THE 2012-12 Manx football season kicks off in earnest this week when the all-conquering Grand Slam winners St George’s take on St Mary’s in the Eric Fletcher Charity Shield at the Bowl on Friday evening.
Following last year’s delay until October while the refurbishing work on the national stadium was being completed, the match reverts back to its role as the traditional curtain-raiser to the season and sees Geordies hoping to add to their already impressive trophy haul right from the word go.
There was no stopping the Saints in this fixture last year when they smashed eight goals past 2010 league champions Rushen United to record a massive 8-1 victory to secure the trophy.
The Glencrutchery Road side were simply sublime last season, dropping just two points in 24 games on their way to winning the Canada Life Premier League at a canter, and they will be looking to get the new campaign off to a flying start as they bid to become the first side to win successive Grand Slams.
St Mary’s, however, have undergone a bit of a reshuffle over the summer with club legend Peter Langridge leaving his role as manager to be replaced at the helm by Sam Kenny.
One half of their formidable central defensive duo, Liam Doyle, leaves the island this week to embark on a football scholarship in America so his position should be filled by Karl Clark who has moved from Castletown in the close season.
Also in contention to make their St Mary’s debuts on Friday are full-back Harry Weatherill and livewire winger Terry Rigaux who have switched from Ramsey and DHSOB respectively.
Another player who looks like he will be playing away from Blackberry Lane this season is Gary Quirk who is rumoured to be on the verge of completing a move from Old Boys to near-neighbours St George’s and could play some part in the Charity Shield.
However, this has been tempered by the loss of tough-tackling midfielder Neil Brogan who has returned to Laxey so it remains to be seen how well the champions can cope in his absence.
Fellow midfielder James McStay seems to have shaken off a niggling foot injury which hampered him in the final few months of last season so either him or the returning Mark Teare will deputise at right-back in place of the ever-consistent Julian Ringham who is off-island and not likely to return in time for Friday’s encounter.
The rest of the squad has a familiar feel to it with Frank Jones, Liam Cowin and Sam Caine all battling it out for starting berths alongside the likes of Chris Bass Jr, Calum Morrissey and last year’s Football Writers’ Player of the Year Ciaran McNulty.
St Mary’s are seen by many as one of the strongest challengers to Geordies’ dominance so an intriguing battle could be in store which might just set the tone for the rest of the season.
Kick-off is 7pm at the Bowl.