The Northern Amateur League season came to an end with Immaculata’s Clarence Cup final win last week, but for East Antrim clubs 2014-15 was far from a vintage campaign.This week, we look back on the year gone by for our local sides.
In what turned out to be Stephen Donald’s last year in charge of the Islanders, there wasn’t much to write home about for the Wilbourne Park men.
Just as they did in the previous season, the Premier League side finished eighth in the table. They were three points shy of their 2013-14 tally of 34 but, worryingly, they shipped in 20 more goals.
In the Clarence Cup, a competition they won as a 1A team in 2008, they got as far as the second round when they fell to a 2-1 defeat to Malachians. The 6-0 demolition of Comber Rec in round two of the Steel and Sons set up the visit of Donegal Celtic. But the west Belfast edged to a 2-1 success to send the East Antrim boys out.
The defining moment of the club’s campaign came not on the pitch but off it when, just last week, Donald called it quits after eight years at the helm. He’s off to Wellington Rec and star men Michael Moore, Andy Waide, Christ Morton and Gary Workman are set to join him.
Key player: Michael Moore.
Placing: 8th, Premier Division
The previous season Nortel were still in with a chance of winning the Premier Division going into the last week, until two late goals at Drumaness saw them slip to fifth. Manager Paul Foy resigned heralding the return Ricky Beggs.
With quite a few new recruits, there was initial success. They were unbeaten in the league until defeat to Kilmore in mid-October. Seven successive league defeats followed before their next win against Ardglass in February with Lee McCartney in the hot-seat.
The return of players such as Jordan Clarke, Dale Fenner and Kris Malone (back from injury) gave some impetus in the run-in although McCartney insisted a key fixture would be away to Shankill United which Nortel won 2-0 to finish third-bottom.
Key player: Davy Freyne.
Placing: 12th, Premier Division
Larne Tech OB
It turned out to be a reasonable season for Larne Tech, albeit showing too much inconsistency to mount a realistic promotion challenge.
But for the postal delay over the Easter holidays, they would have gained an additional two points from their protest against Rathfriland Rangers, which would have lifted them up to fourth, or joint-third, while still 10 points adrift of second-placed Crumlin United.
It’s a higher points tally than the previous campaign, but bear in mind that in 2013/14 the Tech were docked nine points from their abandoned game against Immaculata.
Key player: Niall McAllister.
Placing: 6th, Division 1A
The big relief for Barn United is, basically, that they stayed up, finishing third-from-bottom in what was surely the most evenly-matched and competitive Division 1A ever.
Barn ultimately owed their survival to the three points claimed back from a 1-0 defeat away to Crumlin United, who had fielded an ineligible player.
But for that, United would have gone down, although just one win in their last eight games didn’t help their cause.
United also lost their assistant-manager Robert McKee to Larne Olympic and there should be news of his successor in the coming weeks.
Key player: Stephen Brennan.
Placing: 12th, Division 1A
There was disappointment for UUJ who ended up bottom of Division 1a, although 25 points would normally have been enough to have steered them clear of the dropzone.
The students finished off with three straight defeats - two of them against a Downpatrick side striving for the points to clinch the title.
However, the real damage was done with six consecutive losses at the start of the campaign.
Manager Steven McIvor left the club to be replaced by Shane McCullough who almost turned things around before resigning himself at the end of the campaign.
Key player: Padraig Scollay.
Placing: Bottom Division 1A
Wellington Rec finished second-bottom of 1A the previous season and while the other relegated side, East Belfast, raced away with the 1b title, the Millbrook men finished 11th. They lost their last five games and registered a concerning goal difference of -40!
Granted, Wellington’s safety was already secure, although it was just as well they got off to a bright start, with three wins and a draw in their opening four games, under then-boss Graham McConnell.
McConnell left the club and was replaced by Aaron Boyd in a caretaker capacity, before he too departed, with Gary Morrow seeing them through the final couple of matches.
On a more positive note, Rec’s reserves finished second in 3c.
Better will be expected next season for the Firsts, after the appointment of ex-Islandmagee boss Stephen Donald.
Key player: Scott Todd.
Placing: 11th, Division 1B.
Rathfern Rangers finished one place lower than their previous campaign, and while this year’s top three really were in a league of their own, Bill Campbell’s side were in the next pack of four teams chasing fourth place.
In the end, Rangers were five points short, thanks largely to an inauspicious end to the campaign. They lost 8-2 at third-bottom Ballywalter at the end of February and from there, only gained two points from a possible 18.
Key player: Gary Orr.
Placing: 7th, Division 1B
Mossley rounded off the campaign on a high note with five straight wins, finishing in 7th slot, just four points away from fourth place.
Garry Campbell’s side will look back at costly dropped points against the likes of Saintfield and Dromore which effectively dented their promotion credentials in a season in which the top two of Colin Valley and Donard Hospital were always going to take some stopping.
Key player: Lee Graham
Placing: 7th, Division 1C
It was something of a topsy-turvy season for Newington Rangers – and that’s just in the managerial hot-seat!
Jamie McGarel took over during the summer, only to be replaced by Geordie Lynn in pre-season. Lynn, in turn, gave way to Stephen Holland who eventually stepped aside for Graham McConnell to see out the season in a caretaker capacity.
Key player: Jamie McGarel.
Placing: 11th, Division 1C
18th Newtownabbey OB
Kilroot Rec’s resignation from the Northern Amateur League could put 18th Newtownabbey Old Boys in a difficult position for, with 1c back to 14 clubs, there is a risk they might have to drop down into 2A.
Had Kilroot remained, 18th would have been safe, with only the bottom club relegated, and it was quite possible that it might have been one up and none down to have an even number of teams (16) in the division.
Goalscoring has been a problem for the Monkstown club, with only one in seven games after the departure of top gun Ross Miskimmin to neighbours Mossley FC. Eighteenth also finished with a goal difference of -40.
Having only really been holding the reins during his long injury lay-off, Michael Jamison has stepped down as manager, with Phil McMahon his likely successor.
Key player: Matthew Sellars
Placing: Bottom, Division 1C.
Divisions 2b & 2C
In Division 2B, Greenisland FC bouyed by the arrival of ex-Comrades captain Stuart McClean, finished sixth. Whitehead Eagles were second-bottom and Stephen King’s Grange Rangers were the basement club.
Down a rung, 4th Newtownabbey Old Boys were eighth of 10 teams and only managed two league wins all year. They shipped in 72 goals, scoring 21.