NEFL | Premier Division Preview Muirhevnamor still team to beat as it’s all change in the Quay and Bellurgan dugout

Muirhevnamor’s David Cooney and Brendan Hughes. PICTURE: BEN MCSHANE

The North East Football League season kicks off this weekend with nine local teams competing across four divisions.

Bellurgan United, Quay Celtic and reigning champions, Muirhevnamor, are the local representatives in a 10-team Premier Division and we look at their prospects for the campaign ahead.

Muirhevnamor FC

Manager: Sean Maguire
Last season: Champions

Reigning NEFL champions Muirhevnamor begin their Premier Division defence when they face Kingscourt Harps at home on Friday night.

Harps were relegated from the top flight last season but were regraded following the withdrawal of Black Bull.

After winning the Division One and Premier Division title back-to-back, Muirhevnamor are looking to make it three-in-a-row and have a squad packed with players who are used to winning silverware.

With Tiarnan Mulvenna concentrating on playing duties this season, Sean Maguire will take charge from the dugout, assisted by Sean Dixon, Conor Mulvenna and Adrian Rafferty and the Mor go into Friday’s opener on the back of two wins in the Kilmessan Shield.

Muirhevnamor FC’s Padraig Hearty goes past Redeemer goalkeeper Kyle Murphy in Sunday’s Kilmessan Shield game at Gorman Park. PICTURE: BEN MCSHANE

Mulvenna, Gary Clarke, Padraig Hearty and Mickey O’Kane were on target in the 4–3 victory against Carrick Rovers last week while Hearty — with a brace — Mulvenna and Clarke also scored in last Sunday’s six-goal thriller with newcomers Redeemer Celtic at Gorman Park.

Mulvenna’s presence on the field, along with the arrival of Anton Webb from Bay FC, only adds to the eye-watering array of attacking options available to Maguire.

All action midfielder, Anto McLaughlin, has come from Rangers and with goalkeeper Michael Cooney back from Australia to further bolster the squad, Muirhevnamor start the season as the team to beat.

As well as retaining their NEFL crown, the Mor will also be hoping to make an impact at provincial level after being drawn at home to Mullingar Athletic in the first round of the Leinster Senior Cup.

Bellurgan United

Manager: Wayne Conroy
Last season: 3rd

It’s all change at Tom Flynn Park this year after the departure of manager Padraig Gollogley, who led Bellurgan to the final of both the Kilmessan Shield and Tully Bookmakers Challenge Cup last year along with a third placed finish in the league.

Wayne Conroy has taken over the reins and has a trophy laden CV to fall back on after leading the now defunct Rangers to three successive league titles and the Leinster Junior Shield and Woodview Celtic Reserves to a host of trophies some years back.

He will be assisted by Davy Flynn — who assisted Conroy at Rangers and was also a part of the Woodview Celtic backroom team when they completed a treble back in 2012 — along with Martin Finnegan and the club’s former goalkeeper, Tommy Tasker.

Jason McConville is currently helping out with coaching duties but his commitments to Newry City means that Conroy is still on the lookout for another staff member

Keith Finnegan is a notable name in Conroy’s squad for the campaign ahead while Cooley Kickhams trio Aoghan McGuinness, Ciaran Sheelan and Brian White, along with Danny O’Connor and Ray Finnegan from St Patrick’s, will be available when the GAA season comes to an end for their respective clubs.

To counter that, Conroy has taken a number of his old Rangers players with him to add to the depth of the squad. Barry Carr is back at Bellurgan for a second spell and is joined by former Dundalk U19 winger Gavin Gaffey, striker TJ Murtagh — who will join up on his return from America next month — and midfielder Jimmy Byrne.

Local defenders Brian McCloskey and Pauric Browne, former Woodview Celtic title winner Stephen Grimes, Declan ‘Bomber’ Sharkey and Eoghan McGuinness are also on board along with Gavin Donnelly who hit a brace in the 3–1 win over Rock Celtic in the Kilmessan Shield last week.

Another plus for Conroy is the presence of a reserve team — managed by Paddy Gill. Bellurgan are the only local club to have a second string at their disposal and it could prove invaluable to the new manager over the course of the season ahead.

The long journey to Trim lies in wait on Sunday morning. With a host of injuries at the minute, Bellurgan will be looking to make the trip home with some points on the table to get their season off to a positive start.

Quay Celtic

Manager: Martin Smith
Last season: 8th | Kilmessan Shield winners

Finished last season on a high after beating Bellurgan United in the Kilmessan Shield final at Oriel Park but, like the peninsula outfit, there has been changes at managerial level over the summer.

Simon Kelly has departed with striker Martin Smith and goalkeeper, John Rogers — who was a part of the Dundalk Schoolboys League coaching set-up at the SuperCup NI this summer — set to oversee operations with Paul Hoey and Drew Duffy also involved on the coaching side of things.

Winger Shaun O’Connor is back at the club after the demise of Rangers and Johnny Lynch is another new addition who knows the club inside out.

Johnny Lynch is back at Quay Celtic this season

Smith has also recruited former Crumlin United and Drogheda Town striker Aaron Comerford who made a big impression at the weekend, bagging a hat trick in the 6–1 Kilmessan Shield win over Woodview Celtic.

The 28-year-old lined out with Essex outfit, Catholic United, last season.

Cody Magill also featured in that game after missing most of last term with an ankle injury and Niall McLaughlin should play a bigger role this season.

On the other side of things, veteran midfielder Jonny Winters has left for Bay FC while Sean Hand is expected to join Newry City, leaving Smith and co with a panel of 17/18 to work with.

After narrowly avoiding the relegation play-off position last year, hopes will be high that Quay can repeat the exploits of the first half of the campaign which saw them keep pace with the teams in the upper reaches of the table.

First up is Duleek at Clancy Park on Friday night. Both sides finished on the same number of points last season so the Point Road men will be hoping to get off to a winning start.

NEFL Premier Division 2017/2018

Ardee Celtic, Bellurgan United, Boyne Harps, Duleek, Kingscourt Harps, Muirhevnamor, Newfoundwell, OMP United, Quay Celtic, Trim Celtic.

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