WITH the Carnbane League season just around the corner, we have assessed each team’s prospects for the year ahead.
The new campaign gives a renewed sense of optimism for many local sides, while for reigning Premier Division champions Cleary Celtic, it’s an opportunity to re-affirm their status as the league’s top side.
The Hoops got their hands on the league trophy last season for the first time in 24 years and their manager Chris Murphy will be pulling out all the stops to retain their crown. And with a plethora of talent at the club, most notably 2017/18 Carnbane Player of the Year and top goalscorer Neil Barr, who would be brave enough to bet against them?
Cleary’s cross-town rivals Newry Celtic were well down the pecking order last time out, but an array of quality signings in pre-season, which include ex-Windmill Stars pair Caolan Gray and Josh McKeown, has helped instill a sense of belief within the club that this could be their year.
Last season’s Premier Division Runners Up, Villa Rovers, will hope to go one better this time around. The Villains have been labelled the nearly men of the Carnbane League in recent seasons, losing out in several cup finals and falling a little short in the business end of the league. But that said, the experience of these big occasions should stand Villa in good stead and they should be there or thereabouts again.
Millburn United, whose marquee signing of the summer was former Warrenpoint Town and Newry City striker Sean McMullan, could well pose a serious threat this season. Other quality sides such as Bessbrook United and last season’s First Division champions Rockview United could feature also.
Meanwhile, in the Carnbane second tier, there was disappointing news over the summer months that two clubs, due to compete in the Division, Ashgrove Rovers and Kilkeel Athletic, both folded.
Ashgrove, who in recent seasons were on the fringes of promotion to the Carnbane top flight, folded after eight seasons together, the highlight of which was when the club won the inaugural Sean Havern Memorial Cup in 2017.
While, long serving Carnbane side Kilkeel Athletic, managed by the larger than life character Dennis Rooney, shocked the Carnbane League fraternity in May, revealing on their Facebook page that after 47 years competing as a club, they were bowing out of local football.
The south Down side enjoyed great success in recent years, lifting the Division One title as recently as 2017. But after a tumultuous 2017/18 campaign, which saw the club relegated from the Premier Division, they decided to call it a day.
Hopefully, in the not so distant future, both Kilkeel and Ashgrove will be back, bigger and stronger than before.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though, as Carnbane welcomes a new club into its ranks this season, in Dunnaman FC, who will slot into the Division One league, which will comprise of nine teams.
The Mourne club are certainly no strangers to the local soccer scene, having competed at underage level in the Carnbane League in recent years, but this coming season will be their first as a senior side.
Perhaps the fresh emergence of talent at Dunnaman could spring a surprise in Division One this season? Only time will tell. But few would argue that, at the moment, the red hot favourites to annex the title look to be Parkview.
The Drumalane side narrowly lost out on promotion last term, finishing just two points off eventual winners Rockview United, and will be eager to put things right this year.
On paper, they surely boast the strongest squad in the Division. But as we all know football doesn’t always work that way, and the likes of Finn Harps, Greenfield Park and Crieve Rovers all have the credentials required for mounting a serious assault on the title themselves.
Have a read through our comprehensive guide into each club’s prospects for the season ahead and make up your own mind.
Manager: Shane McAllister.
In: Darren Bannon (Villa Rovers), Niall Carr & Martin Marron (Newry City), Sean McCartan & Sean McNally (Warrenpoint Town), Daire Millar & Niall Cunningham.
Out: Liam Evans (Finn Harps).
Key Player: Conor Garvey.
BALLYBOT UNITED chairman Damian Tumilty told the Democrat he is optimistic about the new season, following the addition of a number of quality players in the transfer window. The Bot were limited to a small squad and struggled to field at times last season, but should have no such problems this time around.
The club warded off the overtures of several clubs to retain the services of left back David Murphy and have also done well to re-sign Mayobridge GAA men Kevin O’Rourke and Caolan Gallagher, while Liam Evans is the only member of last season’s squad who has moved on.
Manager: Deaglan Bradley.
In: Ruairi White, Patrick Quinn & Seamus Loughran.
Out: Tiarnan Rushe (Newry City AFC) & Daniel Devlin (Windmill Stars).
Key Player: Tony Havern.
SURIVIVAL is the primary aim of Ballyholland boss Deaglan Bradley this season.
