Who will lift the prizes at annual writers' awards?
The great and the good of Northern Irish football will be at the Ramada tonight for the BT Sports NI Football Writers' Awards.
The annual awards ceremony celebrates the football season, and rewards the country's finest players and managers for their efforts over the course of the last 10 months.
While many people are speculating over who will win Irish League Player of the Year and International Player of the Year, here at The Park, we're far more interested in the gongs at the other end of the scale.
There are two categories of interest for fans of football outside the Danske Bank Premiership - the Non-Senior Team of the Year and the Championship Player of the Year.
Non-Senior Team of the Year
The Non-Senior Team of the Year is always a hotly-contested and much sought after award which has been known to spark some heated debates amongst the Football Writers. This year is no different, with several teams in contention for a place on the shortlist of three. Certainly, County Antrim Shield finalists Bangor, Championship Two winners Lurgan Celtic and unbeaten clubs Windmill Star and Trojans can count themselves unfortunate not be included. But the final three are hard to argue with...
Lee Forsythe's men have been sensational this season, lifting both the Amateur League Premier Division title and the Border Regiment Cup. The Newtownards club lifted their first piece of silverware two days after Christmas when they beat Downpatrick 3-1 in the Border final. But Forsythe's men didn't stop there. They romped home in the Amateur League, winning the most prestigious league title outside the NIFL by beating Immaculata 2-1 in Dunmurry last week. They are the first team to complete the Premier Division / Border Cup double since Newington YC in 2006. It's the first time the Drome Park side have ever been nominated for the award.
Carrick Rangers' success this season is scarcely believable. On Friday night the Taylor's Avenue club became the first team to complete a league, Steel & Sons Cup and Intermediate Cup treble since Jimmy Feeney's Larne in 1970. Their success started on Christmas morning, when they defeated Harland & Wolff Welders 4-1 at Seaview in the Steel & Sons final. The Welders were the victims again on Friday, when the Carrickfergus club sealed an Intermediate Cup success with a 3-1 win at the same venue. However, their most impressive achievement came in Belfast Telegraph Championship One, where they pipped an excellent Bangor side to the title by just two points.
You just can't keep the Homers down. They're up for this award for a third year running, lifting the prestigious gong last season. Once again the Ballymena side have been scoring goals for fun in all competitions. They currently have a 100% record in the Ballymena Saturday Morning League while they've also lifted the O'Kane Cup. Without doubt, however, their biggest achievement is reaching the Junior Cup final for a third year in row. Monday will be a busy day for the holders, as they also face Rosemount Rec in the final at Hagan Park, Coagh.
Championship Player of the Year
The three nominees for this year's Championship Player of the Year award are three of the most talented footballers in our domestic game. You need to be talented to make this shortlist, as the likes of Brian Neeson, Aaron Smyth, Miguel Chines, Andy Hall, Stephen O'Neill, Mark Magennis, David Rainey and Ciaran Murray have all enjoyed fantastic seasons. Former winners of this award include Paul Heatley and Chris Curran.
Jordan Forsythe – Bangor
The left-winger may be Seaview-bound, but he will leave Bangor fans with many fond memories. This season, he bagged 25 goals from the flank, helping the club to the County Antrim Shield final and the Promotion play-off. Perhaps the fact he missed those vital games is the reason Bangor didn't succeed? We will never know, but one thing for sure is that Forsythe has enjoyed one heck of a season. He was also nominated for last year's award, but lost out to Institute's Michael McCrudden.
Conor McCloskey – Carrick Rangers
You could have selected any one of Carrick's first choice 11 for this award and they wouldn't have looked out of place on this shortlist, but there is something a little bit special about left-sided midfielder Conor McCloskey. If you're unconvinced, then just look at his three cup final goals. On Christmas morning, he swept a curling 20 yard shot into the top corner to secure the Steel & Sons Cup, while on Friday, he scored a powerful low drive and delicate chip to help Carrick towards the Intermediate Cup. This man has no shortage of quality, and he could star in the Premiership next season.
Michael McLellan – Harland & Wolff Welders
You can't argue with 48 goals in a single season. After disappointing spells at Portadown and Ballymena United, nobody was quite sure what to expect from the former Preston North End striker when Gary Smyth signed him in the summer. He quickly proved his worth by scoring a stack of goals in the first few weeks of the season, including an incredible nine-goal haul against Rathcoole in the Steel & Sons Cup. But McLellan is no flat-track bully. He registered goals in both the Steel & Sons Cup final and the Intermediate Cup final, as well as in a number of vital league games.
Belfast Telegraph Digital