After facing the two leading protagonists in the Amateur Premier Division title race in the past week, Albert Foundry manager Colin McIlwaine has predicted Drumaness Mills will be this year’s league champions.
If anyone knows a true title contender, McIlwaine should. He guided Foundry to two second-place finishes in his first two years as manager, but has to accept the best his team will manage in this campaign is sixth.
The Paisley Park side were beaten 3-1 by third-placed Star on Saturday, just four days after losing 3-0 to leaders Drumaness Mills.
And although Star have four games left to play as opposed to Drumaness’ three games, McIlwaine believes the leaders’ five point advantage, combined with their team spirit and impressive performances, will be enough to see them cross the finish line first.
He said: “I think Drumaness will do it. They are a team who look as if they are together, and are a quality outfit.
“To be honest, they are one of the best teams I have seen in the Amateur League, and if they do win it, they will deserve it.
“Crumlin Star have impressed me too, but I think their cup runs will catch up with them.”
McIlwaine’s theory seems to have been supported by Crumlin’s recent run of form in their hefty fixture backlog. In the past fortnight, besides wins against Dunmurry Rec and Killyleagh YC, they have lost twice to Ards Rangers, and drawn with Shankill United and Ardglass.
However, the campaign is far from over, as Drumaness have still to face Nortel – the final team is what is effectively now a three-horse race – on the next two Tuesday nights.
Kilmore Rec are also mathematically in the hunt, but realistically they would have to win all three of their remaining fixtures and hope that an incredible unexpected run of results elsewhere go their way.
As for Foundry, who finished their season with the loss to Crumlin Star, the gap between them and top is now 14 points, and will be greater still in a fortnight’s time.
And while it is unusual for Foundry’s manager to be so far off the pace at this exciting stage of the season, he reflects on the past eight months with a great deal of positivity.
McIlwaine added: “Obviously the league is your bread and butter, but we won the Border Cup and our seconds won Division 3A, so we still have to look back on this as a good season.
“If you want to win the league, you have to put together some sort of consistency, and we didn’t do that this year. We didn’t get off to the best of starts, and in the Amateur League, that is one of the most important things you can do.
“I do think, with Immaculata and Derriaghy coming up next season, the Premier Division’s going to be the strongest it’s ever been. But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe we could be up there challenging again this time next year.”
One-time leaders Ards Rangers had their faint title hopes killed off in their final league game of the season, with a 3-2 defeat against Islandmagee on Saturday. They still have a Clarence Cup final against Drumaness Mills to look forward to however, with a date still to be announced.
Elsewhere, Malachians earned an impressive 3-2 win away to Kilmore Rec, Shankill United drew 2-2 with Ardglass and relegated Dromara Village lost their last game in the Premier Division 1-0 at home to Killyleagh YC.
Dunmurry Rec must now win all three of their remaining games to avoid the drop by overtaking Ardglass and Comber Rec, who now only need a point from their remaining games to secure their safety.