League Fixtures now available for the 2017 season.
PG Senior Cup
Larne repeated their weekend win over Ards however the scoreline was much closer than Saturday’s. Dunbarton showed the gulf between Divisions 1 and 2 when they beat Falls heavily. Pickie welcomed Old Bleach and recorded an excellent win to advance to the semis where they will meet Willowfield who overcame visiting Ewarts.
IBA Senior Cup.
From only 4 of 16 left to 3 of 8 with only Larne falling at Coleraine the odds of PG success in the IBA Senior cup have improved and with Belmont facing Ballymena we are guaranteed a semi-finalist at worst.
IBA Intermediate Cup
Ballymena B beat Belmont B at Kincora while Ballywalter had a comfortable win over Downpatrick. The shock of the round was Shorts winning at Salisbury with a 16 shot win for G Robinson the main difference.
IBA Junior Cup
Only 2 teams left standing as Pickie and Old Bleach managed to win their ties.
Rather than review last week I thought I’d run down each team in each division for a change as we are at the halfway stage.
Old Bleach – unbeaten after 9 matches in a competitive division tells a story itself. There are obvious clichés like it is in their hands, it’s theirs to lose and they are true, but the second half of the season sees trips to Dunbarton, Ballymena and Belmont.
Belmont – Just looking at the losses column and seeing only 1 makes you instantly think Belmont will be up at the top of the league, and while they are in contention, the 2 draws (at Pickie and at Old Bleach) do look like points dropped. They have Larne, Dunbarton and Ballymena away in the second half of the season and if they are still within striking distance after those, a home match against Old Bleach could decide the title. Still involved in the Irish cup with Ballymena away in the quarters.
Larne – At the start of the season I thought they would be aiming to improve on 5th last year and they sit in third at halfway. They have run a lot of teams close (single figure shot losses to Ballymena, Dunbarton and Old Bleach) and have recorded some excellent wins (Pickie and Belmont) although I don’t think they will ultimately challenge for the title, they could have a say in who wins it. They have a tough task against Dunbarton in the PG Cup semi-finals but it is a genuine chance of silverware.
Pickie – Fourth in the table and into the semi-finals of the PG Senior Cup is a good season so far for the Broadway boys, the question is what will they have to show for it when the curtain comes down at the end of the season?
Dunbarton – They have already lost as many matches as they did in the whole of last season when they lifted the title and it may take them to go unbeaten to retain it. Still in the IBA cup at home to nearby Lurgan and in the semis of the PG cup they are the only team with a chance, albeit remote, of doing the treble. They still have Old Bleach and Belmont to come to Gilford but whether they can win away at Larne, Pickie and then Ballymena on the last day remains to be seen.
Ballymena – Pre-season I thought Ballymena would be challenging for the title however 4 losses and a draw at home to Ewarts make that look impossible at the halfway stage. They are still a team that no-one will relish facing as on their day they can beat anyone but seem to lack the consistency of previous years. Their best chance of silverware is the IBA cup though Belmont will have something to say about that.
Ulster Transport – The Jordanstown team started off the season in a 4 way relegation battle but recent results (including a notable win over Dunbarton) mean they are now clear of the bottom. At this stage they look to be close to safe though they may need to win home matches against Ards and Ewarts to make sure.
Ewarts – The only team not to win a match in the division yet they have been accumulating points and sit above relegation on shot difference. Home matches against Ards and Willowfield are their best chances of wins to stay up, though I still think they are capable of causing another shock this season after their draw at Ballymena.
Willowfield – The Cregagh team looked to be really struggling until a few weeks ago. Since then they have won 2 league matches and reached the PG Cup semis. The league wins have only moved them into a position where they can avoid relegation but to stay up they need to pick up more points when they lose matches and hopefully squeeze out a win or 2. Their fixtures look tough with U Transport at home their best chance while trips to Ards and Ewarts will be massive in their run in. They have a cup semi to look forward to and although they would be the bookies’ outsiders of the 4 remaining teams, who knows!
Ards – Everyone expected the team coming up from Division 2 to struggle and Ards have. They have been on the receiving end of a few heavy defeats, but have managed to record a win against Ewarts. It’s hard to see how Ards stay up based on their first 9 matches but if they get a shock win somewhere and beat Willowfield at home they could survive, but I doubt it.
