Belfast Telegraph

Explained: What can change in the three Irish League divisions ahead of the season climax?

All the permutations and play-off dates for the end of the season

By Gareth Hanna

The NI Football League season is fast approaching its conclusion but plenty can still change across the three divisions.

From the Premiership champions to promotion into the NI Football League, much is still to be decided.

Here's a quick look at what still needs to be sorted out, with the standard season of the top two tiers finishing on Saturday afternoon.

Danske Bank Premiership

The title race: In case you're quite sure yet, it's between leaders Crusaders and second-placed Coleraine. Crusaders are away to Ballymena while Coleraine are at Glenavon on Saturday afternoon. They're separated only on goal difference but the Crues will 99.99999999% certainly be crowned champions if they win. Any slip, and the Bannsiders could sneak past. Crusaders are 22 goals ahead on goal difference, so if they beat Ballymena 1-0, Coleraine would have to win 24-0 at Mourneview to overtake.

Europa League qualification: Third place could be significant if Coleraine win the Cup. That would mean that third place in the Premiership is straight into the Europa League qualifiers without the need for the play-offs. Glenavon currently hold third spot, a point ahead of Linfield. Glenavon welcome Coleraine on Saturday while Linfield host Cup finalists Cliftonville.

Europa League play-off dates: Semi-finals on May 9. Final on May 12.

Relegation: It's tight at the top but even tighter at the bottom. Basement side Ballinamallard and Carrick Rangers enter the final day locked on points. Carrick have better goal difference by five so, at this stage, that's almost worth another point. Unless Rangers are duffed by at least six goals at Warrenpoint, the Mallards need something from their trip to Point to survive the automatic drop. Whoever finishes second bottom, of course, goes into the promotion-relegation play-off against Newry City.

Promotion / relegation play-off dates: First leg on May 4. Second leg on May 9.

Placings: Elsewhere, Ards could leapfrog Dungannon into eighth with a win as the two play each other on Saturday.

Fixtures: Ards v Dungannon S / Ballymena U v Crusaders / Glenavon v Coleraine / Glentoran v Ballinamallard / Linfield v Cliftonville / Warrenpoint T v Carrick Rng

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Ballinamallard United or Carrick Rangers are both still hoping to stave off relegation.

Bluefin Sport Championship

Promotion: That's all sorted as Institute will be promoted as champions and Newry City go into the promotion-relegation play-off.

Premiership promotion / relegation play-off dates: First leg on May 4. Second leg on May 9.

Relegation: Unfortunately for Lurgan Celtic, that ship sailed quite a while ago. They're rooted to the bottom with only 16 points and will go down. The play-off is much more interesting as Dergview and Knockbreda are still fighting to survive. They're both on 33 points ahead of the final day with Knockbreda ahead by two goals on goal-difference. Whoever finishes second bottom will have to face the Premier Intermediate League's runner-up for a place in next season's second tier. Knockbreda host ninth-placed Limavady and Dergview welcome PSNI this weekend.

Championship promotion / relegation play-off dates: First leg on May 11. Second leg on May 15.

Placings: H&W Welders could actually pip Newry to second but they didn't apply for a license to gain promotion so that won't impact the play-off. Elsewhere, PSNI could beat Larne to seventh, although the Harbour Rats are three points ahead and face already relegated Lurgan Celtic on Saturday.

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Institute manager Paddy McLaughlin and club captain Michael McCrudden with the Bluefin Championship trophy.

Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League

Title race: There are three games left in the third tier with Dundela seven points clear of Queens University. A win for the leaders against Tobermore on Saturday would be enough to secure the title and promotion to the Championship.

Promotion play-off: Second place will have a chance of promotion via the play-off. That will be one of Dundela, Queens University, Banbridge Town and Lisburn Distillery. Queens are second on 47, three ahead of Town and five clear of Distillery. It's all to play for with Queens at home to Moyola on Saturday while Town visit the Whites.

Championship promotion / relegation play-off dates: First leg on May 11. Second leg on May 15.

Relegation: The basement side, likely to be Donegal Celtic, will drop out of the league, to be replaced by a non-league applicant to join the NI Football League. Celtic are currently six points adrift of Newington YC with three games to play.

Who can earn promotion to the NI Football League?

A total of 10 teams have applied for promotion to the Premier Intermediate League. In order to be eligible to go up, teams must win their respective league AND meet a set of criteria over things such as facilities. All clubs that pass those two tests will enter play-offs for promotion.

The teams that have applied for promotion are:

Mid-Ulster Football League: Dollingstown, Banbridge Rangers, Crewe United (Dollingstown are currently four points ahead of Rangers having played a game more)

Ballymena and Provincial League: Bangor, Glebe Rangers, Coagh United, Sofia Farmer, Brantwood, (Bangor are currently five points clear of Glebe having played three games more)

NI Intermediate League: Strabane Athletic, Maiden City (Strabane Athletic are currently second behind Magherafelt Sky Blues, eight points behind with two games in hand.)

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