Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir: Crusaders pip Linfield to the title in my Premiership predictions

Head-to-head: David Healy and Stephen Baxter are likely to lock horns at the top of the table again
Head-to-head: David Healy and Stephen Baxter are likely to lock horns at the top of the table again
Mick McDermott

By Billy Weir

So here we are once more as the greatest little league in this world, or any other worlds yet to be discovered, has kicked off again.

In my many moons of watching and covering the game, I can't remember a season that has promised so much and with so many unanswered questions it makes predicting Brexit look like a doddle.

Will Linfield manage to shake off their rather annoying habit of going sleepy-bye-byes after winning the Premiership and will the big, bad, angry wolf from north Belfast bare its pointy teeth and make Crusaders the top dogs again?

Can last year's great romantics, Ballymena United, maintain or, even more remarkably, improve upon their incredible season or will their thunder be stolen by those pesky upstarts from down the road in Larne?

Cliftonville, Glenavon, Glentoran and Coleraine will also be in there looking to have a say, Kris Lindsay will have Dungannon more in the shape he wants them to be, while at the scary end of things Carrick, Warrenpoint and Institute will be out to avoid squeaky bottoms .

So, and apologies for my late arrival, here's my look ahead to 2019-20, the greatest ever season in local football history.

Linfield

First up, hats off to David Healy and his merry band of men for doing us all proud in Europe. Yes, take off the blinkers, abandon your parochial caution, cast off your natural instincts and laud what they have done for all of us (supported well by our other European teams too). Their efforts will add to the bulging coffers at Windsor Park, but the danger is it may come at a price in the league; tired limbs are already being mentioned and if they achieve the impossible and make the group stages of the Europa League it would have an impact, but what a wonderful problem that would be.

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Key man: Jamie Mulgrew

One to watch: Bastien Hery

Last season: First

Prediction: Second

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David Healy

Ballymena United

Like the chubby child dreaming one day of teaming up with the girl of his dreams in kiss-catch, only to be thwarted by a discarded swizzle stick from a spent Dip Dab, season 2018-19 may go down as the Jim Bowen year - here's what you could have won. Second place and Europe was a wonderful achievement for David Jeffrey's side but, hand on heart, I just can't see them reaching those heights again. But they have a manager who has made a career out of leaving pundits with egg on their face, or maybe a wee bit of left-over Dip Dab.

Key man: Cathair Friel

One to watch: Ryan Mayse

Last season: Second

Prediction: Fourth

Glenavon

The main talking point over the summer at Mourneview is that there has been very little to talk about, the only thing of note really a bit like a quiet Tom and Jerry cartoon with the arrival of Spike's son the highlight. But what they lack in quantity, they still have quality all over the pitch, and with a crop of youngsters nipping at Gary Hamilton's ankles looking for more game time, the doom and gloom may not be just as bad as some people fear.

Key man: Sammy Clingan

One to watch: Jordan Jenkins

Last season: Third

Prediction: Fifth

Crusaders

Remember in Dr Who when the Daleks were a bit miffed and came out looking for Tom Baker with a mean look in their laser eye? That will be Crusaders this season. They were already a formidable force to be reckoned with, their relentless pursuit of the Tennent's Irish Cup when the league was beyond them proof of that, and they plucked Dungannon's finest jewels up in the shape of Chris Hegarty and Jarlath O'Rourke and then decided to go and break the transfer record by bringing in Jamie McGonigle. Get behind the sofa folks, this could turn nasty.

Key man: Paul Heatley

One to watch: Jamie McGonigle

Last season: Fourth

Prediction: First

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Will Stephen Baxter get his hands on the Gibson Cup once again?

Cliftonville

An interesting season for Paddy McLaughlin as he begins his first full year in charge and where survival was the best he could hope for at Institute, things are a little different at Solitude. The abundance of striking talent remains, bolstered in the middle and at the back by some of his tried and trusted lieutenants from the north west. If they can steer clear of injuries and his strike force find their shooting boots early doors, then they won't be far away.

Key man: Joe Gormley

One to watch: Ryan Curran

Last season: Fifth

Prediction: Third

Coleraine

I would love to say that the return of Oran Kearney will mean the Bannsiders will be battling it out for the title but I just can't see it. If he had been in position from the end of last season then things may have been different, for while the first XI can give anyone a game on their day, the squad has a threadbare look about it. Without McGonigle, Darren McCauley, Ciaron Harkin and Brad Lyons from his first spell in charge, those may be a few too many big holes to fill in his second coming. A season of transition. Get your money on them now for the title!