Bradley exceeded all expectations to guide Ballyholland to promotion last time out in their inaugural 2017/18 season, but survival in the top flight this year will be an achievement in itself, particularly as the club must quickly adopt to life without star man Tiarnan Rushe, who has re-joined Newry City AFC.
Manager: Gareth Hughes
In: Mark Patton (Windmill Stars), Ciaran Feehan (Newry City), Ryan McIlroy.
Key Player: Karl McVerry.
BOOSTED by the fact that club legend Gareth Hughes has committed himself to the managerial hot seat for another season, Bessbrook United will try to build on last year’s Bessbrook Cup triumph, which was the club’s first major trophy success in several years.
All of last season’s squad have committed themselves once more, including key players Karl McVerry, Tom Patton and Lee Fallon, while the versatile Mark Patton has returned to the ‘Brook fold, after spells with Newry City and Windmill Stars.
Manager: Chris Murphy.
In: Brian Bird (Rathfriland FC), Niall McCann (Crieve Rovers), Gary Fitzmaurice (Sydney FC).
Out: Chris McCormack (Killeavy United) & Paul Donegan (Retired).
Key Player: Neil Barr.
CLEARY CELTIC will look to pick up where they left off last season. The Celts were crowned league champions after a glorious 2017/18 campaign and capped off a terrific year with victory in the AOH Cup final.
Big things are expected from Cleary again this year, particularly with the news that talented midfielder Gary Fitzmaurice has re-joined the club following a spell living in Australia, while the skilful Adam Higgins is also back in the green and white hoops after suffering a serious leg break in the early stages of last season.
Cleary boss Chris Murphy has signed Brian Bird and Niall McCann from Rathfriland and Crieve Rovers respectively. But perhaps Murphy’s best bit of business in pre-season was holding onto much sought after talisman and goal-scoring machine Neil Barr.
Manager: Paddy McCann.
In: Chris McCormack (Cleary Celtic), Aaron Boyle, Conor & Niall Magennis.
Key Player: Anthony O’Hare
KILLEAVY UNITED manager Paddy McCann is delighted to welcome back long term injury absentees, Jason Long, Paddy Morgan, Raymond Teggart in pre-season, while he is hopeful that Darran McConville, Ciaran Duffy and Paddy Rooney will recover from their injury setbacks in the coming months.
On the transfer front, McCann has drafted in ex-Dundalk youth player Aaron Boyle and identical twins Conor and Niall Magennis, who have all impressed in pre-season and add a much needed injection of youth, to what is an ageing squad. The Killeavy boss has also been further boosted with the news that three time Carnbane League Player of the Year Anthony O’Hare has committed himself fully to the cause this year. Lethal marksman O’Hare was unavailable for much of last season, but his return to the team on a weekly basis will be a crucial factor in the south Armagh men's chances of success this season.
Manager: Conor Fegan.
In: Sean McMullan (Windmill Stars), Sean Gorman, Barry Lawless & Chris Hughes (All Rossowen), Conor D’arcy & Aaron Magee.
Key Player: Sean McMullan.
EX-WINDMILL STARS’ first team coach Conor Fegan has taken over the reins of Millburn United this season and will be assisted by Alan Binks and Ciaran McGivern.
Fegan has completed some shrewd acquisitions in the transfer market, the pick of which is undoubtedly much sought after striker Sean McMullan. The ex-Irish League star is now in the twilight of his career, but still possesses a lethal finishing ability in front of goal and should prove a great asset to Millburn this season. Other signings of note, include the vastly talented Sean Gorman from Rossowen, and Warrenpoint GAA goalkeeper Conor D’arcy, while Fegan has also done well to keep hold of 2015/16 Carnbane League Player of the Year David O’Connor.
Expectations are at an all time high this season for Millburn, and a top four finish would represent a good season for the Burren outfit, although with an abundance of quality at his disposal, Fegan may well have more lofty ambitions in mind.
Manager: Ciaran McDevitt.
In: Paul O’Rourke & Josh McKeown (Camlough Rovers), PJ Quigley & Caolan Gray (Windmill Stars), Gavin Moan (Tandragee Rovers), Brian Dillon (Ashgrove Rovers).
Out: Bryan Magill.
Key Player: Caolan Gray.
