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Linfield to open Danske Bank Premiership title defence against Portadown as Cliftonville face tricky trip to Coleraine


Linfield will open their Danske Bank Premiership title defence against Portadown

Linfield will open their Danske Bank Premiership title defence against Portadown

Linfield will open their Danske Bank Premiership title defence against Portadown

Linfield will kick-off the defence of their Danske Bank Premiership title in the home comforts of Windsor Park when they host relegation play-off survivors Portadown on Saturday, August 13.

David Healy’s champions are going for five-in-a-row next season after they claimed last year’s title by the narrowest of margins over Cliftonville last season, winning it on the final day, and they have been handed what looks to be a favourable opening tie.

Portadown, led by Paul Doolin, only avoided dropping into the Championship by winning a two-legged play-off against Annagh United and will be hoping to prove their worth straight from the start.

Paddy McLaughlin’s Reds face a tough opening fixture of their own as they make the trip to the Showgrounds to take on Oran Kearney’s Coleraine in a repeat of last season's BetMcLean League Cup final as they aim to go one better than last season.

Premiership new boys Newry City, playing their first season in the top flight since the club’s reformation in 2013, will look to make an early splash as they begin their campaign away to Carrick Rangers.

Elsewhere on the opening weekend there is rematch of last season's European play-off final as Inver Park plays host to Glentoran against Larne, while Ballymena United and Glenavon, who tussled for seventh place last season, square off on Warden Street.

Irish Cup champions Crusaders will round off the opening round ties, which all kick-off at 3pm on August 13, against Dungannon Swifts at Seaview.

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Fans will have to wait until Friday, September 23 for the first meeting between last season’s title-chasing sides as Cliftonville travel to Windsor Park to take on Linfield, with the Reds involved in the first north Belfast derby against Crusaders at Solitude on Saturday, October 8.

That precedes a weekend of two more derbies, with the first Big Two rivalry coming on Saturday, October 15 at Windsor Park, while at the same the Ballymena Showgrounds plays host to Ballymena and Coleraine.

The other two Big Two derbies come on Boxing Day and Valentine’s Day – Tuesday, February 14 – both at the BetMcLean Oval, with the festive fixtures falling on Boxing Day and Monday, January 2.

With no break for the World Cup like other leagues – although clubs can request fixtures to be changed if necessary – the league will continue as normal through December, with breaks introduced in January onwards for Irish Cup weekends.

The final round of matches before the split, on Saturday, March 25, sees one of the opening day fixtures replayed as Ballymena United once again host Glenavon, while Linfield are away to Dungannon Swifts and Cliftonville are at Newry City.

The other final pre-split games will see Larne on the road at Coleraine, Glentoran welcome Portadown to the Oval and Crusaders at home to Carrick Rangers.

Every team will play each other three times before the split, which separates the league into the top-six and bottom-six, with the teams playing the other five teams in their half to complete the season.

The campaign will end on Saturday, April 29 with the fifth and final round of post-split fixtures, and the hope is that the league will be just as exciting as it was last season when there was everything to play for on the final day.

Despite positive sounds after the success of the League Cup final, there are currently no games scheduled for Sundays, although that could change depending on broadcasting schedules, which also means some of these fixtures may yet change based on their selection for live TV coverage.

You can check out the full fixture list on the Northern Ireland Football League website.

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