All four sections of the Armagh All County Leagues will swing into action on Sunday with, for the first time, Clann Éireann lining out two senior teams .
The Clanns will field their first string in Division Two with their Seconds playing in the Armagh Junior League.
In Division One North Armagh sides Sarsfields, Annaghmore, Tir na Nog and Maghery will all be in action but there is little doubt the forthcoming Division 2 campaign will be highly competitive.
Eire Og, Clan na Gael, St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s, Wolfe Tones, and Clann Eireann will all be pushing for honours along with sides like Culloville, Silverbridge and Forkhill who were impressive in securing promotion last season.
The huge amount of local derbies have been the main talking points for the fans leading up to the start of the season, and with the newly introduced Championship format presenting clubs with a second chance through a Qualifiers System, unlike with previous years managers will have the luxury of planning for a sustained campaign.
In 2013 Clan na Gael, who had finished in third place in the second flight, lost out on promotion, a scenario which saw Madden who finished in fourth spot take their place in the top flight to help align the new Championship structures.
In Division 2 it would appear that the title rests between Culloville, St. Peter’s, Clann Eireann and Clan na Gael and St. Paul’s. While Wolfe Tones couldn’t be ruled out, their mid table position at the end of last season could be mimicked this year.
This week the Mail spoke to three of the personalities of the local club scene.
Shane McConville is currently managing St. Paul’s, Mark Beattie is player manager at Clann Eireann and St. Peter’s man Collie Keegan had been in charge of the whites until stepping down at the end of last season. Here are their views
Collie Keegan, St. Peter’s
“Our new manager Declan McCoy would appear to have the lads ticking over well as the season approaches. Last year we lost games by very narrow margins which may stand by us this year. Again a lot would depend on the availability of our County players Niall McConville and Aaron Findon and the period before Armagh play Cavan in early June will no doubt shape the leagues for the rest of the season,making predictions for the Second Division is no easy task, but I believe that Culloville, Clann Eireann and ourselves will be there or there abouts at the business end of things. Predicting a winner would be a lot harder but it should be a fascinating season.”
Shane McConville St. Paul’s
“There is an excitement about this seasons second division campaign, a lot would depend on away form. All of the local sides will be doubly motivated and will take points from each other and you could see a team like Culloville finishing top of the pile. As for St. Paul’s we can only look as far ahead as our opening game against Clan na Gael and they will be no different. I can see St. Peter’s having a good season, they seem to have a good shape about them and would be contenders. Clan na Gael and Clann Eireann will be tough and teams like Silverbridge won’t be far away. Culloville, who can bring their first Division experience to the fore would be the favourites, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this particular division being decided on the final round of games.”
Mark Beattie Clann Eireann
“Predicting the winners of the Second Division would be like looking for a needle in a haystack, but I believe the three teams who dropped down from Division 1 will have the final say. Culloville, St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s are my teams to come out on top but a shock couldn’t be ruled out. You have progressive teams like Grange and a young Silverbridge team fresh from winning a County Minor title certain to improve. Off course a lot depends on the fortunes of Armagh this season if a County player is missing from any of the Second Division teams it would be a huge blow. I think Wolfe Tones will be hard to beat and the clubs will certainly benefit this year from the bigger gates at the derby games. For me it’s Culloville for the title with possibly St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s running them close.
While some Championship traditionalists would be unhappy with the fact this years series has moved away from its knock out format, the back door qualifier system coupled with a workable league structure has revamped the face of Club football in a positive fashion.
Crossmaglen may feel they have a lot to prove and could win the First Division in convincing style this year.
Division 2 could be a minefield, several teams wold have aspirations of winning the title and the relegation issues will be no less hard fought. Although Armagh boss Paul Grimley in previous years has been fairly relaxed on releasing county players into club action, this season considering the huge amount of injuries his hand could be forced which would have an impact on the fortunes of teams like Grange, St. Peter’s, Clann na Gael, St. Paul’s, Wolfe Tones and Mullaghbawn.
Clann Eireann however will have a free run to plan with a great deal more certainty.Ryan Henderson is expected back from injury soon and the Lake Street men have enough young talent to make a major impression this season.
Last year they recovered from a horrible start to show their class in the Championship.
St. Peter’s will also have a big say this year and Clan na Gael will have aspirations of finishing in the top three.
While Culloville will possibly start as favourites, in the hope that the prediction hasn’t been made a year premature, the Mail Verdict is Clann Eireann.