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Belfast Celtic plans not in doubt despite relegation concerns

Sport and Leisure Swifts will play as Belfast Celtic FC from the start of the next season, but they are currently locked in a relegation battle and sit bottom of the Premier Intermediate League Sport and Leisure Swifts will play as Belfast Celtic FC from the start of the next season, but they are currently locked in a relegation battle and sit bottom of the Premier Intermediate League
By Paddy Tierney

Bluefin Premier Intermediate League
Sport and Leisure Swifts v Dollingstown; Saturday, 3pm, Glen Road Heights

THE man at the helm of the plans to revive Belfast Celtic FC says nothing will change, even if the club have to start next season outside of the Irish League.

The IFA have already approved the name-change which will see Sport and Leisure Swifts play as Belfast Celtic from the start of the 2019-20 campaign.

However, the Glen Road Heights outfit are currently locked in a relegation dogfight with their place in the Premier Intermediate League in serious jeopardy.

Currently, Packie McAllister’s men sit bottom of the standings and are five points adrift of Armagh City and seven behind Dollingstown.

Sport and Leisure have two games in hand over Dollingstown and three over Armagh and they face their rivals on successive Saturdays at a crucial juncture in the league.

They will hope to arrest a run of seven successive league defeats when they host Dollingstown this Saturday before a trip to Holm Park to face Armagh the following week, but club chairman Jim Gillen insists they will still become Belfast Celtic from next season onwards.

“Nothing will change in regards to Belfast Celtic – we have a Plan B in place,” stated Gillen.

“We are know exactly what we are doing and we have a few options. We’ll see what happens over the coming weeks.

“Whether we finish bottom or not, we’ll be moving forward as Belfast Celtic. Everything is place in place and the interest we’ve had from abroad has been astonishing.

“We’ve had interest from Europe, USA and even Asia. The level of interest is unreal.

“We are a step closer of delivering our aim of bringing professional football to West Belfast.”

Should Sport and Leisure finish bottom, they would drop out of the Premier Intermediate League, provided the team seeking promotion meets the requirements set out by the Irish League.

Last season, Dollingstown moved up from the Mid-Ulster League after Ballymena and Provincial League winners, Glebe Rangers opted out of the play-off game.

Donegal Celtic bowed out of the Premier Intermediate League last season and opted to join local rivals, St James’ Swifts in the Ballymena and Provincial Intermediate League.

However, Sport and Leisure manager Packie McAllister has urged his players to put their shoulder to the wheel for the remainder of the season in order to ensure they avoid the drop.

“At the end of the day, we all have to take responsibility – myself, the management and the players,” said McAllister.

“My opinion is that the commitment hasn’t been good enough. The numbers at training hasn’t been good. You get what you deserve in football and, at this moment in time, we haven’t deserved to win games. The commitment from the players hasn’t been good enough. There is no point in beating about the bush or protecting them – it just hasn’t been good enough.

“They need to stand up and be counted over the next four weeks. All we are asking is to put a bit of pride back in the club.”

Despite their precarious position at the foot of the standings, McAllister believes they can gain the points they need to overhaul Armagh City and even Dollingstown.

The West Belfast men will welcome back Stephen McAlorum and Padraig Lynch after Saturday’s clash with Dollingstown following their controversial suspensions arising from the abandoned tie at Portstewart earlier this year. McAllister hopes their return will coincide with an upturn in his side’s fortune in the coming weeks.

“It will just take one result to get up back on track and Saturday’s game (against Dollingstown) is a must-win,” added McAllister.

“A lot of people felt sorry for themselves after the IFA suspensions. They sat back and used that as an excuse rather than rolling up the sleeves. We aren’t getting the numbers at training and we are throwing teams together on a Saturday. To say it has been frustrating has been an understatement.

“We can still stay up, but it is up to the players to realise that. We have a few boys back from suspension after Saturday, but we need to get a win on Saturday.

“We have to try and hang on to Armagh’s tails at the minute. We need a result on Saturday and then go down to Armagh the following week with a view to beating them and overtaking them in the table. We’ve a few games in hand, but we can’t look too far ahead.” 

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