Irish Premiership - club-by-club guide to the new season

Paul Heatley played a significant role in Crusaders' league successes
Paul Heatley played a significant role in Crusaders' league successes

The BBC Sport website assesses the prospects for the new Irish Premiership season, with Crusaders setting out to win the title for a third successive year and Ards returning to the top flight after a two-year absence.

Crusaders

Michael Gault
Midfielder Michael Gault has joined Crusaders from Portadown

The Crues have emulated the achievement of Cliftonville by winning the Irish Premiership crown for two consecutive seasons, but now the defending champions will aim to go one better than their north Belfast derby rivals by making it three in a row.

Having shed their previous reputation as cup specialists to find the consistency required for league success, the Crues will also be keen to make a bigger impact in the knockout competitions this time round.

Manager Stephen Baxter has moved to strengthen his squad significantly. The additions of Howard Beverland, Michael Gault, Philip Lowry, David Cushley and former Portadown pair Marcio Soares and Jordan Lyttle should mean that competition for places at the Shore Road club will be keener than ever.

Linfield

Linfield goalkeeper Roy Carroll
NI goalkeeper Roy Carroll made his competitive debut for Linfield in their Europa League tie against Cork City

The clamour for League Championship success grows louder with each passing season that the biggest prize in the local game eludes the south Belfast club. The Gibson Cup last resided at Windsor Park in 2012 and the Blues have not collected any trophy since beating Crusaders in the County Antrim Shield decider in March 2014.

Following Warren Feeney's departure, manager David Healy stabilised things after a rocky start to ensure the club finished second for a third consecutive year, but defeats to Ballymena United and Glenavon in the County Antrim Shield and Irish Cup finals respectively ensured the trophy drought continued.

The arrival of Northern Ireland internationals Roy Carroll and Sammy Clingan over the summer, along with the return of defender Chris Casement, should offer renewed hope for the club's supporters.

Glenavon

Paddy McCourt
Paddy McCourt has made 18 appearances for Northern Ireland

The pick of the close-season arrivals at Glenavon was undoubtedly the 'marquee signing' of Northern Ireland winger Pat McCourt, who agreed a one-year deal, along with ex-Lurgan Blues striker Guy Bates,

Under manager Gary Hamilton, the mid-Ulster outfit have established themselves as one of the main players in the league, with two third-place finishes in a row and two Irish Cup victories in the space of three years ensuring that Europa League qualification, and the financial benefits which flow from that, is becoming commonplace.

These are heady days at Mourneview Park and expectations are reaching such a level that fans will harbour ambitions of improving on that third position and perhaps even mounting a serious title challenge.

Cliftonville

Jason McGuinness
Jason McGuinness joins Cliftonville from League of Ireland side St Patrick's Athletic

A fourth successive triumph in the League Cup was the high point of the Reds' campaign last term, with their failure to find consistency in the league culminating in an alarming dip in form late in the season.

The Solitude side recovered to see off Glentoran in a dramatic inaugural Europa League play-off in May but boss Gerard Lyttle will hope for better in his first full season in charge.

The signings of Jason McGuinness from St Patrick's Athletic and Chris Ramsey from Portadown should add experience to the squad, while new goalkeeper Jason Mooney and midfielder Ruairi Harkin, recruited from Coleraine, should also have key roles to play.

Coleraine

Gary Twigg
Gary Twigg spent more than three seasons at Portadown

Having lost club captain and central defender Howard Beverland to Crusaders and influential midfielder Ruairi Harkin to Cliftonville, Coleraine manager Oran Kearney has opted to bolster his options by signing striker Gary Twigg in a bid to increase his side's 'goals for' tally. David Kee arrives from Linfield on an initial one-year loan and immediately assumes the role of captain.

The Bannsiders made a promising start last season but their form petered out and their confidence appeared to drain somewhat after a shock 3-2 comeback defeat by Ards at the semi-final stage of the League Cup in December.

Like Glentoran, a place in the top half of the Premiership and some decent cup runs will be dual priorities.

Glentoran

Ross Redman
Ross Redman was one of a number of players to leave Portadown in the close season

Inconsistency was the blight of Glentoran's 2015-16 season as former Republic of Ireland international Alan Kernaghan dipped his toe in the managerial waters for the first time after the dismissal of former boss Eddie Patterson.

Having narrowly missed out on a potentially money-spinning place in the Europa League, Kernaghan will be keen to atone for that setback by making significant progress, although improving on their sixth place last time out and making an impact in the cup competitions are probably the realistic targets.