Key man: Eoin Bradley

One to watch: James McLaughlin

Last season: Sixth

Prediction: Seventh

Glentoran

In the words of renowned philosopher Clubber Lang, only one word springs to mind when you are asked to predict Glentoran's lot for the season - pain. A new start, new money on board, a new management team - but you just know it will probably still be the same old Glentoran. Mick McDermott is steadily building a small United Nations force in the east, but the changes have been much less than were predicted and probably needed.

Key man: Darren Murray

One to watch: Paul O'Neill

Last season: Seventh

Prediction: Eighth

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Glentoran’s Paul O'Neill netted an 83rd minute equaliser on Tuesday and could have a big season ahead.

Dungannon Swifts

As mentioned earlier, two of Lindsay's golden nuggets have gone and Paul McElroy's future remains unclear, but four points from six is as good a start as he could have asked for. He has some good talent on his hands and acquiring the services of Sam Johnston, one of the brightest young keepers in the country, was a great piece of business. But with so many other teams ahead of them in the pecking order, it is hard to see them forcing their way into the top six.

Key man: Seanan Clucas

One to watch: Ryan Waide

Last season: Ninth

Prediction: Ninth

Institute

Managerless, homeless, pointless. The one thing you can always be sure of at Institute is that it is never dull. John Quigg's pre-season departure has left the north west side playing catch-up and the sooner they can settle on just who is in charge they can buckle up for what is going to be a roller-coaster ride for survival.

Key man: Joe McCready

One to watch: Niall Grace

Last season: Eighth

Prediction: Twelfth

Warrenpoint Town

Stephen McDonnell brought in an extra night's training to give his side an edge this season, but the way things have started they'll need to be in seven days a week to get things started. A huge amount of comings and goings over the summer, and a team very much built for the future, but it remains to be seen whether they can win things with kids. Two games down, 10 goals conceded and none scored, things need to improve and quickly.

Key man: Danny Wallace

One to watch: Deane Watters

Last season: Tenth

Prediction: Tenth

Larne

The league looks like the Invermen's to lose at this stage. Oh, okay then, I may be getting a little carried away, but if they can keep the bandwagon rolling at this speed then there's no reason why the fairytale can't continue. They will certainly ruffle a few feathers. I can see a top-six finish; they have enough quality to do that, but they may find they need a season of bedding in before pushing for honours.

Key man: Fuad Sule

One to watch: Ben Tilney

Last season: Championship winners

Prediction: Sixth

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Larne are top of the table after taking two wins from their first two Danske Bank Premiership matches.

Carrick Rangers

Survival. That will be the key word around Taylors Avenue this year. Niall Currie has made some good signings over the summer, with a nice mix of a few older heads in there too, and in amongst all the madness that is likely to ensue, I can see them scrambling into the play-off spot.

Key man: Mark Surgenor

One to watch: Mark Kelly

Last season: Play-off winners

Prediction: Eleventh

Billy Weir's predicted Premiership table

1. Crusaders

2. Linfield

3. Cliftonville

4. Ballymena United

5. Glenavon

6. Larne

7. Coleraine

8. Glentoran

9. Dungannon Swifts

10. Warrenpoint Town

11. Carrick Rangers

12. Institute

Goodbye Tommy, thanks for the memories

Like most people who love the game here, you could have knocked me down with a feather when the news filtered through about the untimely passing of Tommy Breslin.

I won't pretend that I knew him as well as other people did, but I always loved dealing with him after and between matches as the passion he had for the game and how it should be played oozed out of every pore.

The thousands of words that have been penned since the tragic news broke from Spain speaks volumes for the man, and there hasn't been one bad one among them.

His achievements at Cliftonville were incredible, eight trophies and achieved with a swashbuckling swagger that had fans of all teams sitting on the edge of their seats.

I was there for his final game in charge of that incredible reign, a 6-1 thrashing by Ballymena that led to him calling it a day. It was a rare day that his side suffered such a beating and even more so that he didn't speak to reporters afterwards.

His mind was made up to go, despite the best efforts of the club, but he felt he had taken things as far as he could and, even with the Reds sitting relatively pretty in the league, he took a decision which he thought was best for the club.

Whether it was or wasn't is irrelevant now, he did what he thought was best. That was his mantra, a man of honour and he was one of the very best and irreplaceable.

Rest in peace, Tommy. You were one of a kind.

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