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Belfast Celtic bosses pondering shock League of Ireland switch

Sport and Leisure Swifts midfielder Stephen McAlorum, pictured with manager Packie McAllister, will return from suspension for Saturday’s crucial game against Armagh City at Holm Park Sport and Leisure Swifts midfielder Stephen McAlorum, pictured with manager Packie McAllister, will return from suspension for Saturday’s crucial game against Armagh City at Holm Park
By Paddy Tierney

BELFAST Celtic could start next season in the League of Ireland following a meeting of the club’s executive last week.

At the end of the current season, Sport and Leisure Swifts will cease to exist and the club will change their name to Belfast Celtic.

Sport and Leisure are locked in a relegation battle in the Bluefin Premier Intermediate League – the third tier of the Irish League.

Relegation could see them move into the Ballymena and Provincial League, where fellow West Belfast sides St James’ Swifts and Donegal Celtic currently play.

However, in a surprise move, Belfast Media Group understands that the club is actively pursuing their options for next season which could see them apply for affiliation to the SSE Airtricity League (League of Ireland).

Sport and Leisure Swifts are affiliated to the Irish Football Association and it was believed the new Belfast Celtic entity would simply take their place.

Yet, the committee at Glen Road Heights are exploring their options with Belfast Celtic apparently free to join a different league.

Clubs seeking to switch leagues would usually require permission from both bodies and it would be unlikely that the IFA would grant such a move.

However, a club source expressed their view that the club could force a switch under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

In any case, they may not need legal assistance as, strictly speaking, a new club under the name of Belfast Celtic will be formed next month when Sport and Leisure Swifts ceases to exist.

It is understood that the committee have already held preliminary talks with League of Ireland officials who would welcome a new member as long as the switch received the backing of the IFA.

SSE Airtricity Premier Division side Derry City started off in the Irish League, winning the title in 1965.

Issues surrounding security during The Troubles forced them to play their home games in Coleraine before they dropped out of the Irish League. Following a number of years in junior football, they joined the League of Ireland in 1985.

Belfast Celtic would be an interesting addition to the League of Ireland should they go down that route.

Following a long and protracted saga, Sport and Leisure had their application to change their name to Belfast Celtic approved by the board of the IFA last December having consulted with the Northern Ireland Football League, the Co Antrim FA and the Belfast Celtic Society.
Sport and Leisure have endured a difficult campaign have find themselves at the foot of the table with just five games remaining.

They have three games in hand over second from bottom Armagh City and the sides clash at Holm Park on Saturday afternoon.

Packie McAllister’s men also face two games with Portstewart in the coming weeks.
Sport and Leisure’s struggles this season have been exacerbated following a host of suspensions handed out to key players in the wake of their abandoned tie with Portstewart in January.

Padraig Lynch and Stephen McAlorum are among those set to return to action for Saturday’s crucial trip to Armagh, but goalkeeper Michael Magill remains suspended.

McAllister’s men gave themselves a fighting chance of avoiding relegation after they battled back from three goals down to claim a vital point against Dollingtown last Saturday at Glen Road Heights.

An own goal from Gavin Johnston and a double from Dollingstown’s Keith Johnston seemed to gave sealed the points for the visitors and the Swifts suffered a further blow when midfielder Pierce Tully was dismissed.

However, they mounted a rousing comeback in the final half hour and goals from Liam Carland, Ronan Carroll and substitute Ciaran McKissock levelled the game at 3-3. Dollingstown were also reduced to 10 men when Richard Thompson was shown a red card in the closing stages.
With Armagh suffering a 1-0 defeat to Moyola last Saturday, this weekend’s showdown with Sport and Leisure in Holm Park will go a long to deciding which side finishes bottom of the Premier Intermediate League.

It just might not decide which league the West Belfast outfit will be playing in next season when they become Belfast Celtic.

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