NEWRY CELTIC will be keen to make amends for a largely disappointing 2017-18 season, by contending for the league title and making a much bigger impact in the various cup competitions. Hoops’ manager Ciaran McDevitt has added a host of talented players to his squad in recent weeks, including the free-scoring Caolan Gray from Windmill Stars and resolute defender Gavin Moan, who was previously with Tandragee Rovers. These new recruits should help see the Celts back challenging for major honours this season.
Manager: Philly McCorry.
In: CJ Barr (Villa Rovers), Stephen McCabe (Newry City AFC), Jamie Barr (Ballybot United), Micky Maguire (Finn Harps), Adrian Barry & Sean McCabe.
Out: Sean Havern (Camlough Rovers), Patrick Kavanagh (Villa Rovers), Gavin McNally & David Henry.
Key Player: Cathal McGlade.
ROCKVIEW UNITED hope to continue their meteoric rise in recent seasons under the tutelage of Philly McCorry, who guided the Church Street men to the Division One title in a glorious 2017/18 campaign.
McCorry's priority this year is to establish the club in the Premier Division. He looks to possess enough quality in his squad to contend for honours, although much will depend on how quickly the club's new signings can bed into the team.
Joint-Managers: Raymond McDonald, Dennis Rooney & Sean Fearon
In: Conor Cole, Kevin Maxwell, Aaron Rooney (All formerly of Kilkeel Athletic), Adrian Cousins (Dundrum), Conor Fegan (Dromara)
Out: Sean Gorman, Barry Lawless & Chris Hughes (Millburn United)
Key Player: Shaun Parr
ROSSOWEN FC, who formed just over a year ago through the amalgamation of former Carnbane League clubs Killowen Celtic and Rostrevor Rovers, performed admirably in the club’s inaugural season in 2017/18, finishing the campaign in third place, albeit 16 points adrift of eventual league winners Cleary Celtic.
Former Kilkeel Athletic manager Dennis Rooney has joined the club and will be a welcome addition to the senior team management set up, while five new players have also been drafted into the squad. But Rossowen will be without three of last season’s key men, in Sean Gorman, Barry Lawless and Chris Hughes, who have all jumped ship for Millburn United and are a big loss to the club.
Rossowen, perhaps, look a wee bit short to challenge for league honours, but the Rostrevor based side will be buoyed by their Mary Markey Cup final win last week against a strong Villa Rovers outfit, and will be quietly optimistic about their chances of picking up more silverware in the season ahead.
Manager: Mark Lennon (Player/Manager).
In: Aaron Devlin (Windmill Stars), Patrick Kavanagh (Rockview United), Simon Hollywood (Crieve Rovers).
Out: CJ Barr (Rockview United), Mattie Bagnall (Windmill Stars), Gavin Thornton (Retired), Darren Bannon (Ballybot United).
Key Player: Paul Daly.
VILLA ROVERS Player/Manager Mark Lennon has recruited the services of up and coming youngster Aaron Devlin, formerly of Warrenpoint Town youth and Windmill Stars.
The skilful Simon Hollywood has also joined the club, following a spell at Crieve Rovers; Patrick Kavanagh has re-joined the side after a stint with Rockview United, while central defender Darren Magill has recovered from injury and has impressed with stellar performances in pre-season.
Although the loss of box to box midfielder Mattie Bagnall to Windmill Stars and goalkeeper CJ Barr to Rockview will be a tough void for Lennon to fill.
The Villains will be hoping for another sustained title challenge this season, while the club will be keen to pick up some silverware in the cup competitions also.
Manager: Conor McCutcheon
In: Matthew McCartney, Damian Campbell, Reece McCann, John Fitzpatrick, Turlough Marks, David McCabe, Edgar Staugas
Out: Jordan Mackey (Windmill Stars), Simon Hollywood (Villa Rovers), Niall McCann (Cleary Celtic)
Key Player: Niall Carr
CRIEVE ROVERS manager Conor McCutcheon will look to improve on last season’s mid table finish. It’s fair to say that the Church Street side’s form was erratic at times last year, but the club did play some super football to reach the final of the Sean Havern Memorial Cup.
Going forward, McCutcheon will have to make do without the services of three of the club’s top performers from last season in Jordan Mackey, Simon Hollywood and Niall McCann, who have all moved onto pastures new.
The Crieve tactician has signed over half a dozen new players, but only time will tell whether they possess enough quality to push McCutcheon’s side towards the promotion places.
