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

Crusaders were crowned Premiership champions for the third time in four seasons in April
Crusaders were crowned Premiership champions for the third time in four seasons in April

The BBC Sport website assesses the prospects for the new Irish Premiership season as Crusaders start the defence of their title and promoted clubs Institute and Newry City prepare to begin their campaigns on their return to the top flight.

Crusaders

Ross Clarke spent much of last season on loan at Ards from Linfield
Ross Clarke spent much of last season on loan at Ards from Linfield

Having lifted the Gibson Cup for three of the last four seasons, and finished in a close second in the other, Crusaders look sure to be in the running for the Irish League title once again.

Boosted by finances accumulated through regular participation in European club football manager Stephen Baxter has switched to a full-time role and several of his players are training on an almost daily basis after being handed enhanced contracts. Fitness and squad cohesion should therefore not be a problem for the Seaview men.

Star man Gavin Whyte has left for Oxford United and Jordan Owens is ruled out of the early part of the season with a hamstring injury but an already strong panel of players has been further boosted by the arrivals of Harry Doherty, Michael Ruddy, Kyle Owens, Gary Thompson and Ross Clarke during the close season.

Crues fans will hope that their primary aim of another championship success can be accompanied by greater progress in the knockout competitions.

Coleraine

Stephen Lowry is beginning his second spell at Coleraine after leaving Linfield
Stephen Lowry is beginning his second spell at Coleraine after leaving Linfield

Coleraine appear well placed to continue the form that saw them edged out by Crusaders for the league title on the final day of last season, Oran Kearney's men ending up two points adrift of the north Belfast outfit.

The Bannsiders lost just one match in their entire Premiership campaign last time out - a remarkable feat - and then finished on a high by collecting the Irish Cup at a sunsoaked Windsor Park in May.

Manager Kearney has drafted in defender Graham Crown from Institute, while ex-Linfield midfielder Stephen Lowry returns for a second spell with the club and forward James McLaughlin is back in action after missing all of last year's momentous campaign through injury.

As well as hoping for another sustained championship challenge, Coleraine supporters will be keen to see more silverware in the cabinet at Ballycastle Road come next spring.

Glenavon

Conor McCloskey joins Glenavon after being released by Ballymena United
Conor McCloskey joins Glenavon after being released by Ballymena United

Glenavon's third-placed finish in the league last season assured them of a return to European football after a one-year absence - a welcome boost to the coffers at Mourneview Park.

With Bobby Burns, Marc Griffin and Joel Cooper having all moved on to pastures new during the summer, the firepower of striker Andy Mitchell will prove even more important in maintaining the Lurgan Blues' presence in the upper echelons of the Premiership table this time round.

The club warded off the overtures of Linfield to retain the services of coach Kris Lindsay, while former Northern Ireland international Peter Kennedy is now part of the backroom staff.

Midfielder Conor McCloskey joins from Ballymena United, with Niall Grace arriving from Institute, Aaron Harmon coming in from Glentoran, and ex-Bohemians forward Stephen Donnelly also added to the ranks at the mid-Ulster club.

Linfield

Lorcan Forde
Highly-rated teenager Lorcan Forde impressed for Warrenpoint Town last season

Linfield will look to make up for a hugely disappointing 2017-18 season by contending for the Premiership title and making a much bigger impact in the various cup competitions.

A lowly fourth place finish is not what the Windsor Park fans expected as a follow-up to their previous campaign which yielded a League championship and Irish Cup double.

Massive improvement will be demanded this time round and manager David Healy has responded to his squad's underachievement by showing several players the exit door and drafting in a raft of replacements.

Former Glenavon winger Joel Cooper, exciting Warrenpoint Town teenager Lorcan Forde and strikers Daniel Kearns and Michael O'Connor have been brought in to bolster the squad, along with ex-Glentoran forward Jonathan Smith and Northern Ireland defender Ryan McGivern.

Ex-Dungannon Swifts manager Darren Murphy joins the coaching team.

Cliftonville

Ryan Curran in action for Ballinamallard against his new club Cliftonville last season
Ryan Curran in action for Ballinamallard against his new club Cliftonville last season

Cliftonville manager Barry Gray will be hoping his squad can achieve more consistency this term after a topsy-turvy season which saw their form ebb and flow periodically during 2017-18.

The Reds brushed aside the disappointment of defeat in the Irish Cup final to land a coveted and lucrative place in the Europa League via the play-offs, thereby providing a significant financial boost to the club.

The Reds boss has brought in Conor McMenamin from Warrenpoint, Ryan Curran and goalkeeper Richard Brush from relegated Ballinamallard United and acquired the services of Damien McNulty from Carrick Rangers.

Much will again depend on the goals provided by forwards Joe Gormley and brothers Rory and Jay Donnelly, although Rory will sit out the first six weeks of the campaign after being handed a ban by the Irish FA over a social media post.

Ballymena Utd

Reece Glendinning
Reece Glendinning joins his brother Ross at Ballymena Unired following his summer transfer from Linfield

The close season at the Showgrounds has been a hive of activity with many of last year's squad departing the Warden Street club and a host of new arrivals having been snapped up by Ballymena manager David Jeffrey in a bid to enhance the club's fortunes.

Shane McGinty, Johnny Addis, James Knowles, Adam Lecky, Reece Glendinning, Jude Winchester, Andy McGrory, Ryan Mayse and Scot Whiteside have all joined the ranks, giving the Sky Blues a very different look and rendering them something of an unknown quantity ahead of the new campaign.