Falls – Joint top of the league with 6.5 points to third place at the halfway stage is a great place to be when looking to bounce back to Division 1. Unfortunately the Fruithill team will be without Paul McEwan for most of the rest of the season as he recovers from a hernia operation. On top of that they are missing Peter McGarrity for the next few matches due to family commitments. If they win their matches at Cliftonville and home to Comber then after the break they face Ballywalter away and will be seeking revenge for an earlier loss to the seasiders. The last 3 matches see them host Mossley, away to Castleton and then home to NICS.
Mossley – The other team at the top of the league at halfway have been knocking on the door of Division 1 for a few seasons now and it’s no surprise they are in an excellent position mid-season. They face a tough match at third place NICS next and a win there opens up a healthy gap. It is a competitive division with upsets at every turn but the other big remaining fixture for the Mossley men is Falls at Fruithill on 22 August.
Salisbury – Undoubtedly the youngest team in the Division, they have been strong at home for most of the season though recent losses to Mossley and Shorts in the cup shows that they can be beaten. They are still in the mix to go up if they can string a run of wins together though matches away at NICS, Mossley and Ballywalter will be tough.
NICS – A start that wasn’t as disastrous as some previous years has the Stormont side in fourth. Having just beaten Falls they really need to beat Mossley next up to stay in touch. A decent second half of the season could set up a season ending winner takes all match at Falls for a place in Division 1 next year.
Forth River have been inconsistent to say the least with wins over Mossley and Salisbury but they have lost games that I expected them to win as well. They look like they will finish mid-table but could beat anyone on their day.
Cliftonville – Sixth place after successive wins means they are looking safe after sitting just above relegation for much of the early part of the season. They should be safe from relegation but are likely too far back to go up.
Ballywalter have a match in hand and if they win they are in fifth right behind Salisbury and NICS and very much in the mix for promotion. They have already beaten Falls this year, were close against Mossley and drew with NICS. Their run in sees them host Falls but travel to Mossley and NICS, if they are touch after those 3 matches they could finish strongly and take a promotion place. They may have their attention focused on winning the IBA Intermediate cup though as they look one of the stronger sides left in that competition.
Hilden will be aiming to just stay above the relegation places. They have proved capable of putting together good performances with their wins over Forth River and NICS at home but have also suffered heavy defeats. Matches at home to Castleton and Cliftonville could be vital at the end of the season. The IBA Intermediate cup offers a pleasant distraction and a home tie against Sydenham is winnable.
Castleton look like they face a big challenge to escape relegation as they have a match extra played than the teams above them. They have shown signs of fight this season with a good win over Ballywalter the highlight.
Comber without a win so far this season look like they need divine intervention to stay in Division 2 next year.
Ballymena B are mostly the team that dominated Junior bowls for most of the past decade and are now plying their wares a division higher. While they aren’t completely running away with the league, they do look the most likely to come up as they have a healthy 9.5 point lead. They will get a taste of Division 2 opposition when they face Ballywalter in the IBA Intermediate cup quarter final.
Shorts have proved they can mix with Division 2 opposition by beating Salisbury away in the IBA Intermediate cup. They are currently in second in the table and are the only team to beat Ballymena B this season in the league. If they avoid shock defeats they could well come up but are in a close duel with Shaftesbury, who travel to East Belfast in what could be a promotion decider in the final match of the season.
Shaftesbury sit only 0.5 points behind Shorts after a close win in their last match. They have also drawn with Ballymena this season however have to travel to both Ballymena B and Shorts in the second half of the season.
Saintfield sit fourth on shot difference from Cavehill. They have won all 4 home matches and with 5 of the remaining 9 matches at home they will be confident. If they win all 5 they will have beaten Ballymena B, Shaftesbury and Shorts who have all yet to travel to Saintfield.
Cavehill have proved me wrong with predictions a few times this season. If they can iron out the inconsistencies they might finish higher than fifth but I don’t think they quite make the promotion places.
Belmont B currently sit top of the second section of Division 3 with only 6 points covering the bottom 5 and after a bad start to the season they recorded 3 wins on the bounce. If they keep that form going for a few weeks they will stay up no problem.
Gallaher have been inconsistent with a fine win over Cavehill away showing what they are capable of, however matches away to PSNI, Knock and N Belfast in their run in could make it tough to stay up.
North Belfast are a point clear of relegation as it stands and will want to win matches at home to Gallaher and Knock before they travel to Newforge to face the PSNI in the last match.
