Belfast Telegraph

Lurgan Celtic withdraw from Northern Ireland Football League

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.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Lurgan Celtic have withdrawn from the Northern Ireland Football League.

The club had in June given assurances that it intended to take part in the Premier Intermediate League, the Irish League's third tier, as planned this season.

However, ahead of their scheduled Irish Cup tie at Hanover on Saturday, the club has confirmed that its senior team has pulled out of the league.

The club has cited financial difficulties and problems attracting players in the decision that, a statement said, was taken to protect the future of Lurgan Celtic.

The current youth structures will remain in place this season and the club will look to revive its senior side next year.

A club statement, issued to the Belfast Telegraph on Thursday, read: "It is with a heavy heart that the Management Committee of Lurgan Celtic confirm it has taken the difficult decision to withdraw its first team from NIFL Premier Intermediate League.

"This decision was not taken lightly and comes after a number of difficult years struggling to obtain the finances and both attract and retain the players necessary to compete at Irish League levels. With players unable to commit as required the situation has become irreversible.

"Lurgan Celtic would like to thank manager Stephen Toman and his team, for all their hard work over the summer months in trying to rebuild a squad to complete this year and to those players who committed to the club for this upcoming season.

"The stark reality however is that trying to continue with a senior team at this level would ultimately jeopardise the future of the entire club.

"Lurgan Celtic will now put its full focus on strengthening its Youth Academy setup, implementing new structures with a view to restarting its senior teams in the 2020/21 season."

The news only three years after Celtic reached the Irish Cup semi-finals.

In the build-up to that final four tie against Linfield, plans for a new stadium on Lurgan's Tandragee Road had been revealed and hopes were high that Celtic could even reach the Danske Bank Premiership.

By December of that year, planning permission had been agreed. All that was required was the release of a ringfenced fund dedicated to improving the grounds of NI Football League clubs.

It all changed in January 2017 when the Stormont collapse led to the locking up of the money.

That put Celtic's hopes of a new stadium on hold and, with then manager Colin Malone departing two months later, it was the beginning of a downward spiral.

Speaking in June, club official Ciaran Marshall had indicated that the senior team would compete as planned this season despite increasing pressures caused by difficulties to attract sponsors, reducing supporter numbers and media interest in the division.

Another issue for the club is the expiring lease at Oxford United's Knockramer Park, which runs out next summer. The club have been ground-sharing since closing their own town centre home in 2003 after gaining admission to the Irish Football League Second Division.

"Not having our own ground makes things even more difficult because if you had that base, you could host events and try and build funds as well as more of a community feel," Marshall said.

"Without it, you're training in council facilities or using other clubs' grounds and having to pay for those. Rather than that money going back in and being used to build the club up, you're helping to develop other clubs."

The club was founded in 1903 and has been running in its current guise since the early 1970s.

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