Trio of promotion hopefuls may all miss out on Championship Two dream
Even though three non-league clubs have applied to join the Northern Ireland Football League, it looks likely that there will be no new teams in next season's Belfast Telegraph Championship Two.
Brantwood, Camlough Rovers and Newry City have all applied to join the NIFL, but to win promotion, they must top their regional league. As things stand, the trio lag behind in their respective divisions.
As Championship Two will be cut from 15 clubs to 14 clubs for next season, this won't be enough to save Ballymoney United who are anchored to the bottom of the third tier with just four points to their name. However, it could give Coagh United a reprieve. With seven games left to play, United are cut adrift from the safety of 13th place. But, if none of the trio of applicants win their respective leagues, Coagh will retain their league status. Ballymoney could still catch Coagh, but with time running out it would take a herculean effort from the Riada Stadium club.
Last season's Ballymena and Provincial Intermediate champions Brantwood missed out on promotion to the Championship last season when they lost the promotion play-off to Dollingstown. This year, the Brants are stuck in mid-table. Ballynure Old Boys are 14 points clear at the top of the division, having won all but one of their league games this year. As Ballynure have not applied for promotion, they could not take a place in Championship Two, even if they won the league. North Belfast club Brantwood were a stalwart of the old B Division, but they lost their league status in 2009.
It's not impossible that one of Camlough Rovers or Newry City could still win the Mid Ulster Football League's Intermediate A, but Ballymacash Rangers currently lead the way, with Camlough in second and Newry in sixth. However, the title favourites are Tandragee Rovers. Non-applicants Rovers are currently in third place, but they are unbeaten and with a number of games in hand.
Progressive County Armagh club Camlough won the Mid Ulster League in 2012, while AFC Newry City were formed from the ashes of defunct Irish League side Newry City, who went out of business in 2012. In their first year, the phoenix club won the MUFL Intermediate B title.
The champions of NI Intermediate League and the Amateur League Premier Division are also eligible for promotion, but no clubs from either division have applied to join NIFL.
In 2013 Amateur League champions Newington joined the Championship by defeating Mid-Ulster champions Dollingstown in a two-leg play-off. Dollingstown made amends last season when they defeated Ballymena League champions Brantwood in the promotion decider. It seems highly unlikely there will be a similar play-off this season.
Next season's Championship will consist of two divisions of 14. This will be reduced to two divisions of 12 for the 2016/17 seasons, which means at least four teams will be relegated from Championship Two next season.
Belfast Telegraph Digital