Promoted teams face baptism of fire
Devonshire Colts and St George's face tough opening matches in their return to the top flight when they take on North Village and Southampton Rangers on Sunday.
The two teams, who were declared joint First Division champions last season after finishing level on points when the Covid-19 pandemic ended the season, will have survival as their top priority.
St George's were relegated in 2015 after just one season in the top flight while Devonshire Colts, who earned promotion that same season, spent two years in the Premier Division before going down in 2017.
This season three teams will be relegated to reduce the number of sides in the top tier to ten. Boulevard were the only outfit relegated last season after Covid-19 prevented the last round of games to be played.
Colts have picked up Zuhri Burgess from Robin Hood, Eli Smith, Kiuno Cann and Laquan Thomas from Flanagan's Onions. Teniko Eve has also returned to the club from Somerset Eagles.
Ray Jones, the Colts coach, believes Village who, despite losing 4-0 to Rangers in the Charity Cup, will be tough opponents.
“We have the league champions so it's a good way to find out exactly where we are by playing the champions in their backyard,” Jones said.
“We're going to try and play attractive football and see how quickly we can cope at the new level.
“The pace and quality of players in the Premier Division is different from the First Division, so it's about how quickly we deal with that.”
Jones watched the Charity Cup match when Village played second fiddle to a Rangers side that showed they could be a team to watch this season.
“I always treat the Charity Cup like a glorified preseason match so, as much as I watched the match, I wouldn't put too much in it,” Jones added. “It looked like Village were missing a few key players and I think they will have a stronger outfit than what was portrayed in the Charity Cup.”
Jones is happy with the signings for Colts, although they are not exactly new to the Colts set-up.
“All the players we picked up, bar one, have been previously involved with the club,” he said. “That was our recruitment strategy. We weren't trying to look for ‘other' players, but rather to bring our players back home.”
St George's have a couple of key signings in striker Clay Darrell from Dandy Town, who had a two-year stint with the team under then coach Richard Todd from 2010 when they earned promotion.
Zenawi Bowen, a former Bermuda Under-20 player, has joined from Village and can play in either defence or attack.
St George's, who finished with the best defensive record in the First Division last season, have retained the bulk of last season's squad, including the experienced Lashun Dill, Jahron Dickinson and Ernest and David Signor among their ranks.
“We're looking forward to the challenge, we are still preparing well and the mood in the camp is awesome,” Jarreau Hayward, the St George's coach, said.
“That's the way you want to start, to play against a team that is considered one of the best. “
St George's beat Devonshire Cougars 4-1 in a recent friendly, although Hayward is not reading too much into that win.
“They didn't have Lejaun [Simmons], their first choice goalkeeper didn't play and we had some players missing, too, so it's really difficult to go on preseason games,” Hayward said. “We're just looking forward to the start of the season.
“We really just wanted a goalscorer and central midfielder, we got the goalscorer and the midfielder didn't work out. It just makes us dig deeper into our ranks.
“Clay is going to be a huge addition for us. He's one of the best all-round attacking players in the league and we're happy to have him back.
“Freddy [Hall] is the captain of the team and is also one of the coaches and is going to be a huge part of the set-up.
“Not only in his presence in goal, but his presence in the locker room and his presence on the training pitch.
“His mentality and professionalism, all of that is going to be huge for us this year.
“We're happy to have somebody with his talent and level of focus on our coaching staff and playing staff.”