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Lurgan Celtic set to return to action in Mid Ulster after withdrawal from the NI Football League

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Since their Irish Cup semi-final on 2016, life has been far from plane sailing for Lurgan Celtic.

Since their Irish Cup semi-final on 2016, life has been far from plane sailing for Lurgan Celtic.

©William Cherry / Presseye

Since their Irish Cup semi-final on 2016, life has been far from plane sailing for Lurgan Celtic.

Former NI Football League side Lurgan Celtic are set to return to football next season with an ultimate aim of getting back to the Irish League.

Celtic have been accepted into the Mid Ulster Football League's bottom junior tier, Division Three, and committee member Ciaran Marshall says it's the first step into a new, he hopes more sustainable, future.

In August last year, the club were forced to withdraw from Northern Irish football's third tier, the Premier Intermediate League, ending 17 years in the Irish League.

The move came only three years after the club had reached the Irish Cup semi-finals.

Chief among their issues was a lack of their own ground, having shared Knockramer Park with their hosts Oxford Sunnyside and seen plans for a new stadium thwarted by the Stormont collapse.

Under increasing financial pressures, Celtic withdrew from the NIFL while continuing the keep the club alive through their grassroots football and Academy set-up.

Now the planned return of the first-team has been confirmed.

"We considered trying to go straight back in at Intermediate level but that would involve pitch sharing again and the problems that inevitably come with that," explained Marshall.

"We've made the decision to come through junior football and found out on Wednesday night that our application has been accepted."

For now, the club hope to play their home matches on council pitches in the town's Lord Lurgan Memorial Park.

That arrangement will have to be altered if and when the time comes to move back into intermediate football.

"There's a team in place to look at how we can achieve our own pitch in Lurgan," Marshall continued.

"We had the Tannaghmore plan before Stormont stepped away, which was audacious to say the least.

"We're looking now at council pitches that could be given to Lurgan Celtic for our sole use. It's a medium term plan for us, over the next five years.

"It will involve liaising with the council to see what pitches are available and providing them with a cost-benefit analysis to show what usage the pitch gets, what it would be getting with Lurgan Celtic and what we're trying to bring to the table.

"If the council can see that there's a benefit, then that's what they'll do."

The club's junior football set-up, with teams from Under 7 to Under 17, will certainly help their case in any deliberations but, more than that, Marshall is keen that those will form a key part of a fresh, community-based future.

"We want to bring players up through the youth system and ultimately give them an outlet to play first-term football for their club," he explained.

"Prior to 2015 we didn't really have an Academy at all. We were trying to bring players in who had never played for the club before and has no affiliation with the club.

"A lot of the committee members are also involved in GAA clubs, where they see players who, by and large, would never move clubs. Then you go to soccer where players are leaving every season, which seemed strange."

The hope is that it will all eventually bring the club back into the Irish League on a more sure-footing than before.

But that's all for the long finger. For now, work is under way by the committee, packed with former players, to appoint a manager and get Lurgan Celtic back on the pitch.

Belfast Telegraph