Manager: Ryan McMillan
Key Player: Corey McCormack
DUNNAMAN FC are a Mourne based club and will compete in the senior ranks of the Carnbane League this season for the first time in the club’s short history. Formed just two years ago, Dunnaman currently have a total of five teams competing across various age groups in Newry grassroots, Mid Ulster and the Carnbane League. The club’s honours to date include the 2016/17 U-14 Carnbane League & Cup and the 2017/18 U16 Mid-Ulster League.
Players of note at Dunnaman include former Kilkeel Athletic central defender Christy Mulligan, who will captain the side this season, promising young striker Corey McCormack and former Down GAA goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh.
The club play their home fixtures at the Esplanade in Kilkeel.
Manager: Paul Kennedy
In: Paudy Carville & Liam Evans (Ballybot United), Barry McCoy (Silverwood), Jake Kinney (Warrenpoint Town), Turlough Hunter & Ryan Evans (Ashgrove Rovers), Niall Coleman & Connor Carroll
Out: Michael Maguire (Rockview United)
Key Player: Turlough Hunter.
FINN HARPS finished rock bottom of Premier Division last term and will hope to can bounce back at the first time of asking this year.
Paul Kennedy has returned to manage the side and has added no less than eight new faces to his panel in pre-season, including father and son, Liam and Ryan Evans, ex-Barcroft and Ballybot 'keeper Paudy Carville and former Ashgrove Rovers hitman Turlough Hunter.
Harps look to possess enough quality this season to challenge for promotion, and with more signings likely to follow this week, the future is looking bright for the Abbey Grammar based team.
Manager: Paul McLoughlin.
In: Brendan O’Hare (Derrybeg), Ruairi Maguiness & Lee Treanor.
Key Player: Mark Byrne.
GRASSHOPPERS manager Paul McLoughlin has retained the services of last season’s best performers Stephen Hankin, Mark Byrne and Kieran Slim, which should see the club consolidate their mid table finish.
Manager: Antony Harkin.
In: Craig Brown (Parkview), Stephen Hughes, Kenny Murphy, Niall Little, Mark McGahan
Key Player: Davy Bagnall
GREENFIELD PARK striker Stephen Hughes has returned to training, following a long term injury, which is a major boost to the Estate side ahead of the new season. Hughes is likely to partner Conor Kearns in attack, which should enable Greenfield to get back challenging for promotion.
New signings in pre-season include midfielder Craig Brown from Parkview, veteran defender Kenny Murphy, Dromintee native Niall Little and Mark McGahan.
Manager: Michael McShane.
In: James Gallagher & Oisin Byrne.
Key Player: Jamie O’Connor
MOURNE ATHLETIC are embarking on their third year competing in the Carnbane League and will look to improve on last season’s showing, when the club finished in the lower echelons of the Division One league table.
Mourne’s manager Michael McShane has retained all of his squad from last season, including star player Jamie O’Connor. While McShane has also drafted in two new fresh faces, in a bid to increase competition for places in the team, with Oisin Byrne and James Gallagher signing for the club, the latter who has just returned home, following a period living in America.
Joint-managers: Decky Larkin & Gary McKeown.
In: Gavin Collins, Gary McLoughlin, Stephen Entwistle (All Ashgrove Rovers), Liam McCartan
Out: Craig Brown (Greenfield Park).
Key Player: Gary McKeown.
LONG serving Parkview manager Micky Gorman stepped down from his position at the helm of the club at the end of last season, after 27 years managing the Drumalane based side. Big Micky won just about every honour the local game has to offer, and felt the time was right to hand the reins over to someone new.
This season the club will be co-managed by Gary McKeown and fellow Parkview legend Decky Larkin, with Gary combining his playing role with his managerial duties.
The pair have wasted little time in bolstering their squad in pre-season, adding three players from the now defunct Ashgrove Rovers and also former Windmill Stars ace Liam McCartan to their squad. While the Rumour Mill is in overdrive that Decky Larkin’s younger brother Conor, formerly of Newry City, Glenavon and Rathfriland FC, is on the verge of signing for the club also.
These new additions, combined with the re-signing of all of last year key players such as Packy Higgins, Chris Tierney and Chris McCaul, undoubtedly make Parkview the team to beat this year in Division One.
Cartwheel United and Derrybeg could not be contacted at the time of going to press, but we look forward to seeing them compete this season and wish them the best of luck for the year ahead.