Irish Premiership - club-by-club preview of the new season

By Richard PetrieBBC Sport NI
Joe Gormley was the the Premiership's top scorer last season
Joe Gormley was the the Premiership's top scorer last season

The BBC Sport website assesses the prospects for the new Irish Premiership campaign, with Cliftonville defending the title they won for a second successive season for the first time in their history and promoted club Institute returning to the top flight.


Tommy Breslin has led Cliftonville to successive league titles
Tommy Breslin has led Cliftonville to successive league titles

Cliftonville face the difficult challenge of successfully defending their title for a second time without one of their prolific strike duo Liam Boyce, who has moved to Scottish Premier outfit Ross County. The Reds will hope to get off to a better start, having struggled to get out of the blocks last season, before coming on strong in the second half of the campaign to overtake long-time leaders Linfield. The arrivals of defender Johnny Flynn and midfielders Jude Winchester and James Knowles should further strengthen the squad and provide manager Tommy Breslin with more options.


Warren Feeney has taken over the reins at Windsor Park
Warren Feeney has taken over the reins at Windsor Park

The appointment of Warren Feeney to succeed David Jeffrey as Linfield manager provides an exciting new dimension to the Irish League. The Blues ended last season six points behind the champions and Feeney has been quick to ring the changes in an attempt to prise the Gibson Cup away from north Belfast. The former Northern Ireland international has signed defender Chris Hegarty, midfielder Stephen Lowry and striker Sammy Morrow, while Plymouth defender Jamie Richards joins on loan. Ex-skipper Michael Gault and fellow midfield man Philip Lowry are among those who have left Windsor Park. The squad should have gained confidence from some impressive performances in Europe.


Billy Joe Burns left Linfield to join Belfast rivals Crusaders
Billy Joe Burns left Linfield to join Belfast rivals Crusaders

Crusaders remain one of the most formidable sides in the top flight, particularly at home and especially in the cup competitions. Stephen Baxter's outfit continue to struggle to mount a sustained challenge for the Premiership title however, having finished a distant third in 2013-14. The Crues boss has acquired Billy Joe Burns from Linfield, winger Stephen Cockroft from H&W Welders and Diarmuid O'Carroll from Cliftonville as he aims to find the consistency required to clinch the biggest prize in the local game and secure the Shore Road's first trophy since their Setanta Sports Cup success in 2012.


Jordan Stewart emerged as a star of the Glentoran team last season
Jordan Stewart emerged as a star of the Glentoran team last season

Glentoran manager Eddie Patterson led his side to a very creditable fifth position in the league last year, but the East Belfast club may struggle to replicate that performance as they continue to work on a very limited budget. With no significant arrivals at the Oval as yet in the close season, the Glens will rely strongly on talented youngster Jordan Stewart and prolific forward Curtis Allen. The departures of Jimmy Callacher and Richard Clarke last season deprived Patterson of two more experienced players. On the plus side, David Howland should be available after a lengthy absence through injury.


Former Linfield skipper Michael Gault has joined Portadown
Michael Gault was a surprise departure from Windsor Park

The Ports will have been relatively happy with their fourth-place finish last season, a major improvement on the previous year when they failed to clinch a spot in the top six after the league split. The additions of former Linfield trio Michael Gault, Robert Garrett and Mark McAllister should boost their fortunes, along with the news that Darren Murray, reportedly a target for Cliftonville, has signed a new two-year contract. Manager Ronnie McFall, who himself agreed to extend his tenure at Shamrock Park by another two years, will hope for more goals from ex-Shamrock Rovers forward man Twigg. Ross Redman returns after missing almost an entire season.


Oran Kearney's Coleraine had a disappointing 2013-14 campaign
Oran Kearney's Coleraine had a disappointing 2013-14 campaign

A disappointing season for Coleraine last time round saw them flirt with relegation and end in a lowly ninth spot in the final Premiership standings. Manager Oran Kearney starts his fourth full season in charge and will need to see some improvement from his charges this time round. The loss of influential midfielder Stephen Lowry and striker Eoin Bradley during the summer will not help matters but Joe McNeill has made his initial loan move to the Bannsiders permanent, while Neil McCafferty arrives at Ballycastle Road from Portadown. Johnny Black joins the club on loan until the end of the calendar year.