To that end, the Glens have made the eye-catching signing of former Rangers striker Nacho Novo and midfielder Eric Foley, as well as acquiring the services of well-travelled frontman Stephen O'Flynn and long-time Portadown defender Ross Redman

Dungannon Swifts

Seanan Clucas
Midfielder Seanan Clucas most recently turned out for Derry City

The Swifts will be satisfied with their seventh-place in the last campaign, finishing well clear of the relegation zone and play-off places despite their limited resources.

The appointment of Rodney McAree as manager, after Darren Murphy stepped down, precipitated an upturn in performances and results for the Stangmore Park club and they will hope to build on that.

Among their summer signings are former Linfield defender Chris Hegarty and midfielder Seanan Clucas, who has plied his trade with both the Blues and Derry City.

Ballymena United

Johnny McMurray
Johnny McMurray in action for Warrenpoint Town against his new club Ballymena United last season

The arrival of David Jeffrey to take over the managerial reins at the beginning of March generated a blaze of publicity and ushered in a new mood of optimism among the Braidmen, who will hope that a long-held ambition of securing a top-six position in the table can be realised.

A busy summer of transfer activity has seen the likes of Johnny Flynn, Fra McCaffrey, Conor McCloskey and Johnny McMurray join the ranks at the Showgrounds, with others such as Johnny Taylor and David Cushley moving on. Linfield goalkeeper Ross Glendinning comes in on loan.

Allied with an improved league showing, the Sky Blues will hope to continue the impressive runs in cup competitions which were a feature of former boss Glenn Ferguson's time in charge.

Portadown

Portadown manager Pat McGibbon
Former Newry City boss Pat McGibbon faces a challenging season at the helm at Portadown

It has been a turbulent 12 months at Shamrock Park as the club's fortunes nosedived to such an extent that they went from being potential title challengers in early 2015 and Irish Cup finalists in May later that year, to being relegation candidates by the conclusion of the last campaign.

The departure of long-serving manager Ronnie McFall following demonstrations of discontent by a section of fans has been followed by the exit of several key players including Michael Gault, Philip Lowry, Ross Redman, Gary Twigg, Chris Ramsey, Marcio Soares and Jordan Lyttle.

A fine, a transfer embargo and the deduction of 12 points for the next campaign as a result of player registration irregularities mean that survival will be the main aim for manager Pat McGibbon and his squad.

Carrick Rangers

Kieran Harding
Kieran Harding was a regular presence at Ronnie McFall's side for many years as assistant at Portadown

Kieran Harding's appointment as successor to former boss Gary Haveron, after many years as number two to Ronnie McFall at Portadown, represented the main change in terms of personnel over the summer at Taylor's Avenue.

The East Antrim side endured a lengthy wait to be assured of their top-flight status after Warrenpoint Town mounted a challenge to the nature of a touchline ban served by Haveron at the tail end of last season.

Carrick will hope to put that period of uncertainty behind them, with the help of new acquisitions Steven McCullough, Paddy McNally and Nathan Hanley, but the departure of key members of last year's squad such as Andrew Doyle, Aaron Harmon, Conor McCloskey and Kyle Cherry will be a cause for concern.

Ballinamallard United

Gavin Dykes
Gavin Dykes (left) has taken over from Whitey Anderson (right) as Ballinamallard boss

The surprise resignation of manager Whitey Anderson has ushered in a new era for the Mallards as ex-Derry City boss Gavin Dykes takes over the reins at Ferney Park for the club's fifth year in the Premiership.

The Mallards' preparations have been disrupted by the long-running wrangle over Gary Haveron's touchline ban, which meant it was 22 July before their Premiership safety was assured, thanks to a 5-4 aggregate play-off win over Institute.

The Fermanagh club have snapped up Shane McGinty from their defeated play-off opponents.

Ards

Johnny Taylor
Johnny Taylor joins newly-promoted Ards frrom Ballymena United

Ards ended their two-year exile to the Championship by earning promotion to the Premiership in April and manager Niall Currie will hope for a longer stay than the club's previous sojourn in the top flight, which lasted for just one campaign.

Among the club's pre-season signings have been goalkeeper Aaron Hogg, defenders Michael Ruddy and Johnny Taylor, and forward Gary Liggett.

The north Down side received a boost with their appearance in last season's League Cup final but among the players to leave during the summer are Ryan Brown, Denver Gage, Gary Browne, Stephen O'Neill, Eamon McAllister, James Cully and John Convery.

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