Chimney Corner boss Stephen Hatfield aims to push on in fight against relegation
With the news that two of the country's top non-league sides have applied for to join the Belfast Telegraph Championship, it seems likely there will be relegation from Championship Two this season.
However, perennial struggler’s Chimney Corner look set to avoid relegation once again due to a remarkable turn around in their fortunes.
Since the Championship was formed in 2008, the Antrim club have finished bottom of the league in each of the last five seasons.
In 2008/09 and 2009/10 they avoided the drop as the Championship was still expanding its membership, welcoming new clubs, based on their facilities, such as Sport & Leisure Swifts and Killymoon Rangers.
In 2010/11 and 2011/12 they avoided relegation as there were no suitable applicants for promotion, while in 2012/13 they were saved by Newry City, who went out of business at the start of the season.
But in 2013/14, it looks as if they will earn their place in the third tier on the pitch. Under the guidance of 24-year-old manager Stephen Hatfield, the Allen Park club have climbed up the table. They currently sit in 12th place, above the likes of Tobermore United and Glebe Rangers.
Proud manager Hatfield explained: “When you look at where the club have finished in recent seasons, you can see that we have made an impact.
“Our main and only aim this year was to make sure the club didn't finish last and that we kept the team in the league. The club have avoided relegation for a number of reasons over the years, but this year we knew there was a good chance that the side who finishes last would be relegated.
“At the moment we are nine points clear of the drop zone, so we're not safe but we've improved on last year. We've now won five league games, but we still want to improve.”
Cookstown club Killymoon Rangers look set to drop out of the league. With only five points this season they're in danger of getting cut adrift at the bottom of the third tier.
Despite this, Hatfield is still wants to see Chimney Corner push on. He hopes that avoiding relegation this year, will act as springboard for future success at Allen Park.
“Our aim is still to avoid relegation this season. We want to improve at a steady pace, each season.
“If we could avoid relegation this season, that would be a start. Then we could aim for mid-table next season and then take it from there.
“Teams like Warrenpoint Town and Ballinamallard United have shown what is possible if you do things properly, but we're not going to start saying things like we're aiming for the Premiership.
“We're giving young players who have came straight from reserve and youth football the opportunity to play in the Championship. We've got them playing good football and enjoying the game.”
Corner marked their improvement last week, by putting up a brave fight against Warrenpoint Town in the Irish Cup. Barry Gray's in form Town only beat the Antrim club 2-0.
Belfast Telegraph Digital