Saturday saw the return of the Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League (PIL) with all twelve teams in action, though some of the teams had already played in the League Cup or the Steel and Sons Cup.
Last season the league was won by Dundela who led the table for much of the campaign but they were pushed all the way and this campaign will no doubt be as fascinating as the last one. There is one significant chance to the PIL this time around as unlike the Premiership and Championship there will be no split in the league, teams will just play each other twice meaning there will be little room for error in the race for promotion the Championship.
Sport and Leisure Swifts 5 Armagh City 1
Sport and Leisure have been in the media a lot over the summer due to their controversial application to change their name to Belfast Celtic, there is expected to be more news about that in the coming days and it was on the pitch that the West Belfast side made headlines on Saturday with this emphatic win over Armagh. The first goal of the game came for the home side in the 24th minute through Niall McAuley and captain Ryan Burns thought he had doubled the lead but his effort was deemed offside. The second goal did come in the 55th minute when Darren Gallagher beat ‘keeper Daniel Devine, further goals came from Patrick Doyle, a second from Gallagher and finally Kevin Lynch. Adam Pedlow pulled a goal back for the Eagles late in the game.
Tobermore United 0 Annagh United 1
Annagh appointed a new manager over the summer in the shape of Ciaran McGurgan who is now stranger to the Portadown based club as his father, Brian, is a founder member and Ciaran himself has been involved in the club for much of his life. Hoping to improve on last season’s 10th placed finish and relegation scrap McGurgan has added experience in the shape of former Glentoran and Portadown midfielder and former Linfield, Crusaders and once capped Northern Ireland player Michael Gault has opted to remain with the club and will wear the captain’s armband this season. Saturday’s game was not a classic by any means with Ben Eagle scoring the only goal of the game in the first half to secure the points for McGurgan’s side.
Banbridge Town 3 Lisburn Distillery 1
Stuart King began his second spell as manager of Banbridge with a win as 3rd place from last season see of 4th place as Crystal Park. Both of these sides will have aspirations to challenge for promotion this season but it was Town who were well worth the points this time around as Stephen Acheson gave them the lead in the 18th minute.
There were chances for King’s die to extend their lead further before the break but it was just a one goal lead they took into half-time. Banbridge extended their lead in the second half when Darren McGrath took advantage of hesitation in the Whites defense and he set up Stephen McCavitt to double the lead. Distillery fans were given some hope with 15 minutes to go when Matthew Ferguson scored but there was to be no comeback as Conor Downey scored a third goal for the home side to seal the points.
Newington Youth Club 4 Moyola Park 0
Newington are another side who will be hoping to improve on last season’s return, a season in which they finished 11th and only just managed to escape relegation by 3 points. Moyola started on the front foot on Saturday but they found themselves behind in the 17th minute to a Padraig Scollay. After taking the lead Newington didn’t look back and a brace from Kevin Hughes and a further goal from Robbie McVarnock gave Newington a convincing opening day win.
Portstewart 4 Dollingstown 1
The last time these two sides met it was the 2016-17 play-off to decide who would get into the PIL that season, Portstewart came out on top on that occasion and did so again on Saturday to get their campaign, and new manager Johnny Law’s reign, off to an ideal start. After a good start to the game the newly promoted Dollybirds took the lead in the 25th minute thanks to experience campaigner Glen Hand. Stephen Uprichard’s sidewere unable to hold their lead for long though and the Seahawks equalized from the penalty spot right on half-time and were in the lead when the second half was just two minutes old. Two further goals for the home side wrapped up the win and sent Portstewart on their way to what they hope will be another productive season.
Lurgan Celtic 0 Queens University 2
New Lurgan Celtic manager Gerard McMahon started with a win in the League Cup two weeks ago but his side fell to defeat at home to Peter Thompson’s Queens side on Saturday. Queens started well and looked the most likely to score in the opening half and despite some warning shorts from Celtic’s David Magee it was Ryan McCready who put the visitors ahead, scoring on the rebound after his initial effort hit the woodwork. The second half was much of the same and Queens added a second when Matt McCann headed home a corner. Celtic’s day got worse still when Matthew Andrews was dismissed for a second bookable offence.
Unfortunately the stop/start nature of the PIL kicks in already as there will be no fixtures this weekend due to teams being in regional cup competitions but the league will return with a full program on the 1st September, when the following fixtures are scheduled to take place:-
Annagh United v Banbridge Town
Armagh City v Lurgan Celtic
Dollingstown v Tobermore United
Lisburn Distillery v Newington Youth Club
Moyola Park v Portstewart
Sport and Leisure Swifts v Queens University
If that doesn’t whet your appetite we also cover the southern based League of Ireland and you can read about that by clicking HERE.