Tuesday 18 June 2019

Harps still have the hunger

Soccer, NEFL

PJ Murray

It's a new dawn for the North East Football League Premier Division this week as the new summer season kicks off after being emphatically voted in last May.

The motion, put forward by Duleek, was well backed by the clubs and following a short interim season in which Boyne Harps secured the title, 10 teams will battle it out for the honours.

There will be two automatic relegation spots and the third-from-bottom will face a play-off to retain their top-flight status, but hoping to be involved at the other end of the table are the defending champions Boyne Harps.

Their manager Wayne Wright insists there's plenty of drive to make a successful defence of their title.

'We won a sprint last year, now we want to see how we can go in the marathon,' remarked Wright, referring to his team's win across the shortened season.

The manner of Harps' triumph last season, when the title was secured on a day they weren't playing because nearest challengers Muirhevnamor failed to win their final fixture, was surreal, but Wright insists the club are looking to win it on their own terms this season.

They have bolstered their squad with the acquisition of former League of Ireland Player of the Year Killian Brennan and Wright is full of praise for the former St Pat's player.

'Since coming in he has slotted right in and it's as if he has been there for ages,' commented the manager.

Harps have also sourced some talent from other rival clubs to strengthen ahead of the season, and Brennan was in fact only their seventh signing of nine, with the possibility of one or two more.

The manager said all players are treated equally in the club and that they all buy into the idea of playing for the jersey, which is key in terms of creating a strong unit.

However, the United Park-based outfit will be without the services of Guy Bates for the majority of the season as the former Drogheda United striker underwent Achilles surgery last week.

The champions of the last full season, which concluded 12 months ago, Newfoundwell finished mid-table in the interim campaign and their manager Derek Kavanagh is hopeful they will be challenging towards the top despite losing a lot of players during the pre-season.

The additions of Sean Thornton and Gavin Brennan will certainly give 'The Well' some serious options in midfield.

'We've lost a few players to the GAA and Boyne Harps and other teams, but we have a strong team and we'll be looking to give it a real go this season,' Kavanagh insisted .

Ardee Celtic finished last season fourth from bottom and their manager John Flanagan would settle for a repeat performance as the move to a summer season has really weakened his hand.

'To be honest, it's had a big effect on our squad and we are a bit light on the ground at the moment, so it's going to be a tough season for us.

'With so many Gaelic clubs in our area a lot of lads have opted to play Gaelic football for the summer, which has had a big impact on us.

'I would be happy if we finished fourth from bottom this season. Every point is going to be precious.

'I think there will be two leagues in the division, the top four sides and then the rest battling at the bottom.'

While the manager is glad the season has moved to the summer, he understands that it might have been too late for Ardee. As it stands the highest level at underage they produce is Under-16s and he feels the club may have to take a step or two backwards before those kids are developed through to the senior team. But by no means is he raising the white flag before the season begins.

For newly-promoted side Square United, the new season will be a very different challenge for various reasons.

It's the first time in a long time that Ardee Celtic's neighbours have graced the top flight of the NEFL, and while their manager Tony Boyle is very much looking forward to the challenge, he remains realistic about the step up his team are set to make.

'It's unknown to us, and to be a little clichéd, we will take every game as it comes,' he started.

'We have a good mixture of young and old, we are hopeful we can do well and think we can do ok,' he added.

Square United went unbeaten in a promotion-clinching Division 1 season last year, at the end of which they finished second to Parkvilla by just three points.

Boyle said they haven't added too much to the squad from last year, but he has retained the core of the team and his aim is to make the team hard to beat,

'We hope every team who plays us this season knows they have had a game.'

Drogheda Independent