Here goes nothing…
Champions - Linfield
David Jeffrey has strengthened throughout the squad with Albert Watson, Daryl Fordyce, Rory Patterson and Gary Browne all coming in.
Re-signing Robert Garrett and Jamie Mulgrew have added to the competition of places at Linfield and that may be the only problem DJ has this season.
Fight for 2nd - Glentoran and Crusaders
It’ll be a tight battle across Belfast to play second fiddle to the Blues.
Stephen Carson and Darren Boyce bring their double-act to the Oval while the patch-up between Gary Hamilton and Scott Young could prove to be their best bit of business this summer.
Young has shown he had no room for sentiment at the Oval this summer by releasing legend Paul Leeman. Leeper’s best days may be behind him but his experience could be invaluable to new club Crusaders.
Much depends on the futures of Stuart Dallas and Jordan Owens. The pair contributed the bulk of the Crues goals last season in their ‘almost’ season. The £100,000 price tag on Dallas’ head has seen a drop in formal interest but don’t be surprised if something happens before the end of August.
The recruitment of Sean O’Neil, Timmy Adamson and Leeper has added another level of depth and experience to a small squad.
I’d expect the Glens to just pip the Crues to second but it all depends on injuries. Their battle begins tomorrow when they come head to head in the game of the weekend.
Cliftonville have had this sown up for the last two years but I expect them to face a challenge from Portadown this season.
In Matthew Tipton, Ronnie McFall has a striker who will guarantee goals. He hit the ground running following his January arrival and with a full pre-season under his belt, he should be on fire.
Again, it’s all dependants on fitness. A quick chat with Ross Redman at the season launch this week highlighted the amount of injuries they have ahead of the new season and there has only been one real signing this summer – Jamie Tomelty from Linfield.
The Reds have their own challenges ahead. A lot has been put on the young shoulders of Joe Gormley already. Plucked from the Amateur League, the teenager looks like he’ll be leading the line for Cliftonville. Last year, youngsters were blooded after injuries laid-up half the first team. Sink or swim again for them.
Completing the Top Six - Coleraine
I thought the Bannsiders would struggle this season once I’d heard their departures. But Oran Kearney has managed to convince Leon Knight to hang around again as well as bringing in Curtis Allen and Ryan McIlmoyle. Those signings, coupled with the influx of youngsters from around the north coast, have finally created a competition for places at the Showgrounds.
Howard Beverland has matured into a cracking defender while Kyle McVey bleeds Blue and White, and once again it’ll be the performance of the defensive that will guide Coleraine’s season. Allen and Knight will score goals while McIlmoyle is a good replacement for Carson but they need to keep clean sheets to seal a top six finish.
A totally new squad at Warden Street this season and once again, it’ll be a sink or swim season for Roy Walker. 13 new signings at current count, the work has been put in during pre-season to make sure everyone knows each other!
Walker has lost the influential Albert Watson while the highly talented Michael Smith is realising his dream of professional football. In come experience in Davy Munster and Aaron Black while they describe Allen Jenkins as the ‘coup’ of the summer.
Goals again will be the problem. Gary McCutcheon is 32 while James Costello is anything put prolific on current form but he has been finding the net during the summer. I think they’ll just miss out on that top half finish as a result.
A three-way battle for the drop...
Distillery and Glenavon will join Ballymena in pushing Coleraine for that final top six place and will have enough to avoid any involvement at the basement.
But I fear for the other three. Dungannon have lost Sean O’Neil and Timmy Adamson to Crusaders and Ryan McIlmoyle to Coleraine – three first-teamers. Only the returning Shea Campbell and Shea McGerrigan have arrived this summer meaning more pressure will be put on their youngsters.
Carrick haven’t invested yet. They need a striker for the Premiership. They’ve recruited well in goalkeeping department – Chris Keenan a solid purchase – but Small is putting his faith in the team that got him promoted plus a few Championship stars. Paul Heatley was the Amber Army’s Stuart Dallas last year with nearly 20 goals from midfield but he is going into his first top-flight season.
At Suffolk Road, the great escape last year was fantastic. Excitement is always guaranteed in west Belfast and I love trips across the city. Paul ‘Maxi’ McVeigh’s goals will be needed if they are to avoid the drop again. Their midfield is packed with talent and steel – Ryan Henderson, Stephen McAlorum and Darren McNamee – while the defence is a solid as it can be on their budget.
With a deep heart, I have to say I think DC will end up bottom of the pile. Should Carrick have a miserable start, they will have their ‘resources’ tested in January. If they prove they are here to stay and play with the big boys, they could buy their way out of any trouble.
For those interested, here is my fantasy team for the coming season...
Andy Coleman (Glenavon); Ross Redman (Portadown), Sean Ward (Glentoran), Albert Watson (Linfield), Colin Coates (Crusaders); Ryan Henderson (DC), Aaron Harmon (Carrick), PJ Lavery (Dungannon), George McMullan (Cliftonville); Gary Ligget (Distillery), Leon Knight (Coleraine)