Twenty days on from the World Cup Final, and football has come home again. Here’s your Danske Bank Irish Premiership 2018/19: Gameweek 1 Round-Up…
Ball-X cameras were in Derry on opening weekend for a game that was saturated in historical significance. Institute entertained Newry at the Brandywell, the first Irish League game played at the famous ‘new’ stadium in forty seven years. It was September 1971. Sectarian trouble flared before Derry City, then of the Irish League, played host to Ballymena United. What happened next is an oft told tale, with Derry deciding to leave the Irish League at the end of the 1971/72 season. The most beautiful poetic irony, then, that in the summer of 2018, the proud north-western giants, opened their doors, to accommodate an unlikely guest in the form of their near neighbours from Drumahoe. In a scenario that would have seemed laughable only a few years ago, Institute, deriving the majority of their support from the Protestant community, became tenants in one of Northern Ireland’s most Republican neighbourhoods. Refreshing too, to see the many Derry City shirts in the Mark Fadden stand to watch Saturday’s game, in which the ‘home’ side secured what might prove to be an important day-one win thanks to a Michael McCrudden first-half strike. Themselves and Newry are tipped to be amongst the pack fighting for survival come the end of the season. Important to acknowledge the significance of the fixture, also, from a Newry perspective. Five years ago, the phoenix from the Newry City FC ashes rose, and Newry City AFC were born. Back then, it was the Mid-Ulster Intermediate B division those pioneers were navigating. Four promotions in five seasons and the border club are back in the big time, and will be disappointed to leave the Brandywell in defeat, having enjoyed much of the play, without ever really fashioning a gilt-edged opportunity.
Along the North Coast, Oran Kearney’s Coleraine team picked up where they left off last season – Stephen Lowry grabbing a brace on his return to the Bannsiders, in a 3-0 win over Warrenpoint. The Irish Cup holders snapped the experienced midfielder up in May, after his release by Linfield, and Lowry admitted on BBC Radio after the game, that it felt good to be home. Eoin Bradley grabbed the third.
With champions Crusaders not playing Ards until Monday night, much of the focus on the opening weekend was the meeting at Mourneview, Lurgan. What was an improving Glenavon side last season, came up against a Linfield team with a point to prove after a dismal campaign in 17/18. It was the visitors that came away with the spoils, with former Glenavon man Daniel Kearns popping up with a scrappy winner on his debut for David Healy’s men. Andrew Mitchell had earlier blazed a penalty over for the hosts, after Chris Casement was adjudged to have handled inside the area.
Jay Donnelly broke Glentoran hearts with a 93rd minute winner at the Oval. The Glens had taken the lead in the first half, through a John McGuigan strike, only to see Joe ‘The Goal’ Gormley square things up for Cliftonville with twenty minutes to go. And it was Ardoyne man Donnelly who clinched the points for his beloved Reds, with a classy left foot finish in injury time.
Stangmore Park played host to the day’s only other tie, with Ballymena United leaving Mid-Ulster with the three points, having put Dungannon Swifts to the sword. Striker William Faulkner put the visitors ahead with a tasty first half lob, before Tony Kane doubled the advantage for David Jefferey’s side from the penalty spot in the second period. Dungannon lost Chris Hegarty with twenty minutes left, the defender receiving his marching orders for a second yellow card.