Another Danske Bank Premiership season is under way at long last with a typical flurry of action.
Here are the talking points from the opening games:
Another summer saw another attacking arrival at Windsor Park as Navid Nasseri made the year’s most high-profile switch, swapping Glentoran for their bitter rivals Linfield.
However, on the opening day of the campaign, it was a 34-year-old Andy Waterworth who grabbed the headlines with a hat-trick. Ironically, it was the Blues’ other arrival from the Oval that teed up both of the striker’s first half goals from the right flank.
For all of the striking arrivals at Windsor Park over recent seasons – Shayne Lavery, Michael O’Connor, Paul Smyth, Jordan Stewart, Joel Cooper - Waterworth has been the Blues’ top league scorer in all of the last five seasons.
Odds on making that six? It would be a brave man betting against him.
Glentoran manager Mick McDermott reckons his side only had themselves to blame for their defeat at Solitude.
The Reds edged a narrow game thanks to Ryan Curran’s late winner, but only after substitute Cameron Stewart had been dismissed for two yellows, much to the boss’ dismay.
“Picking up two yellow cards in a 10 minute period, I don’t have to say too much, it’s very frustrating for the player,” he said.
“I always say if you start with 11 and finish with 11 you have a chance. I’m more annoyed at the player. The second one fell onto his chest, popped it up and it did look like a high foot. I’m not critical of the referee. It’s disappointing in terms of going down to 10 men and the way in which we conceded the goal.
“We brought it on ourselves and we have to look at that between now and the Glenavon game to fix it.”
There were eyebrows raised when McDermott brought substitute Dale Gorman back off during the second half after the midfielder had surrendered possession for the winning goal.
“It was to get another attacker on the pitch and he was on a yellow card,” explained McDermott. “You could see he was frustrated. I didn’t want to get another player sent off and miss next week. Chris Gallagher was on a yellow and we took him out as well.
“If we learn one lesson from the Motherwell game in terms of our yellow cards. That night Luke McCullough was warming up to come in for Seanan Clucas and he gets a second yellow. That’s football but we didn’t want it happening today because we have to regroup for next week.”
If you were to predict who would score Larne’s opening two goals, you’d probably have given the right answer. Marty Donnelly and David McDaid have proven the stars for the east Antrim side over the course of the last two seasons, with goal gluts in the Championship-winning campaign and a neat adjustment to live back in the top tier last term.
On the opening day of the new campaign, it took only three minutes in top gear to separate themselves from a hard-working Dungannon side.
If Donnelly’s 20 yard curler was typical of his style, McDaid’s ruthless one-on-one conversion was equally so of his. Style and substance – a winning combination.
If Larne are to realise their trophy-winning ambitions, that pair will be central to it all.
A word too for new signings Ronan Hale and Andy Scott, as the former slotted home a later penalty and the latter produced an exciting cameo on the wing. He could be a worth a watch after his arrival from Accrington Stanley.
In his last 21 Premiership games last term, Paul Heatley scored only three goals. While that may be satisfactory for mere mortals, it was a fairly meagre return from a winger used to scoring 20+ goals per league season.
It was normal service resumed this afternoon as, just when the Crues needed a hero, up popped Heatley with a clinical finish.
The winger’s league goal tally has been on a steady downward trend in recent seasons with 14 Premiership goals in the 18/19 campaign and only 10 last term.
Revival on the cards? The 33-year-old is off to an ideal start.
Kofi Balmer’s first half header gave United a rare win at the Coleraine Showgrounds to boost optimism that a good campaign could be under way in County Antrim.
David Jeffrey’s side crashed from second in the 18/19 campaign to finish a lowly 10th last term.
The summer signings of Ryan Waide and Trai Hume from Linfield, the latter on loan, gave supporters hope for improvement and the arrival of former Northern Ireland international Shay McCartan had the Sky Blues daring to dream.
Managing to see off a Coleraine side tipped for a title challenge, especially with 10 men for more than half the game, will only have boosted the good feeling on the Braid.
There was the odd eyebrow raised in January when Glenavon allowed striker Stephen Murray to join derby rivals Portadown. The 31-year-old attacker had netted 15 goals for the Lurgan Blues in the 18/19 Premiership campaign, including hat-tricks at both Institute and Coleraine.
They lived to rue that decision on the opening day of the 20/21 season as Murray popped up with two first-half goals to set the newly-promoted Ports on their way to a 4-2 victory at Mourneview Park.
Matthew Tipton's Reds have been tipped to spring a few surprises this season and this is exactly the start they wanted to life back in the top tier after three years away.