In a brand new segment for Football CFB, Dr. Grant Campbell of the ‘Campbell’s Footballs’ podcast (a.k.a. Stato) discusses his predictions and thoughts ahead of a brand new season in the Northern Irish League. The Danske Bank Premiership is a league which is growing in stature year upon year and each Friday, Grant will provide his thoughts on the upcoming league matches and offers his predictions.
Friday 16th October – Coleraine v Ballymena United (Coleraine Showgrounds, 19.45 KO, BBC Sport NI website)
What an opening game to start the season!
A good old fashioned derby between two of Northern Ireland’s finest as the Bannsiders take on the Sky Blues at the Showgrounds, under the lights. It’s also live on the BBC Sport NI website if you are wanting some football to watch on Friday night.
This is the first time the two sides have met since that Irish Cup semi-final at the end of July which David Jeffrey’s side won on penalties (pictured). Coleraine will be determined to bounce back from losing that in such gut-wrenching fashion but it’ll be a tough game for Oran Kearney’s side. Coleraine have been excellent in flying the flag on the European stage for Northern Irish Football. They saw off Maribor in a penalty shootout before pushing Motherwell all the way before losing in a penalty shootout at the Showgrounds. James McLaughlin, Stephen Lowry and Stephen O’Donnell were all outstanding in particular in those two matches.
Ballymena will want to get off to a good start to the season. Despite their excellent showing in the Irish Cup, narrowly losing out to winners Glentoran, they had a poor domestic campaign last year finishing 10th. They have also lost Adam Lecky who was a big player for them last couple of campaigns but they do have Paul McElroy in as his replacement so it’ll be interesting to see how things shape up there.
I just about fancy Coleraine to get off to a winning start here but I would not be surprised if it is a very tight affair.
STATO’S PREDICTION: Coleraine 2-1 Ballymena United
Saturday 17th October – Cliftonville v Glentoran (Solitude, 15.00 KO)
Belfast derbies are always very exciting to watch.
It is just such a shame at the moment that fans will not be able to pack out stadiums such as Solitude for a game of this magnitude.
Like Coleraine and Ballymena, these two sides met in the Irish Cup semi-final and it was the Glens who came out on top via a penalty shoot-out (pictured).
Cliftonville have a big threat in Joe Gormley up top. Watch him throughout this season. This guy knows how to finish chances. They don’t call him Joe “The Goal” for nothing. Furthermore, they have some great options across the midfield including Chris Curran and Ryan Curran and defensively manager Paddy McLaughlin has made them tough to break down.
On the other hand, Glentoran have also looked very good. In Northern Ireland U21 sensation, Paul O’Neill and Robbie McDaid, they have players who will not only score goals but offer a lot to the whole side. In midfield, they have a battling team of warriors and defensively they are usually fairly sound. I’m also looking forward to seeing how Gibraltar internationalist Dayle Coleing does in between the sticks for the Glens.
In terms of this game in isolation, I am going to back a score draw. I don’t think there is too much to choose between these two sides and I expect both to be right up near the business end of the table come the end of the season.
STATO’S PREDICTION: Cliftonville 1-1 Glentoran
Saturday 17th October – Larne v Dungannon Swifts (Inver Park, 15.00 KO, BBC Sport NI website)
I am really excited to watch Larne this season.
Not only because I have spoken to chairman Gareth Clements and head of youth academy Gary Haveron for my podcast, but also because I believe something incredible could be brewing down Inver Park way.
The Inver Men have on and off the pitch been making real inroads the last few seasons. Backed by Purple Bricks owner, Kenny Bruce, and with a strong backbone off the pitch, Larne were exciting to watch last season and really lit up the top flight in Northern Ireland. In Tiernan Lynch, they have a manager who is working hard to get the right style and philosophy going and on the pitch, players such as David McDaid, Mark Randall and Tomas Cosgrove add a real sense of experience to a team full of excitement.
Dungannon are often touted each year to struggle but always get it right when it counts and survive comfortably. Kris Lindsay is a relatively inexperienced manager but he knows what it takes to win. He was a real stalwart in his days at Glenavon as a player. The Swifts also have some tricky players too. Dougie Wilson was last season’s key player at Dungannon and hopes will rest on him and goal scorer Daniel Hughes in particular for much of this campaign for me.
