The Ballymena Saturday Morning League looks set to attempt to top a remarkable season - by coming back even stronger next year.
Membership of the league is set to expand in 2015-16, league secretary Brian Montgomery revealed, as the league celebrated its 46th anniversary dinner on Friday night.
“We have six applications from teams for next season and we hope to recruit a few teams for next year and bring the third division up to a workable level,” ‘Monty’ told guests at the Leighinmohr House Hotel function.
It’s little wonder that places are in such big demand in a league which goes ever stronger by the year and which is held in the highest esteem in junior football circles throughout Northern Ireland.
Brian looked back on “another remarkable year”, the obvious highlight of which was Harryville Homers retaining the IFA Junior Cup, with the Blue Riband trophy in junior football again taking pride of place among a glittering array of silverware.
He praised the league’s “marquee sponsor” firmus energy and praised the company for its input into the league, including the hugely popular Player of the Month accolades, which will continue next season, while Monty also had great praise for the league’s other sponsors who provide financial backing “year in, year out”.
Still on the playing side, Brian reflected upon some tremendous matches, particularly in the closing weeks of the season, with the league title eventually being decided in Homers’ favour after a titanic battle with Ahoghill Thistle, who themselves won two trophies.
Brian reminded teams of the importance of respecting referees and opponents and also expressed his hope that the league would continue to receive backing in terms of facilities under the new Mid and East Antrim Council.
Monty also paid tribute to the league’s officials and committee, stating: “I thank them for their hard work and their honesty in making decisions.”
Deputy Mayor, Councillor Timothy Gaston, representing the local authority, said: “The new Council does recognise the importance of sport and football - it is a big part of many people’s lives.
“I see great commitment to the football family of Ballymena - it seems this league is going to go from strength to strength.
“I’m amazed when I hear about the amount of free time you give up and put into the development of young people in this borough.”
The Deputy Mayor also paid tribute to the contribution of the Steven Lowry Foundation Trust, stating: “The health and wellbeing of all the players and supporters is of paramount importance and with the help of the Trust, they have been installing defibrillators across the borough and that will save lives.”
The Deputy Mayor also expressed his hope that upgrades of facilities would continue across the borough, with work either planned or already ongoing at Wakehurst Cullybackey and Waveney.
League President Andy Kerr praised all the teams for their efforts, paying particular tribute to the “magnificent achievement” of Harryville Homers.
“It’s hard to imagine that in a few years’ time, we will be celebrating half a century of nights like this,” he added.
* For a full list of prizewinners, see www.ballymenatimes.com