Today on OTT we complete our series of previews on the upcoming Intermediate League seasons, and today we head to the Northern Amateur Football League (NAFL)
Reigning champions Crumlin Star started the season as favourites to lift what would be their 4th successive NAFL crown, as they continued their dominance in the division last time out. Three titles on the bounce, plus a further four cup wins, undoubtedly makes the Ardoyne men the team to beat. Eleven goals scored and one conceded in their first two games underlines that point.
Ards Rangers are no strangers to the Premier Division title themselves, with their most recent title coming in the 2014/15 season. They have certainly laid down a marker for the new season with a thumping 8-0 win over Drumaness Mills at the weekend, with a host of new players making their mark. Ryan Newberry is a former NAFL Player of the Year, and title winner with Rangers, and he made a return to the club this summer. Manager Jackie Kerr also revamped his coaching set up, adding the experienced Mark Clougherty and Michael Davis to the club.
Last season East Belfast made a big impact in the division, while also hoovering up the prestigious Steel & Sons Cup following a 3-0 win over neighbours Sirocco in the festive finale. Having kept the majority of the squad together, including prolific marksman Danny McKee and tricky winger Stephen Cockcroft, the men from Inverary will be looking to push Star hard for the title this year.
Immaculata were the last team to win the Premier Division before the dominance of Crumlin Star, and they have been there or thereabouts in each of the following three seasons. A 5th place finish in 2017 has been followed by 4th and then 3rd spot, and the Mac men will be hoping that upward trajectory continues in the new season.
Last season, new boys Ballynahinch Olympic made a fantastic impact in their first season at Premier Division level, finishing in 4th spot and taking the Star to a penalty shootout in the festive Border Cup Final. Not far behind the Olympic were Rathfriland, as Aaron Black’s men kept up their record of competing at the top of the table in every season since their 1A title win in 2016. This summer has seen the loss of two big players for the Iveagh Park side, with prolific striker James Costello moving to Banbridge Town, while Jonny Roy also moves to Banbridge, in his case to Cheney Park and Mid Ulster side, Banbridge Rangers.
Islandmagee came up alongside Ballynahinch Olympic ahead of the 2018/19 season, and the Wilbourne Park side had a season of steady progression. The Islanders had had a rocky few seasons before that promotion campaign, with the managerial hot seat changing hands a number of times, and with that a steady turnover in players. But following the appointment of Stephen King, and latterly former Larne Olympic boss Robert McKee, the club has steadied the ship in the top flight. This season they will be under the charge of long-serving player, and club record goalscorer, Michael Moore and will be keen to build on the progress this year.
Shankill United and Crumlin United were both under the command of two Irish League stalwarts last season, in Gareth McKeown and Ciaran Caldwell respectively. The sides finished alongside each other in the table, but at the turn of the year, Shankill were in 2nd place while Crumlin United languished second from bottom. However, a change in fortunes for both seen them meet in the middle. McKeown has since moved on from the Hammer side, replaced by Brett Montgomery while Caldwell is still in situ at Mill Road.
1st Bangor Old Boys are another side who have overseen wholesale changes this summer. Former Bryansburn Rangers boss John Johnston replaced the outgoing TJ Young and set about restocking the playing staff following something of an exodus.
Last season former Linfield forward Mark Miskimmin was another ex Irish League player in charge in the NAFL Premier Division, at Derriaghy C.C. Miskimmin is now back in charge at his former club 18th Newtownabbey and has been replaced by a management team of Owen Forsythe, Jordan Baker and John Brown. The Seycon Park side picked up a very good win on Tuesday night with a 2-1 win at Ards Rangers.
Drumaness Mills avoided relegation by just 5 points last season and were on the receiving end of two heavy defeats in the first week of the new campaign. Following that 8-0 defeat to Ards Rangers, newly promoted Killyleagh eased to a 4-1 win on Tuesday night.
Larne Tech Old Boys and Killyleagh were the top two in last season Division 1A with the Tech coming up as champions with 59 points, and Killyleagh three points behind. LTOB boss Johnny Hastings also guided the Dennis Harvey Park side to the quarter-finals of last seasons Irish Cup before losing out to Warrenpoint, while Killyleagh boss Paul Sharvin has overseen a revival of the four times Premier Division champions, who had struggled in 1A since their relegation in 2015.