It was a busy summer for a lot of clubs as they looked to consolidate and strengthen their position in the league. There were plenty of new faces around the changing rooms and some familiar ones too. Ballymena and Crusaders provided the season kick off on Friday night with a further four fixtures at the traditional 3pm Saturday slot before Warrenpoint hosted Glenavon at 5.30pm.
Ballymena United 1-4 Crusaders
Last season’s runners up Crusaders helped kick off the new season as they travelled to the Ballymena Showgrounds on Friday night. After a scoreless first half it was the home side who took the lead on 55 minutes as young Matthew Shevlin managed to bundle the ball over the line from close range. The lead lasted just 7 minutes before Paul Heatley opened his account for the season to make it 1-1. A minute later Ballymena were reduced to 10 men as Kyle Owens brought down Heatley as the striker looked to run clear of the Sky Blues’ defence. Crusaders took full advantage of their extra man as Heatley grabbed his second with a sumptuous half-volley from the edge of the area on 78 minutes. Colin Coates extended the Crues’ lead on 81 minutes heading in from a corner before substitute Jordan Forsythe finished the scoring in the final minute of play.
Ballinamallard United 1-2 Glentoran
Glentoran made the long trip to Ferney Park for their league opener, a venue they had not had anny success at since December 2015. The Mallards were gifted their opener on 30 minutes when Corey McMullan was adjudged to have Josh McIlwaine fouled inside the box, Ryan Curran stepped up to take the spot kick and made no mistake in slotting home. The Glens had their equaliser on 38 minutes when Curtis Allen contorted his body from close range to poke home as the ball was knocked down from a corner. Glentoran secured their winner in controversial fashion just minutes before the final whistle. As the ball came floating in from a corner Curtis Allen evoked his inner Maradona as he palmed the ball over Mallards’ goalkeeper Richard Brush into the back of the net.
Cliftonville 6-3 Ards
Everyone was keen to see how Joe Gormley would fare on his return to Irish League football and they were not let wanting. It was, however, Ards who would take an early lead through Jonathan Frazer before a ten minute spell that would see the game shift in Cliftonville’s favour. On 22 minutes Jay Donnelly found an equaliser for the Reds with the returning Gormley putting the home side ahead on the half hour mark before Chris Curran double their advantage on 32 minutes. 2 minutes before the break Kyle Cherry’s strike slipping through the hands of Reds’ new goalkeeper Brett Long. Cliftonville regained total control in the second half as Gormley’s cross ball was fired into his own net by Ards’ Scott Davidson, on 50 minutes, a minute later Gormley had his second of the day thanks to some slack Ards defending. On 65 minutes Tomas Cosgrove’s pin point cross was headed home by Jay Donnelly before Jonathan Frazer grabbed his brace on 76 minutes to complete the scoring for the day – both of his goals being assisted by Guillaume Keke.
Dungannon Swifts 1-3 Coleraine
Both sides had their share of the first half chances but neither were able to break the deadlock before the intermission. Coleraine were reduced to 10 men in the second half when defender Steven Douglas picked up his second yellow card but it was the Bannsiders who grabbed the opener as Eoin Bradley held the ball up before laying off for Ciaron Harkin whose shot arrowed into the back of the net just after the hour mark. Ten minutes later Coleraine doubled their lead as Stephen O’Donnell headed in from a neat free kick delivery. Dungannon’s new boy Ryan Mayse pulled the Swifts back into the game on 76 minutes with a neat side footed finish but the travelling side sealed the victory late on after a horrendous mistake by Swifts’ stopper Andy Coleman. Coleman’s errant touch gave the ball away and in an act of desperation the goalkeeper hauled the Coleraine striker to the ground, a red card was given and Coleraine’s Ian Parkhill fired home after the resulting freekick was blocked and fell into his path.
Linfield 2-0 Carrick Rangers
The champions began their title defense at home to Carrick without last season’s top goalscorer Andy Waterworth who is sidelined through injury. It took them only 16 minutes to find the target with Niall Quinn drilling the ball into the bottom corner giving Harry Doherty no chance in the Carrick net. Quinn turned provider just before the half as his expertly placed cross was headed home by Kirk Millar. The Blues had their chance for a third when Jordan Stewart was brought down in the area on 71 minutes but his penalty was poorly struck and goalkeeper Harry Doherty was able to easily grasp it. The final score perhaps doesn’t tell the full story of just how dominant Linfield were, fresh from their Charity Shield victory over Coleraine last week.
Warrenpoint Town 2-3 Glenavon
It was a 5.30pm kick off at Milltown as the Lurgan Blues made the journey for their season opener. New signing Marc Griffin fired Glenavon into an early 2-0 lead before a double from Darren Murray brought the Point back on level terms, his second coming from the spot after being fouled by Simon Kelly. It was Glenavon who would seal all three points though as Bobby Burns lashed home from the edge of the box to ensure the opening day victory went in the Lurgan side’s favour.