Ballymackey and Nenagh Celtic are two of five teams who still have premier division title aspirations when the 2020 NT&DL season resumes this week. PHOTO: ODHRAN DUCIE

Sprint to the finish of 2020 soccer season

By Gary Culbert

This evening (Wednesday) sees the return of North Tipperary & District League action after a break of almost 250 days.

Following consultation with every team in all three divisions, the NT&DL committee decided that the 2020 league season would be concluded. However, once this decision was made, clubs were then given the option of playing their remaining fixtures or giving walkovers in their remaining games. Cloughjordan FC from the Premier Division and Nenagh Celtic ‘B’ from Division 2 are the only teams to withdraw from competing in the 2020 season.

According to the FAI, the date that the season must be concluded by is the 18th of July. The NT&DL committee are planning for the final games of the 2020 season – the divisional cup finals – to take place on the weekend of 10th/11th July, as they envisage that the 2021 season will commence on the weekend of 24th July.

There is a short window of time for the 2020 season to be completed in, and for this reason mid-week fixtures will be used alongside the weekend games to accelerate the completion of the 2020 season.

Premier Division

There are three teams who will all hold genuine title aspirations. Lough Derg are in pole position with 15 points, however, if Nenagh Celtic win their game in-hand they will have 17 points, similarly if Borroway Rovers were to win their two games in-hand they would have a total of 18 points.

There will be more clarity on the title race after the full-time whistle on Wednesday, as anything but three points for either side could put an end to their title charge.

Cloughjordan’s relegation has been confirmed, but Thurles Town still have a chance to save their season, however it is extremely unlikely that they will be able to catch third from bottom Moneygall, who are showing some fine pre-season form, with Paul Costello Junior in fine form.

When action in the Ricky Fogarty cup resumes, Nenagh Celtic will host Killavilla, and Borroway Rovers face a daunting trip to Clarisford Park to take on Lough Derg.

Division 1

Clodiagh Rangers ‘A’ have all but secured the title in Division 1, but there is a ferocious battle for second place. Portumna Town, Rearcross, and Borrisokane will all feel they are in with a chance of securing promotion, but it is the Galway side who are out in front by one point.

Sallypark look destined to be playing Division 2 soccer next year as they sit bottom the league with zero points, but who will be joining them is unclear. Arra Rovers and Ardcroney are level on points, with the latter in the drop-zone on goal difference. Prior to the break in action both teams were showing positive signs in front of goal, but keeping them out of their own net was the real issue, Ardcroney will be counting on Jack Daly finding some form.

The Barry Cup will be contested between Arra Rovers, Portumna, Rearcross, and Clodiagh Rangers ‘A’, with the latter being the most likely destination of the Barry Cup, however, Portumna – with their steely defense - will feel they can cause an upset.

Division 2

Birdhill and Clodiagh Rangers ‘B’ will both be playing Division 1 soccer next season, but who will win the title is anyone’s guess as both teams are level on 24 points at the top of the league.

The Nora Kennedy Cup will be very interesting, as both front-runners in the league have been knocked out in the previous round. The favourites for the cup will be Holycross, who knocked out Birdhill, however, on their day Silvermines can beat anyone in Division 2, in the last round of the cup Clodiagh Rangers ‘B’ learnt this the hard way.

Youths

The NT&DL committee have decided to cease the 2020 youths season, citing the lack of games played before the break and issues surrounding players now being overage for the Under-18 age bracket.

The youths league has always been a very difficult age-group for clubs, coaches, and administrators to get right. Leaving Cert exams, going away to college, J1 working holidays, competing sports and other social events at this age often combine to mean that many young players never make the step from youth’s soccer to junior soccer.

The step up is often not facilitated well by clubs, however, there are some clubs bucking this trend through having well run ‘B’ teams and having coaching staff who overlap both the youth’s and junior teams.

Throughout the pandemic, this age group has missed out on many rites of passage, and due to age restrictions, many of them are now overage to play youth’s football. With no under-19 league in place in North Tipperary, there is a huge onus on clubs to communicate with these young men and make sure that they are not lost from our clubs.

The NT&DL committee have stated their intention to commence a youths season “as soon as practicable”, but some of the Youth’s managers have expressed their desire for a mini tournament for the Youth’s players of the 2020 season.

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