Premier Division will be tightest yet, says Crumlin Star's Brown
Ask any of the managers in this year’s Amateur League top flight, and they will all tell you the same thing. This season is going to be more fiercely contested than any before.
But don’t just take their word for it. Have a look at the Premier Division table. For the first time in a long time, no team has a 100 per cent record after just FOUR games.
Only three have managed to avoid defeat as yet. And the manager of one of this elusive trio has barely raised an eyebrow at this astonishing statistic.
Crumlin Star’s Sean Brown insists he has had his squad prepared for a real battle this season as they look to improve upon the second and third place finishes they have achieved in the two years since their Premier Division debut.
He told The Park: “I had a good look at it over the summer, and when you have teams like Comber Rec and Killyleagh going down, along with Downpatrick and Crumlin United coming up, it gives you a sense of just how strong this league is.
“I don’t mean any disrespect to the other divisions, but trust me, I have seen what Division 1C, 1B and 1A are like and this is just a different level altogether. With those divisions, you are able to have a bad day and get away with it, but you can’t do that in the Premier. If you go out with the wrong mindset, you get punished.”
The fact that Ards Rangers last season equalled the highest-ever points tally on record by Newington YC (63), with just three defeats all season shows the size of their achievement, particularly at a time when the league is quite so competitive.
It’s a point not lost on Brown, who believes it could be a long time before that tally is beaten, or even equalled again.
“Ards Rangers set the benchmark last season,” he admitted. “They left everybody in their wake and led from start to finish. Everyone was waiting for them to slip up - including us - but fair play to them, it didn’t happen and they were worthy winners.
“I don’t see anybody else doing that this season, but the key for us this season is not to get tailed off. We don’t want to be playing catch-up with five or six games in hand at the end of the season this time.”
Several factors may help bring that ambition closer to realisation. The signing of ex-Newington YC man Paul Prigent and former Loughgall player Anto Burns will not only add Championship experience to the Crumlin Star midfield, but in the case of the latter, they have snapped up a 20-year-old local talent that Brown has tipped to stand out at this level, having also featured at Crusaders in the earlier stages of his young career.
Add to that the imminent return of right back Conor McDowell after rupturing his Achilles this time last year - a development that will in itself feel like a new signing, and you can see why Brown is excited about what lies ahead.
The Crumlin Star boss added: “Things are looking very promising for us, and we have a really good Under-19 set-up, who won the South Belfast Youth League last year, and those players are coming through.
“As a club, we are in a good position, and I’m not going to lie, I want us to be winning the league this year. That’s what it is all about, and it will be our third time going for the Premier Division.
“Who knows, it could be third time lucky...”