THERE has been a major change to the Beamish Stout Senior First Division for the 2021/22 season which will kick off on Thursday.
Catering for 13 teams last season, it’s been reduced to eight this time around with a third division being added to the grade.
The top eight teams from last season’s unfinished campaign will contest the second division in a three-round series of games.
Casement Celtic shared seventh spot with Fermoy when the season was cancelled and as such just made the cut for the new second division.
Manager Darren Haines, who returned for a second spell in charge at the Ballyphehane club, just after the start of last season, is happy that they will be competing in the senior grade’s third tier and he feels they have the squad that can push for promotion.
Haines took over the reins after a couple of early games last season which saw them lose heavily, but he steadied the ship and he felt that they would have made progress in the table had the campaign not been cancelled.
“I came in for the last four or five games of last season and we won four of the five. I think we would have progressed further, and I feel we have the squad now that will challenge for promotion,” Haines said.
After his first spell as Casement manager, when he led the team to the Pop Keller Cup in 2018 when they lost to a very good Carrigaline side, Haines had a spell at Cobh Wanderers, coaching under manager Darren Murphy, which he described “as a great learning curve from which he gained a lot of experience”.
Now he’s back with Casement, who recently unveiled their magnificent re-developed pitch at the club’s grounds on the Carrigrohane Road.
“There was a lot of investment went into the pitch, and it looks great. A lot of effort went into getting things right and the club is really lucky to have hard-working members and have good sponsors like Kenneth Delaney Masonry and Fadez Barbers.”
On the playing side Casement have added to their squad with the return of Killian Fitzgerald, while Christopher Byrne is also back in Casement colours after successful spells with Everton and Rockmount in the premier division over the past 15 years or so.
“Christopher is a huge signing for us; he brings great experience to the team. We’ve also signed Conor Horan, who played in Limerick, and Wesley Tong.
“We still have experienced players like Niall Calnan and Trevor Daly in the squad, though we have lost Ryan Haines through injury and he will be a big loss, I feel we have the squad now that will challenge for promotion,” added Haines who will have Chris Maguire and Pat Mulcahy as part of his management team.
Casement will begin their campaign with a Keane Cup on Saturday (3pm) game away to Macroom, who beat them early in the league last season, but who will operate in the third division this year.
Innishvilla, Lakewood, and Tramore Athletic make up Casement’s group.
Haines believes Riverstown will be the danger team in the league, and while Casement secured their status in the re-shaped second division by the narrowest of margins, there were no doubts about which division Riverstown would be playing in.
Jonathan O’Callaghan’s men were five points clear at the top of the second division table when the season ended, while they were also in the shake-up in for the 2020 promotion places before that campaign was cancelled, m
“We were actually disappointed that last season was cancelled because we were five points clear of Wilton United and seven points clear of Pearse Celtic in third,” explained O’Callaghan.
“I didn’t think that we would not be promoted,” he added after he had steered his side to seven wins from seven.
“We can’t do anything about it now, though, except put our heads down and drive on. We’ve been back training for the last few weeks and we have all the lads from last season and we are hoping to add one or two more.”
O’Callaghan, who had been a player with the club, has been at the helm for the last two seasons, taking over at the beginning of the 2019/20 season.
Riverstown were going well that season and were involved in a four-horse race for promotion with Youghal United, Wilton United, and Lakewood Athletic when the season stopped in March.
“That was disappointing at the time because we were in a good position. We were two points behind Wilton in second spot and we had to play them twice, so I felt we were well placed for promotion.,” admitted O’Callaghan.
Riverstown had the perfect record after seven games last time around and O’Callaghan will be hoping for something similar this time.
“We will be looking to get a good start, a bit like the last two seasons, but it doesn’t always go the same way. We will be starting in the Keane Cup and it will be a chance to blood a few players.”
Riverstown’s opener is their cup clash away to Wilton United on Thursday (7.15pm), a team that O’Callaghan expects to be in the title race again this season.
Wilton will have a new manager at the helm after Dan Murphy stepped down, with former underage manager Brendan O’Sullivan having taken over.
With the division now reduced from 13 teams to eight, and with three series of games, it should make this division extremely competitive.
Pearse Celtic did well in their first few games as a senior club last season, reaching third in the table and they will be hoping to continue that upward momentum.
Lakewood had also made strides and will be hoping to complete their first full season in the MSL having seen both previous efforts cut short, while Tramore’s return to the senior ranks was also ended prematurely, but they had done well to remain in the top half of the table.
Fermoy will complete this eight-team group and, like Casement, just got in to preserve their second division status. They will be hoping to do much better this time around.