A season of intrigue lies in wait for Irish League fans

Joe Gormley and Liam Boyce were a formidable partnership
Joe Gormley and Liam Boyce were a formidable partnership

A question that has lingered throughout the summer has revolved around Cliftonville’s future without Liam Boyce.

The former Reds talisman secured a coveted move into full-time football back in June when he signed for Scottish Premiership side Ross County.

It was a move that had been on the cards long before the ink had dried on the striker’s new contract – a cross-channel flight that Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin “expected to come”.

Boyce wasn’t just a natural goalscorer for the Danske Bank Premiership champions, he was the perfect foil for partner Joe Gormley (pictured right).

Between them they scored 61 goals last season as Cliftonville recorded back-to-back titles for the first time in the club’s history.

It was a formidable partnership that held fans in thrall – and one that instilled fear into defenders the length and breadth of the country.

There is no denying that Boyce’s departure has left a gaping void.

At Wednesday night’s launch of the Danske Bank Premiership at Parliament Buildings, it was suggested to Breslin that he “might” miss Boyce’s influence this season.

“Might?” Breslin countered. “Not ‘might’, we will.”

The Reds continue to be tentatively linked with a number of potential replacements – including Coleraine’s Davy McDaid and St Pat’s forward Mark Quigley.

Not that Breslin is pressing any panic alarms.

He continues to carry the aura of the coolest manager on the planet. If he was any more relaxed he would be horizontal.

Tommy doesn’t do pressure, even after losing arguably his best player.

Cliftonville’s defence of the Gibson Cup, minus their talisman, is just one little caveat to this season’s Premiership curtain-raiser.

There are other morsels of intrigue that fans have been feasting on in recent days and weeks.

Warren Feeney’s arrival at Linfield has earned plenty of column inches since he was unveiled as David Jeffrey’s successor back in April.

An encouraging Europa League campaign has swelled expectation levels at Windsor Park, with bookmakers even installing the Blues as favourites to regain the Gibson Cup.

Crusaders also enjoyed success in Europe and have added quality to their ranks, with Mid-Ulster rivals Portadown and Glenavon also bolstering their panels during the summer – both will pose significant threats to their rivals.

Glentoran’s youthful energy will be interesting to watch this term, while Ballymena United and Coleraine will be striving for a top-six finish.

Not that Dungannon Swifts, Ballinamallard United, Warrenpoint Town or new-boys Institute are here just to make up the numbers.

As we have come to learn in the Danske Bank Premiership, anyone can beat anyone on their day.

But whose day will it be come next May?