The return from injury of striker Johnny McMurray should be a crucial factor for the Braidmen.

Having been decimated by injuries, United managed to scrape into the top six last season but suffered the disappointment of underperforming in cup final defeats by Crusaders and Dungannon Swifts.

An improved league position and some more cup success will be on the agenda for the new-look United who will hope that playing away from home for the first two months of the campaign does not prove to be too much of a disadvantage.

Glentoran

Leeman, Smyth and McFall will form part of the new management team at Glentoran
Paul Leeman, Gary Smyth and Ronnie McFall were announced as Glentoran's new management team in May

The appointment of Glentoran's new coaching team attracted a lot of headlines during the 'off season' as former players Gary Smyth and Paul Leeman arrived at the Oval to work under experienced manager Ronnie McFall.

McFall's initial stay as interim boss has been extended to include another season but the summer months have yielded little by way of transfer activity so far, leading to fears of another season of relative mediocrity among fans of the East Belfast club.

Conor Pepper, Nigel Prentice and Lee Chapman have been signed in the final few days leading up to the start of the new campaign though.

Assistant boss Smyth has admitted that at least three new signings are necessary to enable the club to compete at anywhere near the level they hope for in the new campaign.

Much will again depend on experienced hands such as Elliott Morris and Curtis Allen, while Robbie McDaid has also committed his future to the club.

A top-six finish would represent a good season for the Glens, while a decent run in one of the cup competitions would offer a much-needed morale boost.

Dungannon Swifts

Ex-Glentoran midfielder Corey McMullan has been snapped up by Dungannon Swifts
Ex-Glentoran midfielder Corey McMullan has been snapped up by Dungannon Swifts

Boosted by the fact that manager Rodney McAree has committed himself to the club for the next few seasons, Dungannon Swifts will try to build on their League Cup triumph last season, a first major trophy success for the Stangmore Park outfit.

The loss of the creative skills of Ryan Mayse is a setback for the County Tyrone club but striker Mark McAllister is back in harness, defender Jake Dykes has been signed and midfielder Corey McMullan has been recruited from Glentoran.

Marcio Soares was added to the squad just days before the start of the new campaign.

A sustained shot at a top-six spot may be beyond the Swifts, with consolidation in the top flight and some good cup runs maybe a more realistic target.

Ards

Experienced defender Craig McClean was signed by Ards manager Colin Nixon
Experienced defender Craig McClean was signed by Ards manager Colin Nixon

Ards manager Colin Nixon has been busy in the transfer market with defenders Craig McClean and Michael Kerr arriving from Crusaders, the latter on loan.

Midfielder Kym Nelson joins from Glentoran, winger Eamonn McAllister returns for a third spell with the north Down club, while Sean Noble and Mark Kelly have been brought in with the aim of beefing up the north Down team's strikeforce.

Jason Mooney joins from Cliftonville and will compete with Sam Johnston for the goalkeeper's jersey.

Maintaining their place in the top flight will be the primary aim, although the Ards boss may have some more lofty aspirations in mind, including a run in a cup competition.

Warrenpoint Town

Former Glenavon defender Simon Kelly will combine playing with a coaching role at Warrenpoint Town
Former Glenavon defender Simon Kelly will combine playing with a coaching role at Warrenpoint Town

During his tenure as interim boss, Stephen McDonnell helped steer Warrenpoint Town to safety at the end of last season following the departure of Matthew Tipton to Portadown.

The league's youngest manager has been rewarded for his efforts by being handed the manager's role on a full-time basis and like a number of other clubs, the retention of top flight status will again be the priority.

McDonnell has moved to put his stamp on the club by bringing in Matthew Lynch, ex-Glenavon pair Simon Kelly and Marc Griffin, plus Gavin Brennan, formerly of Drogheda United and Shamrock Rovers, during the close season.

Ciaran O'Connor returns from Finn Harps and midfielder Philip Donnelly completes the pre-season arrivals at Milltown.

Institute

Dale Montgomery scored in Loughgall's shock Irish Cup quarter-final win over Glenavon
Dale Montgomery scored in Loughgall's shock Irish Cup quarter-final win over Glenavon

Survival will be the name of the game for Institute as they return to the top flight after a three-year absence, earning automatic promotion last season after a couple of failed attempts to navigate their way back into the top flight through the promotion/relegation play-off.

Manager Paddy McLaughlin led his charges to success in the Championship despite the off-field problems which saw them have to play their 'home' fixtures away from their Riverside Stadium ground because of flooding at Drumahoe last August.

The Londonderry team will play their home games at the Brandywell after securing a ground-sharing agreement with Derry City.

Michael McCrudden and Mark Scoltock will provide experience to a predominantly youthful squad.

Newry City AFC

Andy Coleman
Andy Coleman returns to his hometown club for a second spell after leaving in 2011

Newry City AFC manager Darren Mullen has been busy in the transfer market as he seeks to build on his club's fairytale return to the Premiership thanks to four promotions in five seasons by preserving their status at the top table of local football.

Mullen has managed Newry since they re-entered the Irish League in 2013 after the club's IFA membership had been terminated following a High Court winding-up order in September 2012.

After defeating Carrick Rangers 6-3 on aggregate in a relegation-promotion play-off in May, Mullen was quick to snap up defender Dale Montgomery from Loughgall and midfielder Stephen Teggart from Banbridge Town.

The experience of goalkeeper Andy Coleman, signed from Dungannon, Stefan Lavery and Mark Hughes could prove vital, while Tiarnan Rushe and Noel Healy are among the other new faces at the County Down outfit.