POV 1 – Start of the season

It’s that exciting time of the year when everyone is equal in the league tables, anything is possible and most are filled with optimism for the upcoming season. I just hope we get weather like we did at the PG flag unfurling! I’ve done a quick run through of each division with my thoughts. No doubt I will be completely wrong! I’ve also listed the fixtures for this Saturday

Division 1

Ewarts v Larne.

Ballymena v UT

Old Bleach v Dunbarton

Ards v Pickie

Willowfield v Belmont.

This division looks to be competitive at both ends. Dunbarton managed to wrestle the league title back from Ballymena last season and I expect both clubs to be competing for the title in September and there could be a winner take all match as they play on Sat 5th September. Belmont finished second last year and with Simon Martin added to their squad they will be hoping to go one better and get their hands on the trophy they last held in 2003. Old Bleach have shown over the past few years that they can win cup competitions and on their day can beat anybody.  A tough start to the season with Dunbarton and Ballymena in their first 3 matches will answer a lot of questions. Larne have strengthened their team with the return from long term loan (well according to Simon Bell anyway) of Andy Kyle and Jason Kerr. They will be looking to improve on 5th place last year. Pickie will be expecting midtable at worst but may hope to break into the top 5. Ulster Transport will hope for another 6th place finish but I can see them in a 4 way relegation battle. Ewarts and Willowfield finished just above the relegation places last year and both clubs strengthend their squads with Chris Mullan and Aaron Sloan respectively, but with 1 less team in the league it will be a scrap to avoid finishing in the bottom 2. Newly promoted Ards have added strength to their panel with new members joining them from Castleton and Comber and will be trying to consolidate their place in Division 1.

Division 2

Salisbury v Castleton

Forth River v Ballywalter

Hilden v Comber

Falls v Cliftonville

Mossley v NICS

This is probably the most competitive division of the 5 and any one of 5 teams could win it. Forth River and Falls will be hoping to bounce straight back up to Division 1, but both have lost key players from last season. Mossley were runners up last year and I’m sure their aim this season is to be promoted as champions. Ballywalter weren’t far behind Mossley last year and should be in the mix come August. Then there is NICS. If they start about the end of May as usual then they may have too much ground to make up. The first match between Mossley and NICS could tell a lot. Cliftonville finished 5th last season and 30 points off the champions, they will be hoping to finish higher this season. Castleton and Comber have both lost a number of players and could be in scrap at the bottom. Hilden and Salisbury both should have enough quality to avoid relegation but a bad run could drag them into a relegation battle.

Division 3

North Belfast v Ballymena B

Shorts v PSNI

Knock v Shaftesbury

Gallaher v Saintfield

Cavehill v Belmont B      

Last season saw Shaftesbury win this division by an 18 point margin, but they were unfortunate that with the restructure there was no promotion. They will obviously be hoping for a repeat of last year. Belmont Park and Shorts were relegated from Senior 2 last season and with the removal of the Park designation Belmont B will be aiming for a swift return to Division 2. Ballymena B will be a different team from Ballymena Park last year and I expect they will challenge at the top of the division this season, though for many of the ex Ballymena Junior players they will be playing against different clubs than they are used to and will be unfamiliar with some of the greens . I’m sure Shorts, Cavehill and PSNI will be hoping to challenge at the top for promotion as well. Saintfield and Knock may prove me wrong and challenge higher in the league but I think they will stay out of trouble and leave North Belfast and Gallaher in the relegation spots

Division 4

Larne B v Belfast

Malone v Downpatrick

Dunbarton B v Old Bleach B

Pickie B v Falls B

Belmont C v Willowfield B

Ballymena C have a bye

The old Junior 1 was dominated by Ballymena Juniors for 9 years with only Dunbarton defying them in 2013. Many of that Ballymena team will be playing in Division 3 this season so it’s hard to know if they will remain as dominant. Dunbarton B have lost a few players to Banbridge and may not be as strong either. That might open the door for Pickie who were runners-up last year or even Old Bleach who were a bit further back in 4th to be in the mix this year too. I suspect Larne B and Downpatrick will be a safe mid table leaving Belmont C and Falls B to fight out the bottom 5 with recently promoted Willowfield B along with Malone and Belfast who were relegated from Division 3.

Division 5

A Foundry v Ewarts B

U Transport B v Mossley B

Comber B v Hilden B

Cliftonville B v Ards B

Belmont D v Cavehill B

Shaftesbury B v Forth River B

Ewarts and Ards will be aiming for the 2 promotion places along with Mossley who were relegated from Junior 1 last season. Albert Foundry took the decision to drop 2 divisions following the restructure and hopefully are rewarded with being competitive in Division 5. Ulster Transport struggled in Junior 1 last year and I think will struggle to compete for promotion. It’s nice to see Shaftesbury field a B team this year but unfortunately Castleton have withdrawn theirs. Forth River and Cliftonville were mid table last year and will be hoping for better this year. Comber will struggle more this year with the loss of several A team players from last year inevitably weakening their B team and will likely find themselves fighting with Belmont D, Hilden B and Cavehill B to avoid the title of Strongest team in the PG League Championship.

Thoughts for the week

As you have no doubt noticed it’s a different Brian doing the POV and collecting the results for now. Unfortunately Bryan Magrath is gravely ill and I hope many of you keep him and his family in your prayers.

As we start the season off may I wish you all good health to enjoy your bowls this season.