Luke Nelis (Finn Harps Reserves), Jamie Lynagh (Bonagee Utd) and Adrian Delap (Derry City Reserves). Pic: North West News Pix.
A new season dawns in the Ulster Senior League on Sunday and, after another busy summer in the transfer market, the action kicks off on Sunday with the first round of games in the Donegal News Ulster Senior League Cup.
Cockhill Celtic have won the League and League Cup double in each of the last five seasons. While Gavin Cullen’s men will again be expected to be front-runners, their peers have all added some significant signings of late and have the Inishowen men in their sights.
“Competition for places is why we have achieved,” says Cullen, who has added Mark Coyle, Laurence Toland and Shay Dunlop to their ranks. Johnny Havlin is back from injury, as is former FAI Intermediate Player of the Year Malachy McDermott.
“No-one will play every game. Everyone has to work for their place. Malachy was badly missed in tough games. We missed that leadership and energy so it’ll be good to have him back.
“We want to aim high and we want to keep winning.”
Jason Breslin (Larne) and Gerry Gill (Greencastle) have gone out and player-boss Cullen is aiming for a good start, which was the winning of their silverware last season.
Cullen, whose side begin with a home fixture against Swilly Rovers, says: “Our form from the start to Christmas was as good as I’ve seen. It was a slog after that and it left it tighter than it should have been. A good start is always vital.”
Letterkenny Rovers ran Cockhill to within three points in the Four Lanterns Ulster Senior League last season and the Cathedral Town side are craving silverware again. They missed out on the League last season, but did end the term with a trophy as they defeated Glengad United in the Knockalla Caravans Cup final.
“Any time you take a piece of silverware, it’s a good year, but this season lot of teams have strengthened and I think it will be more competitive,” says Rovers manager Eamon McConigley, ahead of a derby clash with Bonagee United on Sunday at Leckview Park.
“The League will be tighter. I think games will be very competitive.
“We want to be challenging for trophies. We have players here who haven’t won the Ulster Senior League. Hopefully we can have a good run in the Intermediate too.”
McConigley has added Sean McCarron, the ex Finn Harps and Kildrum Tigers striker, to his ranks, to add to the prolific Darren McElwaine in the attack,
Chris Malseed, Pajo Rafferty and Tristan Ferris have also joined the Rovers roster, but Paul McVeigh, Paul Boyle and Sean Friel are gone from last season’s panel.
Tony O’Carroll has taken the reigns at Bonagee from Peter Moran and it has been a busy few weeks of transfer activity at Dry Arch Park.
Michael Funston returns from Finn Harps after spending 14 seasons in senior football. Funston played schoolboy and USL for Bonagee before going to Harps as a teenager.
Funston played 335 times for Harps, while he had a spell at Dungannon Swifts in between.
Brian McClean, Glenn Gallagher, Matty Harkin, Caolan McLaughlin, Scott Rice and Oisin McMenamin have all beeen added, although Gareth Breslin, Taylor Russell, Aidan McCauley and Aidan McLaughlin are no longer available.
“My aim for the season is to have a competitive, eager side,” O’Carroll, who managed Bonagee’s Under-18s last season, said.
“It’s game-by-game, but I hope to be competitive and bring the youths on board. It’s a big step up and I’m aware of that, but we’re optimistic and we’re looking forward to it.”
Swilly Rovers have bid farewell to the likes of Laurence Toland, Tony McNamee, Dylan Hegarty, Kyle Black and Jordan Toland. Gerry Crossan has taken in Eamon McHugh, Micheál McHugh, Sean Friel, Conor Duggan, Ciaran McHugh and Kennedy Boachie-Ansah have been recruited.
“We’ve taken in a lot of young boys,” Swilly player-coach Marty McDaid says.
“It’s been a building process the last few years, but hopefully they’ll step up and do a job for us this year.
“We might get beaten in a few games. You don’t mind that as long as you’re not hammered. For the season, we want to be tough for teams to play against.”
Fanad United had a season of improvement last season and manager Arthur Lynch wants his side to raise the bar again.
Fanad - who have won nine League Cups - begin with an away game in Group A against Derry CIty Reserves. Tony McNamee, Darragh Black and Kyle Black to the ranks at Triagh-A-Locha.
“The players we have taken in are winners,” Lynch said.
“They’re willing to compete and that’s the type of player we’re looking for.
“Last year, we improved on the year before and we want to step it up again. Last year, we were good in patches, but we weren’t consistent enough.”
Derry City Reserves will be under the charge of John Quigg while Finn Harps Reserves - who are free this weekend - are managed by Joe Boyle. The senior clubs are likely to field mainly players from their Under-19 and Under-17 squads, but will be strengthened from time to time by first-team squad members.
Donegal News Ulster Senior League Cup Group A
Cockhill Celtic v Swilly Rovers Referee - Vincent McLoughlin.
Derry City Reserves v Fanad United Referee - Garvan Taggart; Assistants - Packie Coll, Marty Quinn.
Donegal News Ulster Senior League Cup Group B
Letterkenny Rovers v Bonagee United Referee - Michael Connolly; Assistants - Marty McGarrigle, Benny McDaid.