Coleraine vs Warrenpoint Town 3:00 pm (Bet Here)
Dungannon Swifts vs Ballymena United 3:00 pm (Bet Here)
Glenavon vs Linfield 3:00 pm (Bet Here)
Glentoran vs Cliftonville 3:00 pm (Bet Here)
Institute vs Newry City 3:00 pm (Bet Here)
The Big question is how are the teams shaping up for their Irish League Campaign? Who has strengthened well over the Summer Break? How will the returning Institute and Newry fare against the established Premiership Clubs?
Crusaders have lost Brian Jensen, Darren Murray & Gavin Whyte from the end of last season. Notable additions they have brought in are Kyle Owens, Gary Thompson, Michael Ruddy & Ross Clarke. Crusaders will be the team to beat this year again. Gavin Whyte is a massive loss but Ross Clarke if he can stay fit will be a good replacement. Paul Heatley will again be crucial, as will big Jordan Owens who is currently injured after the Ludogorets Champions League 2nd Leg. It will be interesting to see how the club copes with the Full Time Demands this season, but with a strong set up and squad its difficult to see them not competing come the business end.
Coleraine deserve a lot of Credit for the last few seasons. They stood by astute Tactician Oran Kearney the season before last after an awful run of games. He and the players rewarded the Club and its loyal fans last year with an immense title run, losing out on the last day of the season. They deservedly won the Irish Cup and will no doubt be confident of further success this year. Losing Stephen Dooley & Martin Smith weakens them undoubtably but Stephen Lowry brings back a wealth of experience. Holding onto the the Likes of Chris Johns, and Jamie McGonigle could be key for their season. Expect them to be heavily involved again.
Glenavon are a team that everyone expects alot of. Last season they probably overachieved in finishing third. With a very talented team and an experienced and settled backroom team they will hope to finish in a similar position. Niall Grace from Institute is a great signing and he can be expected to have another good season. Rhys Marhsall is a key player as the outstanding victory over Molde in Europe proved. Sammy Clingan & Andrew Mitchell are also two of the best in league in their respective positions. Bobby Burns to Hearts is a big loss but Glenavon have a habit of finding great young replacements for outgoing players.
Linfield has undoubtably strengthened in the off season. The key is they had to. A disappointing 4th place finish is not enough for their fervent fans. An extremely strong looking squad includes, R Carroll, J Callacher, J Robinson, M Haughey, J Stewart, C Stewart and A Waterworth. Thats just from last season, add in R McGivern, J Cooper and M O’Connor and Linfield Fans will again expect. Healy after a whirlwind start found last season a much tougher experience.
Cliftonville are many a persons tip for the title this upcoming season. With a Very Talented pool of players especially in an attacking sense, the feeling is if they click they will be hard to catch. Joe The Goal leads the line with The Donnellys ably assisting. Catney & Garrett add experience and new signing Brush is a great goalkeeper at this level. Injuries and suspensions may play a part in where they finish this campaign.
Nobody quite knows what to make of Ballymena. Capable of beating any team on their day, they tend not to have enough of these “days”. Adding A Lecky, McGinty, Whiteside and the very good R Mayse to a good pool of players means Ballymena could have a good year. They have the look of a cup team again with lots of talent and options upfront. Kyle Owens maybe a loss to them at the back. He chipped in with a few goals the last few seasons also.
Glentoran Fans look away now! They club hasnt as yet strengthened playing staff. Their Management structure includes R McFall, K Harding, G Smyth & P Leeman. Good Local Legends adding Lots of knowledge and experience there. E Morris, M Kane, C Allen, R McDaid and the impressive D Davidson mean there is hope, but they look short compared to the competition. What happens in the rest of the window will impact on how they perform.
Dungannon won their first senior trophy in the League Cup last year. However most would say their talented squad came up short in the league. Rodney McAree is a very well respected football man and he will again have them competitive. Losing Keeper A Coleman to Newry is a big blow to the club. Dykes could be a good signing at the back but as always the club will be looking for a new gem to unearth this year.
Ards have had quite a good pre-season. M McLellan & S Noble have shone with lots of Goals so far. C McClean, Tommons, K Cherry, J Taylor & E McAllister will need to stay fit for the season for them to finish in the top half. Even then that may be slightly out of reach. A Season of Consolidation may be in store for Ards Fans.
Again Credit to the Team behind the Team. Warrenpoint have punched above their weight. Producing talented players, the club likes to play football the “right way”. As with competitors they have lost some of their better players in the off season. The club manages to pick a few gems from the League of Ireland and with their young guns they could take a scalp or two during the season. Its hard to see them doing much more than this though.
Institute had a great Championship last year. Winning an ultra competitive looking league and winning the North West Cup against Coleraine meant a double for the “Stute”. Institute scour well from their local area and have some talent. They tend to lose the players too easily though, unable to compete financially with the big guns. Playing in the Brandywell this year might go against them. Their tight pitch in Drumahoe might’ve been an advantage but P McLaughlin will no doubt have them attacking from the start. May surprise a few.
I had to be careful when naming them there. The club was only founded in 2013 when Newry City dissolved. They are no doubt way ahead of the schedule they would have set themselves. Getting out of the Championship was massive for them last year. It will be a struggle not to drop straight back down. They have re-signed A Coleman & S Hughes has signed on again. S Lavery & T Rushe will cause opponents bother and Newry could be the seasons surprise package.
Good Luck To all the Teams for the Season ahead. Here’s to plenty of Goals, The usual thrills and spills, and some Real Football played by Real Local Heroes. Find your prices at Toals.com here #IrishPremierLeague