BLUEFIN SPORT CHAMPIONSHIP: MATCHDAY 1 PREVIEW

The eagerly anticipated Bluefin Sport Championship season kicks off tonight in what could be one of the most entertaining campaigns in recent memory!

Friday 10 August

Loughgall v Portadown (venue: Lakeview Park; kick-off: 7.45pm)

The Bluefin Sport Championship kicks off on Friday night with a cracking Mid-Ulster derby between local neighbours Loughgall and Portadown at Lakeview Park. The Villagers, managed by Dean Smith will be looking to build on an impressive season last year as they complimented their top six finish in the second tier with a superb run to the semi-finals of the Irish Cup, eventually losing out to Cliftonville.

The Ports have been busy this summer, as manager Matthew Tipton has started to build his new-look team going into his first full season with the club, having taken over the reigns in March this year. Experienced campaigners Darren Murray (Crusaders), Kevin Braniff and Johnny Flynn (Ballymena United) have joined the Shamrock Park club in the summer, with promotion back to the top-flight at the second attempt the aim for Tipton’s men.

Saturday 11 August

Ballinamallard United v Limavady United (venue: Ferney Park; kick-off: 3pm)

The Fermanagh Mallards may be back in the Championship, following relegation from the Danske Bank Premiership last season but will be full of quiet optimism following the glimpses of what manager Harry McConkey brought to the club in their almost great escape from the drop last term. Experienced Premiership campaigners Richard Brush and Ryan Curran have both left for Cliftonville, but the return of Ryan Campbell and Duwayne McManus to club alongside experienced ‘keeper John Connolly will be a boost.

It’s been all change at the Limavady Showgrounds this summer, as following the departure of manger Paul Owens to Coleraine – Sean Friars has stepped into the dugout, having led Institute Reserves to the Championship Development League North title last season. Amongst a number of new faces at the Roeside, including Friars’ experienced brother Emmet from Ballymena United.

Dundela v Dergview (venue: Wilgar Park; kick-off: 3pm)

Last season’s Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League winners Dundela, welcome Dergview to Wilgar Park on Saturday. Bryan McCarroll has taken charge of the East Belfast side this summer assisted by the experienced Raymond Bell – they will be looking to the goals from last year’s third tier Player of the Year – Jordan Hughes to spearhead their season.

Peter Allen’s Dergview side retained their Bluefin Sport Championship via the playoff victory over Queens University back in May and have lost a few key players going into the season.

HW Welders v Carrick Rangers (venue: Tillysburn Park; kick-off: 3pm)

Two new managers go head-to-head in East Belfast as the Welders host Carrick Rangers. Firstly Norman Kelly makes his solo managerial bow in the home dugout, stepping from assistant boss following the departure of Gary Smyth to Glentoran. The Welders finished third last season and experienced former Carrick Rangers midfielder Chris Morrow could line up against his former club tomorrow.

On the other side the divide, Niall Currie takes charge of Carrick Rangers for the first time, having taken the reigns from the departed David McAlinden who could not save the East Antrim club after a dismal season, as they suffered relegation via the playoffs from the Premiership. Currie has worked his magic in the transfer window to completely rebuild a new side with Caolan Loughran (Ballymena United), Stewart Nixon (Ballyclare Comrades), Tre Sterling (Glentoran) and Craig McMillen (Ards) amongst the new faces.

Knockbreda v Larne (venue: Upper Braniel; kick-off 3pm)

Early Championship favourites Larne start their promotion quest in East Belfast against Knockbreda on Saturday, with all eyes on their progress this season. Manager Tiernan Lynch has assembled an impressive squad during the summer including the return of former Northern Ireland international Jeff Hughes from Tranmere Rovers.

Knockbreda survived late in the day last season to retain their senior status, but couldn’t arguably have had it tougher than a visit of Larne this weekend, manager Lee Forsythe has brought in Jordan Baker and Gary Warwick for some top-flight experience to help fire the club to safety again this year.

PSNI v Ballyclare Comrades (venue: Newforge Lane; kick-off: 3pm)

Stephen Hughes returns to the Ballyclare Comrades hotseat for his first game back in charge following Clifford Adams’ departure late last season, he will be joined by a familiar face to Saturday’s opponents PSNI, in the form of Jamesy Kirk who left the South Belfast club in December last year. The Comrades will be aiming to consolidate back-to-back top half finishes in the extremely competitive Championship, whilst PSNI will have aspirations of breaking into the top half of the table.