This week on OTT we continue with our series of previews on the upcoming Intermediate League seasons, and this week we head to the North West and the NI Intermediate League.
Reigning champions Strabane Athletic will be the early favourites to retain the title they won in style last season. Having added a number of new players to their squad, including the return of former players, defender Aaron O’Hagan and forward Conor Carlin, plus the likes of ex Ballinamallard midfielder Calvin McKinley and former Dungannon Swifts man Aaron Brennan, manager Eamon Curry will be looking to build on a great season on and off the pitch for the club.
Last season, Colm Cassidy’s Maiden City proved to be the season’s cup specialists by winning the Challenge Cup, League Cup and retaining the Craig Memorial Cup, while also reaching the fifth round of the Irish Cup. Cassidy’s side were Strabanes closest challengers for the title last season, and have also added a number of new players for the upcoming season, including full back Rhys McGahey, midfielder Dean Power and forward Mathew Doherty who all joined from Institute’s under 20 set up.
Newtownstewart based Ardstraw will be looking to improve on what was a poor season by their recent standards. With second-placed finishes in both of the previous two seasons under player-manager Ivan Sproule, his departure to Dergview certainly derailed the club for a spell, but they soon stabilised under new boss Nigel Boyd. Having secured the signature of talented former Rangers & Glentoran defender Kristian Gibson, and the return from Dergview of exciting young winger Lee McCullagh, the Vaughans Holm side will look to push on gain this season.
Newcomers to the league this season are Limavady side Newtowne. After spending 8 seasons in the Ballymena & Provincial Intermediate league, winning the top title on two occasions, the club have made the move to the NI Intermediate league. The club will be hoping to have the same impact as the last side that made that journey, Magherafelt Sky Blues, who won the title in 2017/18 in their first season after leaving the BPIL.
The Sky Blues had enjoyed an excellent start to their title defence last season, before Strabane secured the title, and will be looking to return to the summit this season. Newbuildings, meanwhile, had a very good season, finishing third in the league and also reaching the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup. The club have added some talented players to their ranks this summer including former 1st Bangor player Karl Stanfield.
At the foot of the table, Dungiven Celtic, Trojans and Oxford United Stars all had league seasons to forget, but with all three clubs having burgeoning youth setups, they will continue to give chances in senior football for their young talent while also looking to have an impact across the league campaign.