With the league finale getting closer, the battle at the bottom, with four teams in immediate danger and four anxiously looking over their shoulder, all games this weekend take on an air of importance.
With Ballinderry three points clear of Dungiven in second place, and Slaughtneil and Lavey one and two points respectively behind them, the chase is on from the four teams immediately below this quartet to dislodge three of them from their top four placing.
Newbridge v Ballinascreen
Newbridge will have been buoyed by their thumping win over Dungiven in their last game to record their first league win but they remain deeply entrenched in the relegation play-off zone. This could well be their most difficult game in the run in. Ballinascreen have a game in hand at the top of the table and are very much in contention for a top four finish.
Loup v Greenlough
Loup are two points above the four teams in the relegation zone with a game in hand, so they have their destiny in their own hands. With only one of their remaining six games against a bottom four side, away to Glenullin, they have a testing finish. Greenlough manager Gary Coleman has done a remarkable job in steering them to relative safety, although they too have a tough final five games. This will be an important game for both clubs.
Magherafelt v Castledawson
Castledawson have had a torrid time on their return to the top flight, propping up the table with just one win and a draw from ten games. With three of their games away from home they will need to get points quickly but they have a very difficult run in. Magherafelt are not out of danger as they sit two points above the bottom four and they will be very keen to win this game as three of their last four games are away from Rossa Park.
Glen v Banagher
Both sides may well view this game at Watty Graham Park as a ‘four pointer’, as a Banagher win would take them into the comfort zone, while a win for Glen would give them a glimmer of hope as they try to get out of the bottom four. Neither side has an easy finish, away to Lavey and Kilrea among the Glen games, home to Ballinderry and away to Magherafelt in the Banagher bundle of end of season games.
Coleraine v Kilrea
They’ve both played nine games, Kilrea one point ahead of Owen Roes as they battle for a top four finish. Both are just outside the title play-off places, with Pearses possibly the less difficult run-in. A defeat in this game would weaken the chances for both, although a league semi-final might not be high on the priority list.
Bellaghy v Dungiven
Bellaghy are four points adrift of Dungiven but significantly they have two games in hand, although the Tones will have more important fish to fry, the championship Joe Cassidy’s more pressing concern. Dungiven were coasting along nicely in the league until Newbridge derailed their top four aspirations at O’Cahan Park. In recent years they have not found it easy to get any reward in Bellaghy.
Lavey v Ballinderry
Even though four of Ballinderry’s remaining five games are against the four teams immediately below them, they remain hot favourites to consolidate a top four finish as they have a six point cushion on the nearest rivals outside the top four. Lavey are in fourth place with 13-point but four teams below them have them in their sights. Lavey will want to avenge their championship defeat against the Shamrocks, but it will not be easy.
Slaughtneil v Glenullin
Worrying times for the Mitchel’s and most definitely not the best of times to be heading to Emmett Park in search of points! Slaughtneil are in the top four and will be keen to firm up their challenge on that front, Emmett Park not the easiest of venues to pick up points. Glenullin will not be wanting to be in search of points as the season draws to a close, especially if the teams above them pick up points. A very difficult game for them.