In the first of a new series, we look back on the season to date starting with an action packed August with the kick-off of the campaign, European heroics and the dramatic title run-in for the Women’s Premiership.
The eve of the much anticipated Danske Bank Premiership season was tainted by the untimely passing of the hugely popular former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin. Returning to the Danske Bank Premiersip was Oran Kearney back to the Coleraine dugout after a spell in Scotland with St. Mirren.
It took only four minutes for Darren Murray to bag the first goal of the new season at Mourneview Park as Mick McDermott’s new look Glentoran side had to settle for a point against Glenavon on the Friday night.
Reigning champions Linfield secured a comfortable win against Institute on the opening Saturday on a day that newly promoted Larne announced their return to the top-flight with a six goal salvo against Warrenpoint Town at Inver Park to end their eleven year wait for a top-flight victory.
Fellow promoted side Carrick Rangers lost to Crusaders on the opening day and in the second matchday three days later narrowly missed out on their first point, losing to neighbours Larne. Glentoran showed their mettle to come from behind to grab a point against Coleraine at home in the pick of the gameweek two results.
Crusaders remained the only side on maximum points after the first three games as they defeated derby rivals Cliftonville at Solitude. The result of the day was at Windsor Park as Coleraine stunned Linfield with a 4-2 victory, derby rivals Ballymena United also won by the same scoreline away to Larne on the same afternoon.
On matchday four; Kris Lindsay’s Dungannon moved level at the top of the table after their 2-1 win over Glenavon and Institute (still without a permanent manager) picked up their point of the campaign away to Coleraine. At the Ballymena Showgrounds, Glentoran produced another superb comeback against last season’s runners-up Ballymena United for their first win of the campaign thanks to a Robbie McDaid double.
In the final round of fixtures this month, the top two met at Seaview as Crusaders comfortably defeated Dungannon Swifts, 3-0, with Philip Lowry scoring twice. Coleraine also kept up their unbeaten start to the season under Oran Kearney with an impressive 4-0 win away to Glenavon.
The domestic season sparked into life during August, but for Linfield it was the cumulation of their heroic in the UEFA Europa League played out in relentless fashion for David Healy’s Blues. Progression past Faroese side HB Torshavn at Windsor Park set up a memorable third round tie against FK Sutjeska of Montenegro in which the Blues won both ties to progress to a playoff tie for a place in the group stages of the competition.
It was the first time a club from the NI Football League has reached this stage of European competition since the restructuring of the competition format which set the scene for one of the most memorable night's in the club's history as they defeated FK Qarabag at Windsor Park in style before narrowly being knocked out of the competition on away goals out in Baku the following week.
Just as the men’s Premiership was kicking off in August, the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership was heading towards its most dramatic finale ever. The three horse title race became two as Glentoran Women fell away in August after keeping the pace for much of the season, this left Linfield Ladies and Sion Swifts Ladies fighting it out after they could only draw their potential title decider 2-2 at Midgley Park on 25 August.
Sion were struck a double blow with the retirement of club captain Kendra McMullan through injury and the departure of Tyler Toland to Manchester City, the first of several young Women’s Premiership stars to make the move to cross-channel clubs in 2019.
At the other end of the table time was starting to run out for both Derry City Women and Comber Rec Ladies as they failed to pick up any points during the penultimate month of the season in the battle to avoid relegation.
Like their male counterparts - Linfield Ladies were also in European action in the UEFA Women’s Champions League and picked up a memorable victory over Greek champions PAOK in their three game qualifying group in Belgium but failed to progress to the next stage of the competition.
The Bluefin Sport Championship packed six rounds into a busy August schedule as Loughgall became the early pace-setters as they won four and drew two from their opening six games, including a stunning comeback against Ballyclare Comrades, coming from 4-0 down to win 5-4. Matthew Tipton’s Portadown and Warren Feeney’s Ards were also in the mix in the early stages of the campaign but dropped points during a frantic month.
In their senior football bow, Peter Thompson’s Queen’s University picked up their first points in the second tier with a fine 5-1 win over their new tenants PSNI at the Dub in gameweek two. Ballyclare Comrades picked up the biggest win of the opening month, 8-0 against a HW Welders side whose early struggles put joint mangers Colin McIlwaine and George O’Boyle under immediate pressure in the Tillysburn hotseat.
Following a clash with the Irish FA’s fixture schedule, the opening round of fixtures in the Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League was deferred until the 31 August. Portstewart were the big opening day winners (3-0 v Banbridge Town) and veteran striker Kevin Braniff rolled back the years for a league debut goal for new club Distillery against Dollingstown.
The third-tier was rocked by the sudden withdrawal of Lurgan Celtic in mid-August and continue the season with only eleven teams and no relegation for the 2019/2020 season.
The road to the BetMcLean League Cup final started in early August with no real shocks as the Premiership teams entered the competition in Round 2 later in the same month. There were upsets as Bangor knocked 2017 finalists Carrick Rangers out of the competition following a 5-3 victory at the Bangor Fuels Arena, while HW Welders claimed a Premiership scalp after defeating Warrenpoint Town. Dollingstown claimed a memorable victory of neighbours Portadown to progress to the third round, with most of the seeded teams progressing with comfort to take a step closer to silverware.
The NI Football Writers’ Association named Linfield boss David Healy the Manager of the Month following his side’s heroics on the continent with new signing Shayne Lavery bagging the Player of the Month award for August.
Loughgall forward Nathaniel Ferris was on hand to collect the Championship Player of the Month award after his fine start to the campaign and Sion Swifts Ladies’ American forward Donna Kay Henry was named as the Women’s Premiership’s star player as she fired her club within touching distance of the title. Ballymena United’s Jonny Addis came out on top in the voting for the August Goal of the Month after his stunning long range effort against Larne at Inver Park.