Bangor face battle to fulfil title ambition: McCutcheon
Bangor's Rodney McCutcheon admits his team face a big challenge to prise the Northern Ireland Bowling Association Division One title away from Whitehead this season.
The new outdoor bowls campaign gets under way today, with the Seasiders due to meet neighbours Donaghadee at Ward Park - a fixture that presents the home team with a chance to get early points on the board.
But having finished in the runners-up enclosure for the past two years, McCutcheon realises there will be bigger tests in the future.
"We'll be looking for a positive start against Donaghadee, first and foremost," said the Bangor man. "On paper it's a game we should win.
"But looking at the bigger picture, Whitehead are again going to be the team to beat. They have shown great consistency over the last lot of years.
"They have lifted the title seven times since 2005, but have finished in the top two something like 12 times in the last 15 years.
"So that's the sort of consistency we have to try and match. We proved we can match them in a one-off game, beating them comprehensively in the NIBA Cup final last season, but we have to try to produce that form over the course of the season."
The Seasiders will rely on the same group of players that pushed Whitehead to the wire last season, with the exception of Ireland international Graham McKee, who has joined Private Greens League club Larne.
"He'll be a big miss on the green. There is no doubting his ability, but we can't afford to dwell on it," added McCutcheon.
"We've still got a lot of experience with Keith Taylor, Gary Scott and Mark Shannon and Robert Hastings is taking on the skipping responsibilities.
"We are all looking forward to getting started once again. We know that we are in for another tough campaign, including a first round Irish Cup clash against Crumlin in Dublin to contend with in a few weeks' time."
Belmont, meanwhile, begin the defence of their Private Greens League Division One crown with a difficult opener at Old Bleach.
The east Belfast boys retained the title with a certain degree of flair last season, which was coupled with their first IBA Senior Cup success since 2007.
However, due to a massive £200,000 makeover of their east Belfast headquarters, they must play all their fixtures away from home for the first six weeks.
Northern Ireland Private Greens League Division One: Old Bleach v Belmont, Ballywalter v Falls, Pickie v Dunbarton, Mossley v Ballymena, Ewarts v Larne.
Northern Ireland Bowling Association Division One: Bangor v Donaghadee, Dundonald v Divis, Portadown v Dungannon, Carrickfergus v Banbridge, Whitehead v Balmoral.