With pre-season over, it is time for the start of the competitive fixtures. Pre-season went well in terms of results, with the team only losing in one game, the first game of pre-season against Ballymoney United. I was happy with the squad I had assembled, moving on quite a few of the players who didn’t make a real impact, and bringing in players that will both start for the Writers, but also provide strong options of the bench.

The first game of the season was a big one for the club, the 1st Round of the Bet McLean League Cup. It is the first time that OTT FC will have played in the competition, with only clubs from the Premiership, Championship, and Premier Intermediate League allowed to compete. The tie was away to Banbridge Town, who are predicted to be relegated.

Before I played the match against Banbridge, I wanted to ensure that the OTT FC Academy was in a good place to allow players to make their way into the first team. I very quickly realised a problem, and that was the academy had 86 players – most of which weren’t even good enough to play for the Reserve side. I spent a considerable amount of time on this, releasing the vast majority of players and putting the players with the most potential into the Reserves and the younger players that could have potential in the future, into the under 18s.

The starting XI for the game against Banbridge was largely unchanged. Rory Patterson reversed his decision to retire to play for another season and hopefully he can better his 13 goals in 17 matches from last season. Dean Smyth comes into the side between the sticks, replacing Ray Kelly who drops to the bench, while Nigel Prentice took up the right wing spot, with Kyle Mackie demoted to the bench – unpopular I know. Stephen Hamill comes in at left-back, replacing the captain Dale McCreery who also drops to the bench. McCreery remains Captain, but when not playing, it will be the wonderkid Oisin Smyth that puts on the armband.

Talking about Smyth, it has recently come to my attention on the amazing season he put in for Dungannon Swifts in the Premiership in real-life. We are very lucky to have Smyth at OTT FC in Football Manager as a contracted player, he can make a real difference as we try and climb up the leagues.

Time then for the Bet McLean League Cup 1st Round tie against Banbridge Town. The starting XI for both teams was as follows:

Yes, that is Eoghan Quigg from the X-Factor upfront for Banbridge. He was with OTT FC last season but only made two appearances off the bench during cup matches. In the third minute, it was OTT FC who found themselves 1-0 up, thanks to Diarmuid Lavery who scored a screamer from outside the box, with Adam Brown squaring the ball across from the left-hand side of the pitch. After 17 minutes, the inevitable happened. Michael McKenna missed a header at the back, and the X Factor finalist Quigg equalised for Banbridge.

Six minutes later Quigg scored his second of the match to put Banbridge into the lead. Matthew Taylor then brought the score level again, with a superb strike from outside the box, with the score now 2-2 after just 31 minutes of action. In the 65th minute, Adam Brown floated a lovely ball over the top of the Banbridge defence, which Rory Patterson got onto the end of and give the Writers the lead. Oisin Smyth then gave OTT FC some breathing space with a low driven shot from outside the box, finding its way into the bottom right corner with ten minutes to go. Kyle Mackie then made it 5-2 in the 91st minute, sending OTT FC into the second round.

The draw for the second round of the Bet McLean League Cup was made and we were handed a very difficult tie against Dungannon Swifts. We do have the home advantage, but it will be a huge ask to pull off the shock win.

I decided to bring in another centre-back to bolster the squad. Shane Boyle joins on loan from Institute.

The first league game of the season was against Bangor. The only change in the starting XI was Shane Boyle coming into the defence to replace Michael McKenna. Oisin Smyth scored the opening goal of the match in the 27th minute, the only goal of the first half. Timmy O’Hare scored the equaliser for Bangor in the 59th minute, to make the score 1-1. Rory Patterson then gave the Writers the lead again in the 67th minute. This was the final goal of the match, with OTT FC running out 2-1 winners, being placed second in the league behind Armagh.

As we beat Bangor, we received a reward of £45, this is something we will get for every win. We also sold 25 season tickets for this season, five more than last campaign. Before we played the big cup match against Dungannon Swifts, we faced Queen’s University, who are tipped to be promotion candidates.

Eoin Crawford gave the students the lead after only four minutes before Ronan Young doubled their lead after only seven minutes. In the 64th minute, Adam Brown got one back for the Writers, but it wasn’t enough as the students ran out 2-1 winners.

It was time for the big cup clash against Dungannon, and it only took four minutes to concede, with Conor McMenamin putting the Swifts into the lead. It was a spirited performance from the Writers for the rest of the half, with Dungannon going into the break with the marginal one-goal lead. Joe Gorman then extended the lead for the Swifts from the spot in the 71st minute. That was the final goal of the game, with OTT FC bowing out of the Bet McLean League Cup in the second round, meeting our objectives set by the board.

There was one final game in August which OTT FC won 2-1 against Moyola Park. Boyle and Taylor got the goals for the Writers, while Heavron scored for Moyola.

After this game, I made a couple of signings as it was transfer deadline day. Gareth Keenan joined from Queen’s University. Harry McIlwrath joins from Dromara and Jake Francis joins from Dungiven. Dylan Wilson also joins from Ards.

There were three matches during September. The results of these were as follows:

vs PSNI (A) 2-0 (PSNI Goals: McAllister 33’, Hutchinson 73’)

vs Banbridge (H) 3-1 (OTT Goals: Patterson 11’ 32’, Smith 34’) (Banbridge Goals: Quigg 54’)

vs Tobermore (A) 4-2 (Tobermore Goals: Thompson 7’ Monteiro 36’ Duffin 59’ Fegan 62’) (OTT Goals: Smith 32’ Arafa 44’)

So that brings to an end the second part of the second season. If you thought last season was a little too easy, then this season is definitely proving more difficult. I have faith in my squad, but I might have to alter my tactics as we struggle to adapt to a higher level. Having said that, we currently sit in fifth place on nine points, which isn’t awful given we lost half our games, with wins in the other three.

In the next part, I will be playing through a few more matches of the season, hoping to maybe round out the year, with there being no less than nine matches with the 1st Round of the Intermediate Cup and the 4th Round of the Irish Cup.