After a long summer, football fans across Northern Ireland will be celebrating the return of the Danske Bank Premiership this weekend.

Saturday 4 August 2018

Coleraine v Warrenpoint Town (venue: Coleraine Showgrounds; kick-off 3pm)

The Bannsiders start their Danske Bank Premiership campaign at the Ballycastle Road venue which they were unbeaten at during the previous campaign, but could only narrowly finish runners-up to Crusaders. Oran Kearney’s side haven’t been defeated at home in the league since April 2017, and will go into the game off the back of a narrow Europa League reverse to Spartak Subotica of Serbia last month.

Stephen McDonnell’s appointment as permanent Warrenpoint Town manager following his successful caretaker spell last season, has breathed fresh optimism at the progressive border club as they travel in hope of getting their season off to a positive start with potential competitive debuts to new signings Simon Kelly (Glenavon), Marc Griffin (Glenavon) and Francis McCaffrey (Ballymena United).

Dungannon Swifts v Ballymena United (venue: Stangmore Park; kick-off: 3pm)

It’s a repeat of the BetMcLean League Cup final at the home of the winners as David Jeffrey takes his new look Ballymena United squad to Stangmore Park, looking to avenge their February final defeat. The Sky Blues have had a complete overhaul of their playing personnel this summer with new faces including former Swifts’ favourite Ryan Mayse joining the club.

Rodney McAree has laid down the challenge to his Dungannon Swifts team to improve on their recent league finishes to compliment last season’s first major senior trophy. They will be looking to the firepower of Daniel Hughes, Mark McAllister, Mark Patton and Johnny Lafferty to fire the goals to make that move up the table this season.

Glenavon v Linfield (venue: Mourneview Park; kick-off: 3pm)

Arguably the game of the day on Saturday in the Danske Bank Premiership at Mourneview Park between the Lurgan Blues and the South Belfast Blues. Both sides’ title challenges tailed off last season during the pursuit of the relentless campaigns of Crusaders and Coleraine – but both will be looking to go again for the title.

David Healy especially has made his intentions clear to regain the Gibson Cup with some high profile signings this summer for Linfield, including Lorcan Forde (Warrenpoint Town), Ryan McGivern (Swindon Town), Daniel Kearns (Limerick) and Joel Cooper from Saturday’s opponents Glenavon. In the other dugout Gary Hamilton has kept faith in much of last year’s squad and added faces with Premiership experience in Conor McCloskey, Gary Muir and Aaron Harmon.

Glentoran v Cliftonville (venue: The Oval; kick-off: 3pm)

Ronnie McFall’s new look management team start the new season with the same fixture which finished the last, as defeat to Cliftonville in the Europa League Playoff final inevitably shaped the summers of both clubs. As the Reds went onto to narrowly lose out to Danish opposition in Europe, with a number of new faces recruited in the form of Richard Brush (Ballinamallard United), Ryan Curran (Ballinamallard United) and Damien McNulty (Carrick Rangers).

Glentoran have had a much quieter summer in East Belfast, with their only three signings coming in the past week in the form of Connor Pepper, Lee Chapman and Nigel Prentice. The biggest coup of the summer was luring Glens legend and Harland & Wolff Welders manager Gary Smyth to the club’s coaching staff.

Institute v Newry City (venue: Brandywell Stadium; kick-off: 3pm)

The two newly promoted sides come together at an historic meeting as Irish League football returns to the Brandywell Stadium. Regardless of the build up, it will be a vitally important fixture for both sides who will be looking to pick up crucial points to get their campaign off the mark. Paddy McLaughlin has put faith in the majority of his Championship winning squad, adding veteran Darren Boyce for some experience in front of goal.

Darren Mullen’s ambitious Newry City side have rose from the ashes of their previous namesake who dropped out of the Premiership in 2011. Like ‘Stute they have held onto their prize assets such as Mark McCabe and added homegrown goalkeeper Andrew Coleman.

Monday 6 August 2018

Crusaders v Ards (venue: Seaview; kick-off: 7.45pm)

The Champions start the defence of their title two days later than scheduled due to their involvement in the Europa League second qualifying round tie this week. The North Belfast side have started their transition into a more full-time environment this summer and have been kept busy with their four European ties going into this game, new signing Rory Patterson could play subject to international clearance on Monday night.

It may be the toughest of starts for Colin Nixon’s Ards side but they will be confident of holding their own this season with some astute transfer business on the gold coast, including the acquisition of experienced Craig McClean and talented youngster Michael Kerr on loan from Monday’s opponents.