Belfast Telegraph

Who will be the winners and losers in the new Championship One campaign?

By Keith Bailie

After three long months the NIFL Championship returns on Saturday, as Northern Ireland's top intermediate clubs battle it out for the title and for a much coveted spot in the Danske Bank Premiership.

But it's been a difficult summer for Championship One clubs, with many of last season's star names departing from the top flight. William Faulkner, Jordan Forsythe, Andy Hall, Mark Magennis, Joel Cooper, Daniel Wallace, Stephen Murray, Garth Falconer and Mark Carson have all left the second tier for a chance to play in the Premiership. But that's not to say the quality of the league will drop. No doubt there will be a new generation of young superstars ready to make impression on Championship One.

Bangor had a sensational season last year reaching the final of the County Antrim Shield, the semi-finals of the League Cup and Promotion/Relegation Play-Off after a second placed finish in Championship One, behind champions Carrick Rangers. The Seasiders were incredibly unfortunate not to claim promotion. In the regular season they lost just two matches, while in the play-off they lost to Warrenpoint on penalties.

This summer, the management duo of Garth Scates and Jeff Montgomery haven't had everything their own way. Last season's Championship Player of the Year Jordan Forsythe signed for Crusaders, while set-piece specialist Andy Hall left for Glenavon, however, Bangor have brought dynamic midfielder Aidan Watson and classy ball player Aaron Walsh to Clandeboye Park.

Bangor's North Down rivals Ards have had another busy summer in the transfer market. Goakeeper Ryan Brown, left-back Kyle Buckley, midfielder Joe McDonnell and forward Jordan Baker are among Ards' new signings. Last season, the Red & Blues finished third despite having lost just two league games all season.

Institute have lost a number of players since their relegation to the Championship, with Aaron Walsh, Robbie Hume and Michael McCrudden among the departures. But perhaps the biggest change has come in the dugout with long-serving boss Paul Kee replaced by Derry City hero Kevin Deery.

Harland & Wolff Welders will be without their talented playmaker Mark Magennis, who has signed for Ballymena United, but they've held onto last season's Championship top goalscorer Michael McLellan, which is arguably better than any new signing. The Belfast side have signed former Ards players Josh Cahoon and Neil Dougan.

Larne finished a respectable fifith last time out, but manager David McAlinden will want to do even better this time around. The Invermen have secured the signature of Ballyclare Comrades goalkeeper Paddy Flood.

Flood isn't the only good player to leave Dixon Park. Andrew Doyle has gone to Carrick Rangers, Joel Cooper has signed for Glenavon while Kyle Buckley has joined Ards. The Comrades will be hoping new boys Stuart King, Curtis Dempster and JB Dobbin can step up to the mark.

Lisburn Distillery have lost striker Stephen Doyle and midfielder Joe McDonnell, but former Immaculata man Kevin Hughes should add some flair to their attack.

Knockbreda have had a busy transfer window. Former Crusaders trio of Stephen Cockcroft, David McMaster and David Gibson are now at Breda Park while Aaron Boyd and Josh Cahoon have left.

Donegal Celtic avoided the drop on the last day of last season. After some thought manager Nicky Maye decided to stay on for another year. He has signed former Glenavon man Brendan Shannon and former Larne striker Robbie White.

Richard Clarke's Dergview may have lost Adam Lecky and Garth Falconer but former St. Johnstone man Matthew Buchanan and Duwayne McManus have signed.

Loughgall will be managed jointly by Stephen Uprichard and Stephen Hawe this season. Mark Carson and Jeff Brady have left Lakeview. Armagh City have signed well-regarded Dublin based goalkeeper John Connolly and striker Shea Campbell. Campbell already has 53 goals for City from his previous stints at the club.

New boys Lurgan Celtic and Annagh United will be hoping to avoid the drop. Celtic have struggled in pre-sason with heavy defeats to Crusaders, Portadown and Warrenpoint Town. This will be Annagh's first season in the second tier. 

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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