With the Winter break upon us, attention now turns to 2023 as teams scramble for pole position in the league and prepare for action in the Mick Mooney Challenge Cup and the divisional cups in what promises to be an unforgettable second half to the league’s historic 70th campaign, writes Finbarr Buckley.
Jay Bazz, in their first season in the top flight after last season’s third place promotion, have taken the Sports Gear Direct Premier Division by storm. The Frank Linehan Cup holders tore into a six match winning run which included big wins over former winners Marlboro Trust, Martin Harvey Solicitors, Healy O’Connor Solicitors and Absolute Contracting Inch United. Their only defeat was at the hands of champions Doolan’s Cow in the derby at Mayfield Sports Complex on Sunday, November 6th. As a result, Jay Bazz currently enjoy a nine-point lead over Doolan’s who have four matches in hand. The Cow dropped two points in their opening fixture with Marlboro Trust but have ominously recovered to string together a five match winning streak which has propelled them into second in the table, one of only two teams to remain unbeaten.
The other, Satellite Taxis, are currently third with last season’s First Division winners Brew Boys and Healy O’Connor Solicitors lying further back. Martin Harvey Solicitors, after their exploits in the latter stages of the shield competition and the junior cups, are currently lying seventh in the table but have only played four matches and have the potential to apply pressure at the top as the season progresses. UCC United can never be counted out, despite losing twice already, but having only four matches played could well join the title race at the most opportune time.
At the other end of the table, debutants Fisherman’s Rest Valley Rangers and Absolute Contracting Inch United, along with O’Brien Scaffolding will be looking to a revival of fortunes as they attempt to avoid the drop by quickly picking up much needed points when play resumes.
The First Division is fascinatingly poised as no fewer than eight teams still remain in the title race. The lead has exchanged hands on a couple of occasions already with unbeaten Arc Rovers, and Andy Sull’s Hair coming to the fore in recent weeks after Jason O’Neill Electrical led the way in the early stages. In-form Longboats are looking like potential winners in recent weeks, having only dropped four points so far. The lead is shared by three teams, Andy Sull’s, Longboats and Arc Rovers with only goal difference separating the teams. Trend Micro, despite losing on three occasions, are growing into the campaign along with Tim Irwin’s Crookstown Utd., who despite their recent loss to Andy Sull’s, possess the division’s leading marksman in James Kelleher and are relishing playing the big guns on their home turf in Crookstown. The league’s longest serving club, Co. Council, cannot be ignored as their mid table placing can be misleading after only suffering two defeats in eight outings.
At the other end, The Weigh Inn have yet to pick up a first win but will draw inspiration from holding potential winners Arc to a draw early on in the campaign. A group of three which includes Curry House Hungry Tigers, Telus International and HBC Redemption Rovers are battling it out to get to double figures as quickly as possible and move comfortably out of the bottom half.
Mick Mooney Cup holders Doolan’s Cow will be vary of a potential banana skin when the Mooney Cup draw is made in early January following their near escape in last season’s final triumph over Crookstown. Other potential threats, best placed in their respective leagues, who must at this stage have an eye on the blue ribbon trophy of the league calendar are, from the premier, four time winners Marlboro Trust, leaders Jay Bazz, Satellite Taxis, UCC Utd. and Martin Harvey Solicitors. The top six in the second tier are capable of giving any team a run on the day with a least two making it to the last four or further depending on the draw.
The divisional cups are liking to produce a new winner with the possible exception of premier holders Doolan’s Cow who, by the time the competition comes around in mid April, could be still in the hunt for the four domestic trophies and become the first teams to win the back to back quadruples.