Eight games to watch out for in the new Irish League season
With the fixtures now out, we take a look at one fixture each month that could be key this season...
Institute v Newry City, August 4, Brandywell
An opening day cracker as Brandywell plays host to its first Irish League match for 47 years and we get a chance to see which side might make the adaption to the top tier easier than the other. No doubt Institute will draw a large crowd on their return to the Premiership, with Newry eager to strike an early blow.
Crusaders v Coleraine, September 1, Seaview
A rematch of the league's top two last season, this one comes early enough that the result won't be that crucial, but late enough that both sides will be enough into their campaign to be settled. Coleraine won this fixture last season, but this should be a good indicator of which side might have the better title credentials this season.
Glentoran v Linfield, October 6, The Oval
It's still the 'Big Two', but this game is now more for the rivalry than it is for a tussle at the top. Still, with Glentoran's new coaching staff looking to win over the fans early, this would be a big way to do it if they could defeat their bitter rivals early in the season. Meanwhile, this is a game that the Blues have to win to be title contenders.
Dungannon Swifts v Glentoran, November 24, Stangmore Park
A mid-table clash that could be the difference between a top-six finish and a bottom-six finish. There's also a little bit of added spice to it in that Rodney McAree will face a side that campaigned strongly for his services towards the end of the season, with the Swifts boss hoping to prove he made the right call by staying.
Cliftonville v Crusaders, December 26, Solitude
If the Reds want to prove that they're in with a chance of winning the Gibson Cup then there's no question they have to lay down a marker against the top sides. Handing out a Boxing Day beating to defending champions Crusaders would most certainly send out a message, while the Crues will be eyeing a big festive win.
Newry City v Warrenpoint Town, January 26, Newry Showgrounds
It may be the glamour ties like away to Linfield or Crusaders that Newry are looking forward to most, but these ones are their bread-and-butter. A win over Warrenpoint would go a long way to securing their Premiership safety, but at the same time the 'Point will be wanting to pick up a massive road win as they try to push up the table.
Ballymena United v Cliftonville, February 15, Ballymena Showgrounds
Two sides who will be hoping they're not just in the top six but hopefully pushing up a little bit higher. Therefore, the meeting between the pair will likely be a vicious affair with no corner given, particularly this close to the split. Ballymena with home advantage will be expecting to win, Cliftonville would steal a march on them with an away victory.
Institute v Coleraine, March 23, Brandywell
A match that has ramifications at both the top and bottom of the table, as well as being a local(ish) pre-split derby that will excite fans up and down the country. It's important for teams to go into the split on a high note, and Institute especially would go in on a high if they defeated the Bannsiders, but that's easier said than done.
Belfast Telegraph Digital