THE Limerick Desmond League 2016-17 season kicks off on Sunday for the top three divisions.
Division 3 will commence on the 4 th of September, with the Youths getting underway the day before that.
The main focus in the Premier Division will be on Abbeyfeale United’s quest to become the first team to win three League Championships in a row since Rathkeale did it in 1995, 1996 and 1997. John Kelliher is again at the helm and he looks to have strengthened his squad from last year, with dominant midfielder Mike Sheehan back from Spain and Chris Smith ready to return from a long-term injury, while striker Pa O’Connor will be available from mid-September onwards.
Broadford United were in pole position last season going into the final weekend but faltered with two draws and lost out by two points. Johnny Carey was a big success when he joined them late last season and he will be with them from the start this season, as will Gary Egan, Micheal Brosnan, Alan Fitzpatrick, Ray Lynch, Brian Hannigan and Timmy Larkin, all of whom missed the start of last season for various reasons. Anthony Barrett and Michael Begley are being introduced from the Youths squad. Jim Neenan and Tom Kelly are joined on the management team by Broadford great, Mikey Clancy.
None of the other teams posed any serious challenge to the top two last season so they will be looking for an improvement this season. Glin will be hoping to transfer their Desmond Cup triumph into League form. They will be without two of the stars of that Final for the start of the season, Karl O’Sullivan, who is with Kerry u-17s, and Kevin Sweeney, who has gone to America. Managers Mike McLoughlin and Shane Culhane are hoping to get O’Sullivan back when the 17s season finishes and they are delighted to welcome back Tommy Culhane, whose presence will be a big boost.
Rathkeale were bitterly disappointed to lose last season’s Desmond Cup Final, having led 2-0 at half-time. John Coleman was joint manager of that team and he is involved again, along with Seamus Giltenane and Adrian Lyons.
Ballingarry, bottom of the table for much of last season, finished so strongly that they had ten points to spare at the end in the relegation battle. They are under new management this season, namely Eoin Barrett, who will be converting his referee’s whistle into a coaching whistle, and John Cronin. Denis Kelly has retired from playing after many years of marvellous service to the club, Pa Healy and Richard O’Kelly have moved abroad, while Nathan Clancy has joined Regional United. On the plus side, Colm Kiely is back from injury, while Aaron Smith, who was excellent for Rathkeale’s Youths treble winners last season, has returned to his native Ballingarry.
Newcastle West also have a new duo at the helm, namely Paul Slater and Eddie Brouder. They are hopeful of some new signings that will improve on their mid-table finish of last season.
Newcastle West Rovers are expecting to have their new dressing-rooms ready for their game at home to Athea United on Sunday. They were disappointed to finish 17 points behind Champions Abbeyfeale United and will be hoping to do better under John Moynihan, previously synonymous with Old Mill, Ted Murphy and Thomas St. John. Ed Gallagher will train the side.
Killeaney are again managed by Anthony Collins, with Tom Lynch and Don Hannon as selectors. New signings include Stephen Shine, Stephen O’Carroll, Dave Mulvihill, Jack Harrision and Gavin Kenneally.
Athea United and Carrig Celtic both came straight back up last season, having been relegated the season before. Managed by John Cotter, Kevin O’Keeffe and Joe O’Connor, Athea welcome back Cillian O’Connor from Newcastle West Rovers, along with Sean Ryan from the Youths team.
Carrig manager Paul O’Connor will be assisted by Noel O’Connor. Last season’s squad remains intact and will be joined by Aaron Murphy from Glantine.
Athea have powerful attacking options and I don’t see them struggling this season. Carrig, the other promoted team, may find themselves in a relegation battle, possibly along with Killeaney. At the top of the table, I expect Abbeyfeale to complete the three-in- a-row, with Broadford again having to settle for second.
Division 1 should be a closely-contested affair. Shannonside FC and Kildimo United, both relegated from the Premier, will be expected to contest for the title along with Feenagh, who were the best of the chasing pack last season. Glantine are overdue a break into the top flight and the return of Eoin King from Australia will help managers John Kelly, Enda Mulcahy and Patrick O’Connor in their promotion ambitions. It remains to be seen if Granagh United and AK United will be able to make the step-up from Division 2.
Depending on how many players, if any, that Glin Rovers B have lost to their A-team, last season’s Division 3 double winners should fare well in Division 2. Other challengers may include Ballysteen and League Cup holders, St. Ita’s.
Division 3 is reduced in number from twelve to seven. Creeves Celtic, Ferry Rangers, Knockaderry and Newcastle West B can all be considered contenders for the title.