This week on OTT we continue with our series of previews on the upcoming Intermediate League seasons, and this week we head to Mid Ulster.
The Mid Ulster Intermediate A division kicked off on Saturday, and the season began with something of a shock result as league champions Hanover fell to a 4-1 defeat against Windmill Stars. Hanover did the double over the Newry men last season and were going into the season as one of the favourites for the title.
Stephen Hyndes men are made of stern stuff these days and will be looking to bounce back with a doubleheader of home games this week, Fivemiletown United coming to Brownstown on Tuesday night, followed by Bourneview Mill on Saturday.
Windmill Stars, meanwhile, will be looking to build on this win and their 4th placed finish last year. They have brought in a number of talented local players including former Newry pair Mark Lowy & Neill Barr plus ex Camlough centre half Barry McAteer.
The side who ran Hanover closest to the title last season, Crewe United, will be many peoples picks as the league winners come the end of the season. Eamon McCarthy’s men may have fallen short last year, but a further influx of players this summer will boost their prospects for the new year.
Incoming players include Ballyclare Comrades captain Dean Youle, prolific former Crumlin Star frontman Ciaran Murphy and ex-Distillery linchpin Joe McDonnell are among those added to the ranks. The Crewe Park side were comprehensive winners in the opening weekend, with Tandragee Rovers on the wrong end of a 7-0 scoreline, as McCarthy’s men laid down a marker for the new season.
Matching that scoreline were Intermediate A new boys Rectory Rangers, their 7-0 win coming away to Richhill AFC. Managing Rectory this season will be former Hill Street duo Tim Dillon & Davy Wilson, and Rangers have also been busy in the transfer market, adding former Loughgall midfielder Brian Pentland, plus a number of their former Hill Street players including Andy Kind & Jay Gardiner.
Another new arrival in Intermediate A is Oxford Sunnyside, who won the Intermediate B title last season ahead of Rectory Rangers. Nathan Finlay and Andrew McAlinden made the move from Knockramer Park co-tenants Lurgan Celtic to Sunnyside this summer, and they got off to a fine start, securing a 1-0 win away to Bourneview Mill.
Fivemiletown United are, by quite some distance, the furthest club west in the Mid Ulster league giving them a number of long away days. Manager Raymond Clarke has moved to strengthen the Valley men with the addition of Monaghan Town player Connor Callen, defender Peter Clarke from Ballinamallard United plus the well-travelled former Dungannon and Ballinamallard goalkeeper, Barbados international Alvin Rouse.
Richhill AFC, meanwhile, had a progressive season last year and have added a number of returning players including Dan Rayner and Paul Greenaway, and will look to bounce back from their opening day defeat.
Another side who have had an active transfer window was Ballymacash Rangers. Former Linfield & Crusaders midfielder Michael Gault was announced as the new manager early in pre-season and he set about reshaping the squad with the arrivals of a number of former Irish League players.
Former Linfield defender David Armstrong followed a long family tradition when he signed for his local club from Dungannon Swifts. Davids father, cousin and two uncles have all played for the club on his doorstep, and he continues the trend. Joining Armstrong are fellow ex Linfield men Conor Hagan & Tim Mouncey, plus Dundela midfielder Matty Parker.
Moneyslane boss Dan Thornton saw his side finish the season in 5th spot, and at the start of the summer break the club pulled off a bit of a coup, announcing the signing of former Linfield frontman Mark Miskimmin. However, within a matter of weeks, Miskimmin was on the move, back to his former club 18th Newtownabbey where he became player/manager again. Thornton did bring in his ex Downshire goalkeeper Adam Johnston, Rathfriland midfielder Ryan Sloane plus former Dungannon fullback Adam Campbell.
Banbridge Rangers also had an excellent season, finishing 3rd and winning the Marshall Cup with a 2-0 win over Valley Rangers. Manager Ally Wilson has added former Glenavon fullback Rhys Kelly, along with Rathfriland utility player Johnny Black and Valley Rangers prolific striker Lee Newell.
Valley Rangers began the summer with something of a shock as manager Richard Forsythe stood down following a highly successful eight-year spell in charge. Forsythe and his team oversaw an Intermediate B championship win, a Marshall Cup and a Premier Cup, plus a number of other cup finals. The club also finished as runners up in Intermediate A in 2016 and 2017. The club then named their successful reserve team manager Daryl Parke as his successor, and he promoted his management team of Matthew Newell, David McKee and Richard Hanna.
At the bottom end of the table, Bourneview will be looking to improve on an up and down season this term. To that end, the Pepperton Park manager Mark Jackson has brought back former players Adam Hylands and Simon Smyth plus new signings Robbie Murray, Ross Wilson & Scott Rae.
Meanwhile, Laurelvale and Tandragee Rovers will be looking to build on their campaigns, with the former staging a fantastic run of form at the end of the season to stave off relegation, while Rovers had a fairly inconsistent season all round.