I fancy Larne to get off to a winning start here. I think they have the quality to really have a go at winning the title this year. They have started the season well by smashing Crusaders 4-0 in the County Antrim Shield in midweek. A cup success may be Larne’s most realistic route to success this season but you just never know. It could be a tough season for Dungannon with a threadbare squad but let’s see what happens. They are a side who love proving others wrong!
STATO’S PREDICTION: Larne 3-1 Dungannon Swifts
Saturday 17th October – Linfield v Carrick Rangers (Windsor Park, 15.00 KO, BBC Sport NI website)
It’s been a long time coming but finally, Linfield will be able to unfurl the flag as Champions on Saturday. They kick start their defence of the Gibson Cup with a match against last season’s surprise package Carrick Rangers.
Under David Healy, Linfield continue to be the team to beat domestically. They have real quality in attack with Shayne Lavery and Andy Waterworth scoring plenty of goals between them and in midfield captain Jamie Mulgrew, Kirk Millar and tricky Frenchman Bastien Hery are all exciting to watch. Defensively they are always so strong and a threat at set pieces as well. However, Healy is always keen to not stop and let other sides catch-up to them. New signings to his squad including former Coleraine keeper Chris Johns shows that he is keen to keep this dominance going at the top of the Irish League.
Carrick Rangers were superb last season under Niall Currie. They came up from the Championship last season via the play off and comfortably held their own against stiff opposition. Guys such as Lloyd Anderson, Mark Surgenor and Alex Gawne were all instrumental in the Amber Army really punching above their weight last season. I don’t think many give Carrick a chance on Saturday at Windsor Park. It’s undoubtedly the hardest place to go for the provincial teams to go and get a result.
I hope Carrick can put in a positive display and take something from the game as they have the players to cause the Champions issues as I mentioned. However, I just think Linfield’s quality will be too good for Niall Currie’s side and I see a comfortable win for the Blues on Saturday.
STATO’S PREDICTION: Linfield 3-0 Carrick Rangers
Saturday 17th October – Warrenpoint Town v Crusaders (Milltown, 15.00 KO, BBC Sport NI website)
Going to Milltown is often regarded as one of the toughest places to go and get a result and that’s the task that is set for Crusaders on Saturday as they kick start their season.
Warrenpoint were saved a relegation play off last season because of COVID curtailing the season early. However, Barry Gray’s men had their moments in the league last season, none more so, than defeating Coleraine 3-1 at Milltown last year. Alan O’Sullivan’s goals will be key to their hopes this season as will how well they keep the door shut at the back. New signing Andy Coleman in goal will be a busy guy I feel this season.
Crusaders will want to make deeper inroads in the title race this season and get back onto Europe’s stage as well. The Crues lost the Irish League Cup final last year to Coleriane and will want to get some silverware back in the Seaview cabinet this time around. Players such as Paul Heatley, Jordan Owens and Sean O’Neill will be key to their success as will new signings Aidan Wilson and Adam Lecky. However, with the loss of Sean Ward and Howard Beverland at the back, it could be a tough season for them defensively.
Nevertheless, I fancy Crusaders to win this game comfortably here though I think it will be closer than many think.
STATO’S PREDICTION: Warrenpoint Town 1-3 Crusaders
Saturday 17th October – Glenavon v Portadown (Mourneview Park, 17:30 KO, BBC Sport NI website)
It’s great to have Portadown back in the top flight of Northern Irish Football. Credit to manager Matthew Tipton and his players on promotion from the Championship last campaign. What a game they have first match back as well, a match-up against derby rivals Glenavon at Mourneview, a match you can also see on the BBC Sport NI website.
Glenavon have been a club who have produced some excellent talent over the years with Joel Cooper, Josh Daniels and Bobby Burns just some of the starlets to have applied their trade here. In manager Gary Hamilton, they have a passionate guy who always gives his all to the cause. However, the Lurgan Blues were well below par last campaign and will hope to turn fortunes around heading into the new season. I’m interested to see how new signing Michael O’Connor and Matthew Fitzpatrick get on in a Glenavon shirt in particular.
For Tipton’s Portadown, it will be a battle to maintain their status unquestionably this season. In players such as former Ballymena midfielder Aaron Burns and full back Nathan Kerr, Tipton will be keen to find the right blend of youth and experience in order to have a successful season.
I’m going to back a score draw here. Glenavon are usually very tough to beat at home and on their day can beat any team in the division. However, opening days of the season are always interesting to have a look at and I just have a feeling Portadown will get something out of this game.
STATO’S PREDICTION: Glenavon 1-1 Portadown