundalk, where they suffered a 5-0 hammering in October of last year.
Sligo have enjoyed a good pre-season under their new manager having defeated First Division opposition in the form of Galway United, Longford Town and Athlone Town without conceding.
“We've had a good pre-season with a lot of work done in terms of fitness and developing the style of play,” said Buckley.
“I think in the number of weeks we’ve spent working on the training pitch and playing matches that progress has been made in instilling that.
“It's a new season and a new start for all. It's a challenging game to start with, there is no doubt about that, but we’re looking forward to going out there and competing.
“I think we've brought good players to the club. When I joined, I spoke about signing players here to improve the team, not just to fill a squad for the sake of it.
“We'll go there with a belief we can get a positive result and we’re very much looking forward to it.”
In what is a new look squad, Buckley has brought in no fewer than eight new players to the Showgrounds as they look to improve on what has been a mediocre last few years for the club.
One of those new faces is Ronan Murray – who has recently signed from Dundalk – but he, along with midfielder David Cawley, will have to undergo late fitness tests ahead of their visit to Oriel Park.
Ronan Coughlan, who only signed from Cork City on Thursday, could make his debut against Dundalk but Brendan Ogbu's transfer has been cancelled after Sligo failed to secure a work permit for the Nigerian striker.
Referee: Robert Harvey.
This will be the 230th competitive meeting between Dundalk and Sligo Rovers. The Lilywhites have emerged victorious on 107 of those occasions, while Sligo have won 71 times since the first encounter in 1934.
Sligo haven't won an opening night fixture since they defeated Athlone Town 2-1 at the Showgrounds in 2014. The Bit O'Red have tasted defeat in every one of their previous three season openers.
By comparison, Dundalk haven't lost on the opening night since a surprise 4-1 defeat at Drogheda United, also in 2014. The Lilywhites have since won three and drawn one of their previous four opening fixtures.
Dundalk 1/4; Draw 9/2; Sligo Rovers 11/1
Dundalk 2-0 Sligo Rovers
Injured: Jamie McGrath.
Doubtful: Jordan Flores.
Doubtful: David Cawley, Ronan Murray.
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