Majority of Championship One clubs apply for top tier licence
Fresh from their sensational cup victories over Crusaders and Glentoran, The Park Online can reveal that Bangor fans have even more cause for optimism.
The Seasiders, who are currently seven points clear at the top of the division, are one of 11 Belfast Telegraph Championship One teams who have applied for a Championship Licence.
For Championship teams to gain promotion to the Premiership they must acquire a Championship Licence. Last season only four second tier clubs applied for a licence, with ultimately only eventual champions Institute and Larne receiving approval from the Irish FA's licensing department.
This season, things are set to be rather different with Ards, Armagh City, Ballyclare Comrades, Bangor, Carrick Rangers, Dergview, Donegal Celtic, Harland & Wolff Welders, Knockbreda, Larne and Lisburn Distillery all throwing their hats into to the promotion ring. Only Dundela, Loughgall and PSNI have not applied.
That means it's not impossible Knockbreda could be a Premiership club this time next season. The Castlereagh side, who are currently fourth in the Championship, only left the Amateur League in 2008.
If the top two teams have the appropriate licence this year, the top Championship One side will be promoted automatically in place of the bottom Premiership team, while the runners-up will enter a play-off with the team that finish second bottom in the top flight.
While it's far from certain that all 11 clubs will receive a licence, we should at least see an exciting promotion battle this year. Last season's title race was dogged by uncertainty because contenders Bangor, Dundela and Knockbreda did not apply for a licence, while Carrick eventually dropped out of the process. Although title winners Institute were able to claim promotion as they were awarded a licence, there was no Promotion/Relegation Play-Off because second place Bangor did not apply.
Four Championship Two clubs have also applied for a Championship Licence. Banbridge Town, Dollingstown, Queen's University Belfast and Tobermore United have all applied, with one eye on the future.
The sudden rise in applicants can probably be attributed to the fact that for the 2016/17 season all Championship One clubs must receive a Championship Licence. If everything goes to plan, the division will be reduced to 12 clubs and awarded senior status. That means the likes of Ards and Larne will no longer compete in the Steel & Sons Cup and the Intermediate Cup.
The Championship will also be reduced from 29 clubs to 24 clubs over the next two seasons, with at least one club leaving this season and at least four dropping out the following season.
All 12 Danske Bank Premiership clubs have applied for the essential Domestic Licence, while 11 clubs have applied for a UEFA Licence with Warrenpoint Town being the exception. A club must acquire a UEFA Licence if they wish to compete in European competition.
All clubs will find out if they've received their licence on April 24, 2015.
Belfast Telegraph Digital