DONEGAL Celtic manager Stephen Hatfield is hoping his side can bounce straight back and gain promotion following relegation from Championship 1 last season.
The Suffolk Road outfit will compete in the new NIFL Premier Intermediate Division this season after Championship 2 was restructured and they start their season with a trip to Dundela on Saturday (3pm).
However, Hatfield hopes that their stay in local football’s third tier is a relatively short one. “Our aim for the new season has to be promotion back to the Championship as quickly as we can,” stated Hatfield. “I know it won’t be easy due to the quality of the teams in the league, but I’ll make no bones about it – that will be our aim.
“Whether it happens this season or next season, we will look to achieve it as quickly as possible. A run in the Steel and Sons Cup and promotion would be ideal.” Hatfield became DC’s third manager of the 2015/16 campaign after Gerard Bradley handed in his resignation before Christmas.
Nicky Maye started last season in charge but stepped down in October. Despite the history of managerial upheaval at the club, Hatfield insists everyone is working hard to move the ‘Wee Hoops’ forward. “I can only concentrate on what we are doing internally,” said Hatfield.
“I think things are going a lot better from board level right the way down to the junior sides. “From my point of view, I have been delighted with the effort the committee have put in to support us last season. “There are a number of ex-Premiership sides in the Intermediate league this year so it will be a very competition league, but we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Hatfield has been busy in the close season strengthening his squad with Declan Monaghan (Camlough), Brian McLean and Maurice Curtis (both Derry City), Kevin Hughes (Crumlin Star), Niall Derry (Lisburn Distillery), Francis Duggan (St Oliver Plunkett) and Cole Maginess (Glentoran) joining DC. Darren Munce has also re-signed for his former club.
The Donegal Celtic boss insists he is happy with the squad at his disposal but hasn’t ruled out making one or two more signings before the transfer window shuts. “
We have brought in about six or seven new additions,” added the DC boss. “We are in a much healthier position going into the new season and I am very happy with the squad. “In terms of quality I can’t ask for much more.
“Towards the end of August, with boys not starting for Premiership or Championship teams regularly, you would always be interested if one or two became available. “If I had to go from now to the end of the season with the squad I have, I wouldn’t have any complaints.”
Meanwhile, Sport and Leisure manager, Pat McAllister is also on the lookout for another signing or two ahead of the new season following the departure of leading marksman Kevin Lynch.
The striker signed for Championship side Knockbreda and the Swifts boss admits he has left a big void in the team.
“We have lost Kevin Lynch, who has been our top goalscorer over the last few seasons,” said McAllister. “He has moved on to Knockbreda which I have no problem with. “He wants to better himself and he has moved up a level.
“Personally, I am not there to hold players back. If any of our players move on to a higher level, I feel that it is job done on our behalf. “Trying to replace Kevin Lynch is going to be the big challenge - where do you get someone who will score 35 goals a season?
“We might have to change the way we play because Kevin gave us the option of a ball over the top because of his pace. “We have until the end of the August to bring another one or two players in.” McAllister is also anticipating a difficult season for the Swifts, but wants the Glen Road Heights outfit to target another top six finish.
“I know we have finished third and fourth over the last two season but I honestly feel this will be the toughest test we have faced,” added McAllister. “I think it will be very difficult. Last year, no disrespect to any of the teams, we could look at the fixtures and think we’ll take six points from those two games. I have looked at the fixtures and there are no easy games.
“Our target won’t charge – we will try to get back into the top six. Anything after that will be a bonus.”
Pearse Tully (back) is the only injury concern for McAllister ahead of Saturday’s opener at home to Queen’s (3pm).