Intermediate football returned this weekend with three of the four leagues kicking off their 2018/19 campaigns.
In Mid Ulster, with reigning champions Dollingstown returning to the Premier Intermediate League, their title rivals last year will be going all out to succeed them as Intermediate champions, and with that the chance to compete in the third tier.
Last seasons runners up, Banbridge Rangers, have seen a change in manager over the close season as their former player Clifford Sterritt took the reins from Lee Feeney. Sterritt was a League title and Alan Wilson Cup winner during his previous spell at the club, before going on to manage Rathfriland to the NAFL 1A title in 2016.
Sterritt has added more quality to the Rangers ranks in the shape of former Portadown & Crusaders midfielder Matty Hazley, along with Dean Spence, Peter Smyth & Paul Greenaway, players loaded with experience at this level and above. Rangers got their title challenge started with a 1-1 draw against Hanover at Cheney Park.
They followed this up on Tuesday night with another draw, 2-2 away at Jubilee Park where Moneyslane grabbed a late, late equaliser to snatch away the win.
Crewe United finished last season in third place, but this summer has seen wholesale changes at Crewe Park. Manager Peter Kennedy has moved on to be part of Gary Hamiltons backroom team at Glenavon, and he was replaced by former Newington YC manager Eamonn McCarthy.
McCarthy was a young player at Crewe before going on to put together a formidable team at Newington which dominated the Amateur League Premier section for many years before establishing their status as an Irish League side.
Crewe then signed on a raft of players with huge top-flight experience, adding former Cliftonville trio Keith O’Connor, Ronan & Chris Scannell to their backroom and playing staff, along with the likes of Stephen Curley, Darren McNamee & Gary Rafferty.
But the icing on the cake came when another former Reds player, George McMullan, was tempted out of retirement by McCarthy and the Solitude legend, who was a double title-winning captain at the Reds, will bring another level of experience and talent to the Crewe squad this season.
Crewe certainly laid down the gauntlet to their challengers with a thumping 7-2 win away at AFC Silverwood with McMullan pulling the strings as they cruised to victory. They followed that with a 3-1 away win at Ballymacash Rangers. At a ground they have found notoriously difficult to win at over the years, they fell behind to a penalty before fighting back to make it six points out of six.
Meanwhile, Windmill Stars have appointed their new management team of Damien Hillen & Dessie Gorman, and attracted a number of top quality players along with them, including former Newry City pair Timmy Grant and Chris McMahon. They too had an solid opening day win, seeing off new boys Laurelvale 1-0 away from home. On Tuesday night they had a fantastic 7-1 win away to Valley Rangers as they also made it six from six.
Onto the NAFL now, where reigning Champions Crumlin Star will be looking to make it three titles in a row and they got off to a great start, defeating last seasons nearest challengers Rathfriland 3-0 to lay down a marker for the new campaign. They made it two wins from two with a 2-1 home win over Drumaness Mills on Wednesday night.
Another former Cliftonville midfielder, Ciaran Caldwell, has also made the move into Intermediate football, this time as player/manager of Crumlin United. The 28-year-old has had a baptism of fire in the hot seat though, as his side fell to a 1-0 opening day defeat to Premier Section new boys Islandmagee at Wilbourne Park, before losing 3-0 at 1st Bangor on Tuesday.
Albert Foundry have bolstered their ranks this summer with some talented former Irish League players, such as Jonny Dallas and Adam Doyle, while Shankill United have appointed former Crusaders defender Gareth McKeown as manager. McKeown has appointed Mark Picking as his assistant and also brought in the likes of Marcus Beattie and Scott Nixon.
Both sides got off to a great start, Foundry seeing off Downpatrick 4-0 at Paisley Park, while McKeowns men travelled to Drome Park and secured a 2-0 victory over Ards Rangers. They had contrasting fortunes in their midweek encounters though, with Foundry drawing 1-1 with Ards Rangers and McKeowns men falling 2-1 at East Park.
Moving across to the other side of the city now, East Belfast had an excellent first season in the top flight last year, and they have added sensibly to their squad, alongside the established players who had a great season last year. They got their title tilt off to a flyer with a 3-0 home win over newly promoted Ballynahinch Olympic, before the aformentioned win over Shankill Utd.
The BPIL also kicked off but with only two games this weekend. St.James Swifts have been the talk of the division this summer, adding a number of former Irish League players to their ranks, while also taking permanent home at Donegal Celtic Park. They were on the road to reigning champions Glebe Rangers, and came back down the road with an impressive 5-2 victory.
Bangor were pipped to the post by Glebe last season and are looking to go one better this season. They got off to a great start of their own, seeing off Desertmartin 4-2 at Clandeboye.
Mid Ulster League Intermediate Division A
|8||St Marys YC||2||1||0||1||4||6||-2||3|
St Marys YC 1-4 Valley Rangers
AFC Silverwood 2-7 Crewe United
Ballymacash Rangers 1-6 Moneyslane
Banbridge Rangers 1-1 Hanover
Fivemiletown United 1-0 Bourneview Mill
Laurelvale 0-1 Windmill Stars
Richhill 3-0 Tandragee Rovers
Ballymacash Rangers 1 – 3 Crewe United
Laurelvale 1 – 5 Hanover
Moneyslane 2 – 2 Banbridge Rangers
Richhill AFC 3 – 1 Bourneview Mill
St Marys 3 – 2 Fivemiletown United
Tandragee Rovers 3 – 0 AFC Silverwood
Valley Rangers 1 – 7 Windmill Stars
Northern Amateur Football League
|1||1st Bangor Old Boys||2||2||0||0||6||1||5||6|
|4||Albert Foundry F.C.||2||1||1||0||5||1||4||4|
|8||Derriaghy C C||2||0||1||1||2||3||-1||1|
Crumlin Star 3-0 Rathfriland Rangers
1st Bangor Old Boys 3-1 Drumaness Mills
Immaculata F.C. 1-0 Derriaghy C C
East Belfast 3-0 Ballynahinch Olympic
Islandmagee 1-0 Crumlin United
Ards Rangers 0-2 Shankill United
Albert Foundry F.C. 4-0 Downpatrick F.C.
1st Bangor Old Boys 3-0 Crumlin United
Islandmagee 4-4 Ballynahinch Olympic
Rathfriland Rangers 2-2 Derriaghy C C
Ards Rangers 1-1 Albert Foundry F.C
East Belfast 2-1 Shankill United
Crumlin Star 2-1 Drumaness Mills
Ballymena & Provincial Intermediate League
|1||St James Swifts||1||1||0||0||5||2||3||3|
|3||Ballynure Old Boys||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
Bangor 4-2 Desertmartin
Glebe Rangers 2-5 St James Swifts