This week on OTT we begin a series of previews on the upcoming Intermediate League seasons. To kick things off we will return to the Ballymena & Provincial League, whose reigning champions, Bangor, secured promotion back into the Premier Intermediate League for the new season.
With Bangor now promoted, much of the early focus will fall on those sides who were the champion’s nearest challengers throughout last season; namely Glebe Rangers & St James Swifts.
Glebe Rangers went into last season as the championship holders and began the season in scintillating form as they looked to secure back to back titles. Glebe are currently celebrating their 30th anniversary and manager Jason Wilmont will no doubt be looking to keep their recent excellent record in the BPIL going and will certainly be one of the teams to beat.
St James have made a big impact right across the BPIL since joining two seasons ago, finishing third in both their seasons in Intermediate football. Last season the club added their reserve and thirds side to the league, with both sides winning their respective titles. The first team have brought in Packie McAllister and Barry Johnston as their management team and wasted no time in securing the signature of the much sought after Ryan Catney following his release from Cliftonville.
McAllister & Johnston made the move to St James following their departure from the relegated, and now rebranded Sport & Leisure Swifts. Now known as Belfast Celtic, the club are under the management of former Glentoran player Stephen McAlorum and former Donegal Celtic boss Paddy Kelly. They too have added some Irish League experience to their ranks, in former Glentoran midfielder Mark Clarke, who moves from near rivals St James Swifts, and former Portadown man Gary Warwick.
Another potential new arrival to the BPIL is Coleraine & District side Ballybogey FC. The social media rumour mill has linked the club with a move to Intermediate football this season, though their arrival has yet to be officially confirmed by the league. With a number of players in their ranks who know the BPIL well they could certainly have an impact should the move come to fruition.
Elsewhere, former BPIL champions Coagh United and Brantwood both enjoyed improved seasons last time out and will be looking to make their mark in the new campaign. Wakehurst had a solid first season back in football following a year out, while Chimney Corner enjoyed a progressive season with a talented young side, much like Cookstown Youth who continue to hold their own at Intermediate level.
Dunloy are always a side which have a say in the destination of the silverware, and they will also begin the season with a refreshed look on and off the pitch, with boss Aidan Doherty adding former Michelin manager Jason Connolly to his coaching team, along with a number of new players who should help the North Antrim men push on this season.
At the foot of the table, it is not yet clear whether Donegal Celtic will be competing in the Ballymena league this season. Despite the long term rumours that they were to become part of the Sport & Leisure/Belfast Celtic venture, this ended up not being the case and they had indicated that they would be part of the BPIL. Desertmartin, Cookstown RBL & Ballynure OB will also be hoping for a marked improvement in fortunes this season.