Killavilla United captain John Pio Fitzpatrick accepting the NT&DL Premier Division Shield from Dermot Freeman and Shane Lee (NT&DL Committee). PHOTO: GARY CULBERT

Killavilla put title on the line in league-less Celtic

By Gary Culbert

With the North Tipperary & District League returning to a winter programme, the 2022/2023 league season gets underway this weekend.

Premier Division

For the first time in recent memory Nenagh Celtic are not entering a team into the NT&DL men’s leagues.

For many years, Nenagh Celtic have operated at an exceptional standard that raised the level of football in North Tipperary, so the NT&DL Premier Division is weakened at the temporary loss of this great club.

Not only were Nenagh Celtic extremely successful in recent years, but they done it with an attractive style of football that was unrivalled in terms of the system as a whole being even greater than the parts that made it up; no matter what players were dropped in Celtic always demonstrated the same patterns of play. Versatile and highly technical players on the ball like Jimmy Hynes and Danny Ryan who also had the game intelligence to outsmart their opponents were key to Henry Newman’s success at Celtic, whilst Alan Kelly and Sean Healy were key to their build up play and success in wide areas. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before the NT&DL are treated to the Nenagh Celtic way again.

As much as we would love to say that the promoted sides could push for league glory this season, it looks highly likely that Killavilla United will have back-to-back league success.

Denis Moloney has somehow managed to strengthen an already league winning outfit. ‘Villa have doubled up starter-grade options at wing back with the additions of Fionn Ryan and former Moneygall captain Eddie Simmons, whilst the second striker role once contested between Dion Carney and John Pio Fitzpatrick, is now occupied by Brian Moloney.

Central defence was arguably where the most cover was needed, but not anymore as former Athlone Town and Thurles Town centre-half Joe Moloney has been drafted in, as has ex-Moneygall man Dylan Carroll; whilst Richard Fairbrother has been dropped into the base of the midfield three.

Although Villa will ultimately lift the league title, they will not get it easy; this will be a Premier Division season where every team will take points off of each other or failing that make it extremely difficult to earn three points.

A trip to Rearcross’ vast pitch under the lights in winter will be a daunting prospect for the most confident of sides, whilst Arra Rovers will be well in every home match heading into the final minutes of their games. Rearcross may be too one dimensional to sustain a serious title challenge, whilst Arra may struggle away from home.

BT Harps are a much-changed prospect from last season and will be nowhere near the relegation places that they narrowly escaped last season.

Lough Derg are an entertaining side who score an impressive number of goals, but they also concede far too many to mount a reliable title charge.

Borrisokane will greatly feel the loss of Brian Donnelly to Nenagh AFC, and they could really struggle this season, whilst Ballymackey are in a similar boat having lost some of their own young talent to the Limerick League side.

First Division

Ardcroney are in their best shape in recent history and should be looking to win the First Division or at the very least claim promotion to the Premier Division.

Jack Daly will be their shining light as he looks to really be enjoying his football in the free role behind the striker. The promotion of David Pearse and Andrew Hayes from their youth setup has seen Glen Austin bolster his defensive and attacking options respectively in his debut season in charge. The return of Ian McSherry will keep club top scorer from last season Jamie Heffernan on his toes up top, whilst Lee Doran will cause a selection headache when Ross Austin and Alan Darcy are both available.

Sallypark are the club that has benefitted most from Nenagh Celtic’s current demise as prolific forwards Brian Mitchell and Paul Walsh have joined the back-to-back Tipperary Cup winners and Nora Kennedy Cup holders. However, the additions were much needed given the fact that ‘Park will be without goal ace Paul Ryan for the beginning of the campaign. Even without Paul Ryan the Sallypark striking options will send a shiver down the spine of most NT&DL teams, as Sean Ryan and Brian Mitchell will look to play off of powerful target man Paul Walsh.

Holycross were without some key first team starters for their Shield campaign and still got over the line, so they will be well in the mix at the top of the league.

As ever, Borroway Rovers are an unknown prospect at the start of the season, especially given the fact that they did not enter the shield. However, Paul Gould’s side have picked up some players from local teams, most significant being the signing of the former Thurles Town captain, so they will be no pushovers.

Portumna Town just avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth last season, but Graham Fogarty’s side will be nowhere near danger this year. If the Galway side can keep Adam Fogarty fit and firing, they will be a danger to any team in the division.

Cloughjordan, Moneygall, and Thurles Town will all battle it out to avoid relegation this year. The latter of which are in a difficult position having seen their long stay at The Greyhound Stadium come to an end.

Second Division

Although a newly formed team, Shinrone have been in training and friendly action since March so are well placed to mount a title charge in the Second Division. Dan Bevans and Terry Bartlett won the Second Division and Nora Kennedy Cup four years ago, so they are not lacking for experience in North Tipp football either. Former Moneygall man Riann McLoughlin will lead the line for Declan Mullaly’s side, who are in Shield final action this Friday in Drombane.

Clodiagh Rangers ‘B’ and Birdhill will continue their rivalry in a battle for the other promotion spot, whilst Templetouhy have the ability to take points off all teams in the division, particularly when playing at home.

Borrisoleigh are a welcome addition to the league but will play all their games away from this season.