The fixture list for the 2013-14 Belfast and District Leagues has been posted at the Ballynafeigh CC website, the mouthpiece for League Controller, Damien Cunningham. Hats off to him for getting the whole thing started a week earlier than last year - with Easter 2014 at a late date, there should be no problem fitting in even 21 games before then. Good news is that there are an even number of 12 teams, one up from last year.
Two new entrants, from opposite ends of the Upper Newtownards Road, join the lists. An old name, Civil Service, returns. About 5 years ago the club members decamped to another multi-sports club, the Belfast Boat Club, where they now play under the Lagan designation. There hasn't been a mass return, because apart from UCU Chairman, Geoff Hindley, it's an entirely new group that has set up shop at the Maynard Sinclair Pavilion. At the other end of the road Calum Leitch has gathered a group of coffee house players for his team at the Lindores Cafe. Another watering hole, this time in the city centre (well more or less), Muldoon's Pub, provides another new name for the League, albeit this is the former Mallusk team in disguise, though we are promised that they have added 2 or 3 heavy-hitters to their squad.
New clubs and rejuvenated teams are very welcome news, but where have they got their players from? Answer, in the main, seems to be from Ballynafeigh. This club, still in infancy itself, has very rapidly become the big club in Belfast. It's perhaps not surprising that some of its members may want to try to do the same trick somewhere else, and we understand the leavers go with the good wishes of Ballynafeigh supremo Cunningham. Perhaps he was just delighted not to have to employ his carpentry skills to build a mezzanine floor in the Ballynafeigh clubroom to fit everyone in. Does all this mean Ballynafeigh will have to reduce its teams for the new season? Not at all - such is Cunningham's ability to attract new members, it will still be three teams turning out this season for the Ormeau Road club. How they all fare in the League will depend on whether one of their teams is loaded with their top-rated players.
Last year the new boys on the block were Belfast South, mainly made up of Fisherwick émigrés. They set up in the equally new Agape Centre on the Lisburn Road, but rumour has it that they were pining so much for the Malone Road, that they have moved back to just across the road from their old club in the Bankers Club, where the Summer Tournament was held this year.
Despite the loss of players, Fisherwick easily retained the League title in 2012-13, though not without the schizophrenic situation of the new boys webmaster turning out for his "old" team. I expect Fisherwick to be once again the team to beat this season.
Fruithill were another "new" club last year, essentially a reincarnation of RVH, the big team of the "noughties". Their results were variable as they often put out under-strength teams but if, and it's a big if, they can get their best team out every week they could spring a surprise.
After Fisherwick, Bombardier and Bangor are the oldest-established clubs. Both are usually solid performers and it will be interesting to see if Bombardier can come ahead of their new east Belfast neighbours, Civil Service and Lindores. Bangor put out two teams last year, but there were worrying rumours that mass apathy might see them fail to enter the League, but the Groomsport-based club will after all have one team representing their interests. Hopefully, a bit of consolidation will lead to an improved commitment.
So, good luck to all the teams. With a lot of changes in the line-up of clubs in recent times, an interesting season beckons.