PSNI have played a few matches short-handed this year but with 6 home matches in the last 9 and 2 wins out of 3 already at home they will be confident of accumulating the points required for survival.
Knock aren’t making their last year at Knockdene a memorable one as they current prop up the table. Home matches against Gallaher and PSNI look like must wins to stay up.
Downpatrick – Even without the match extra played Downpatrick would sit top of Division 4. They have been the form team this year and many big wins has given them the added advantage of over 100 shots lead in shot difference. They face tough away matches at Larne and Dunbarton in the second half of the season and will be sitting on the sidelines with a bye in the final round of fixtures.
Larne had been neck and neck with Downpatrick until a heavy defeat at Downpatrick ended their unbeaten run. A match away at Dunbarton right before the visit of Downpatrick at the start of August will have a lot to say about whether Larne go up this season.
Dunbarton had been right in contention for promotion but lost their last match to Ballymena C and now have to make up ground if they want to play in Division 3 next year. They can reduce the leads of Larne and Downpatrick when they host them in the run in.
Old Bleach have crept into fourth but need to put together a good run to challenge for promotion as they have away matches to Larne and Downpatrick to contend with. They also have the IBA Junior cup to play for with a tricky tie at Cookstown in the quarters.
Pickie are the last of the teams with any hope of promotion this season and home matches against Downpatrick, Old Bleach and Dunbarton does give them a slight advantage. They also have home advantage for their IBA Junior cup tie against Portrush.
Willowfield sit comfortably mid-table with no danger of relegation and no realistic hope of promotion.
Falls are in the same position as Willowfield with only 23 shots separating them. Falls do have the PG Junior cup to play for and are at home to Larne
Belmont C should be safe despite only 3 wins so far this season and having withdrawn from the cups they have no other distractions.
Ballymena C sit in ninth place just above relegation but the 10 point gap is likely enough for them to survive in Division 4. Should it come down to it they play Malone at home in the last match.
Malone are unlikely to escape relegation unless they pull off another win like they did at home to Falls earlier in the season.
Belfast have yet to win a game, though they did manage a draw with Malone. The return fixture at Malone or a home match against Belmont C are likely their best chances to break their duck.
Ards B have finally opened up some daylight at the top of the division after it being tight for a long time. They have very important matches at home to U Transport and Ewarts and travel to Mossley.
Ewarts B had a wobble recently when they lost a couple of surprising matches but a big win at Mossley has them back on track. The reverse fixture in September could decide who goes up.
Ulster Transport started badly but have been on a 7 game tear recently. Next up is a tricky trip to Mossley and 2 weeks later a trip to Ards.
Mossley started the season on fire and were unbeaten for a long time but have since been found vulnerable, especially against Ewarts recently. They are very much in the mix for promotion but it looks like a 4 way tussle for 2 places.
Hilden have been around the top for much of the season but need a very strong finish to gain promotion. They will have to do it the hard way with away fixtures at U Transport, Ards and Mossley.
Forth River are unlikely to be able to challenge as they are 11.5 points off second as it stands.
Albert Foundry have had a decent first season in Division 5 with 5 wins to their name so far.
Cliftonville have struggled to field a team some weeks but when they manage it they have recorded some good wins.
Belmont D have been struggling of late but depending on availability they can add to their 3 wins.
Cavehill have yet to record a win and it would be nice if they broke their duck in the second half of the season.
Shaftesbury B re-entered the league this year and it is great to see them being able to fulfil all but 1 fixture this season.
Comber were decimated by players leaving the club in the off season and scratching 2 early fixtures made their continued involvement unlikely but they have so far been able to complete all matches even if shorthanded. Hopefully their fortunes change soon.
Larne v Ewarts
U Transport v Ballymena
Dunbarton v Old Bleach
Pickie v Ards
Belmont v Willowfield
Castleton v Salisbury
Ballywalter v Forth River
Comber v Hilden
Cliftonville v Falls
NICS v Mossley
Ballymena B v N Belfast
PSNI v Shorts
Shaftesbury v Knock
Saintfield v Gallaher
Belmont B v Cavehill
Belfast v Larne B
Downpatrick v Malone
Old Bleach B v Dunbarton B
Falls B v Pickie B
Willowfield B v Belmont C
Ballymena C have a bye
Ewarts B v A Foundry
Mossley B v U Transport B
Hilden B v Comber B
Ards B v Cliftonville B
Cavehill B v Belmont D
Forth River A v Shaftesbury B