Ballinamallard Utd

Anthony Elding has arrived at Ferney Park from Sligo Rovers
Anthony Elding formerly played for Sligo Rovers in the League of Ireland

Ballinamallard failed to repeat the form they showed in their first season in the top division and only secured their Premiership status late in the campaign. Manager Whitey Anderson has hailed the addition of former Leeds United and Boston United striker Anthony Elding as the biggest signing the club has ever made. He has also recruited former GAA player Johnny Lafferty and Derry City midfielder Raymond Foy on loan as he tries to restore the club's fortunes to the heady heights they enjoyed in their first foray into the top flight. Importantly, the Mallards have so far held onto Mark Stafford and David Kee, both allegedly transfer targets for Linfield, plus they have Leon Carters available again after injury.

Ballymena Utd

Matthew Tipton has played for Linfield and Portadown
Striker Matthew Tipton has played for Linfield and Portadown

The Sky Blues derived a significant 'feelgood' factor from their journey to and appearance in last season's Irish Cup final. Consistent league form has remained elusive however and manager Glenn Ferguson and his side continue their bid to secure a place in the league's top six for the first time since the split was introduced. The signing of striker Matthew Tipton could provide United with the prolific striker they have been lacking since the departure of striker Gary McCutcheon to Crusaders two years ago. The 34-year-old's partnership with Darren Boyce will be crucial while Kyle McVey will offer more experience in defence.


Ex-Portadown player Kevin Braniff has signed for mid-Ulster rivals Glenavon after returning from Australia
Ex-Portadown player Kevin Braniff has signed for mid-Ulster rivals Glenavon after returning from Australia

The Lurgan Blues look likely to be the team to watch this season as they hope to build on their Irish Cup victory in May. A combination of experience and youthful enthusiasm have proved fruitful for manager Gary Hamilton and with the quality now assembled at Mourneview Park, they should challenge for a place in the upper echelons of the league. The arrivals of goalkeeper Alan Blayney and forwards Eoin Bradley and Kevin Braniff all represent valuable and significant additions to the squad, laying down a marker of their ambition to the rest of the league.

Dungannon Swifts

Darren Murphy
Darren Murphy hopes to keep Dungannon away from the relegation zone

Dungannon Swifts maintained their Premiership status fairly comfortably last season and avoiding the dreaded relegation zone will again be a priority for manager Darren Murphy. Johnny Topley and Adam McMinn have hung up their boots, while Marc Brolly, Ricky Copeland and Gareth Buchanan are among the other members of last year's squad who are no longer available to Murphy. Goalkeeper Andy Coleman and Andy Mitchell arrive from Glenavon, along with defender David Armstrong from Ards.

Warrenpoint Town

Warrenpoint Town manager Barry Gray
Warrenpoint Town manager Barry Gray saw his team end 2013-14 in 11th place

Warrenpoint will have been pleased to end up 12 points ahead of relegated side Ards last season on their first-ever appearance in the top flight. Survival will again be the name of the game for manager Barry Gray, given the resources available to him in contrast to some of the leading clubs in the league. Gray has strengthened his panel by signing Dermot McVeigh, ex-Crusaders and Donegal Celtic player Ciaran Gargan and former Dundalk and Shelbourne midfielder Stephen McDonnell.


Institute manager Paul Kee
Paul Kee led Institute to the Championship One title

The fact that the Championship One winners will start as favourites for relegation will be used as a motivating factor by Institute's experienced manager Paul Kee. The Drumahoe club have managed to retain the services of striker Stephen O'Flynn, who was attracting interest from Coleraine. The fact that the former Derry City and Northampton Town striker opted to stay with the club could be crucial to their hopes of survival.

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