Lisburn Distillery started the 2019-20 season under new management with Stephen Hatfield replacing Colin MacIlwaine, who moved onto Championship side Harland and Wolff Welders prior to the end of last season after three seasons at the helm. Hatfield had previously gone head-to-head with Distillery in the Championship and the Premier Intermediate League (PIL) when managing Donegal Celtic and had also previously been manager of Chimney Corner.

The Whites went into this season on the back of two consecutive 4th place finishes in the PIL and will have been hopeful of pushing further up towards the promotion places, of course in this league only the league winners are guaranteed promotion with 2nd place going into a play-off with 11th place in the Championship so this would be no easy task in a notoriously competitive league.

With this in mind the new manager set about building his squad, firstly by signing up the majority of the squad from last season including goalkeeper Jonah Nicholl, the winner of most of the 2018-19 Player of the Year awards, and prolific striker Daire Rooney. Coming into New Grosvenor, among others, were experienced midfielder/defender Andy Long formerly captain of Bangor, defenders Mark Stewart and Chris Getty and perhaps most interestingly former Portadown and Glenavon and twice capped Northern Ireland international, Kevin Braniff.

Due to cup participation Distillery didn’t kick off their PIL campaign until the 31st August when they travelled to take on Dollingstown, the Dollybirds finished 9th last season but appeared to have signed well and were being backed by most to be one of the teams to watch this season, so it was going to be a good test for the new look Distillery side and they came out of it with all three points thanks to a solitary goal from debutant Braniff.

This was followed up with a defeat to Armagh on the road before a spirited come back in the first home game of the season in against Portstewart, the visitors were 2-0 up after 22 minutes but goals from Aaron Harris and Braniff before the break stunned the Seahawks and the Whites secured a share of the spoils. A draw and a defeat followed against Banbridge and Moyola respectively but the Ballyskeagh outfit have rallied and three games unbeaten and seven points picked up from the last nine available against Tobermore, Newington and Limavady have the side sitting in 6th place in the table and looking up the table going into 2020.

The early stages of the cups were generous for Distillery with byes received in the first rounds of the Steel and Sons, League and Irish Cups. The second round of the League Cup handed the Whites a tough draw away to newly-promoted Premiership side Larne, last season’s Championship winners didn’t have things all their own way and despite the 3-0 scoreline in Larne’s favour the Distillery players were able to walk off the pitch at the end with their heads held high.

The Steel and Sons kicked off the season for the Whites where they overcame Crumlin United 3-1, a Johnny McCaw goal and a Rooney brace sending Hatfield’s men through to the next round and this was followed by a 3-0 win away to Bloomfield in the third round. Unfortunately, the low point of the season came in the fourth round when they were beaten on penalties by Larne Tech Old Boy’s after drawing 2-2 at the end of extra time and having lead 2-1 late in normal time.

The Whites also bowed out of the Irish Cup at the third round, losing 2-1 to Dollingstown who got revenge for the league defeat earlier in the season, having beaten Strabane in the second round. There is still hope of silverware this season as the team is still in the Intermediate Cup after beating Glebe and Kilmore to reach the third round, the draw for that is still to take place.

With the transfer window opened as of yesterday, it is likely to be a busy month for Hatfield as with McCaw, Anto Byrne, Pierce Arterton and Nick Beta having left the club already and Braniff looking likely to follow the quartet out the exit door there will most certainly be some new faces coming in.

The next two games are huge for Distillery as having not had a game since Kilmore on the 14th December they face 2nd placed Annagh at home on the 11th January before a trip to 4th placed Bangor on the 18th January.

The full PIL table currently looks like this, Distillery are currently level on points with the two sides above them and a point off 3rd placed Newington:-

Pos Club P W D L GF GA Pts
1 Portstewart 8 5 3 0 21 10 18
2 Annagh United 7 6 0 1 18 9 18
3 Newington YC 7 4 1 2 8 10 13
4 Bangor 6 4 0 2 19 10 12
5 Dollingstown 7 4 0 3 15 7 12
6 Lisburn Distillery 8 3 3 2 7 7 12
7 Moyola Park 7 2 1 4 11 14 7
8 Limavady United 7 1 2 4 15 21 5
9 Armagh City 6 1 2 3 8 15 5
10 Banbridge Town 8 0 4 4 5 15 4
11 Tobermore United 7 0 2 5 8 17 2