CHAMPIONS Linfield will kick-off the defence of their Irish Premiership title with a trip to Ballymena United.
David Jeffrey’s side – who claimed a sixth double in seven years last season – will start the quest for another Gibson Cup at the Warden Street Showgrounds on August 11.
It is a tricky assignment for the Blues who come up against former striker Glenn Ferguson in their Premiership opener.
Linfield‘s opening month to the season also includes home games against Coleraine and Donegal Celtic before the first derby clash with Glentoran arriving on September 1 at the Oval.
“Ballymena is always a difficult game and we will expect something similar on August 11,” Jeffrey said.
“The fact it is the opening day of the season makes it special. All 12 teams will be up for it so it wouldn’t matter who you get, it will be tough.”
Premiership newcomers Ballinamallard United kick-start their top-flight challenge with a home fixture against Dungannon Swifts.
Whitey Anderson’s side – who won the Championship last season – follow that opener with fixtures against Lisburn Distillery (away) and Ballymena United (home).
September could be a baptism of fire for the Mallards, with successive games against Crusaders, Glentoran, Cliftonville and Portadown.
Cliftonville – who finished second last season – will start their IFA Premiership season against Glenavon at Solitude, while Setanta Sports Cup and League Cup winners Crusaders kick-off against Coleraine at the Ballycastle Road Showgrounds.
Portadown’s first three games include an opening day clash with Lisburn Distillery at Shamrock Park and then a trip to Donegal Celtic and home to Coleraine.
The Bannsiders – who reached the final of the League Cup – have a tricky opening few weeks on paper.
Oran Kearney’s men start with Crusaders at home followed by trips to Linfield and Portadown.
Glentoran – preparing for their first full season under new manager Eddie Patterson – will start with Donegal Celtic at the Oval on August 11 followed by trips to Glenavon and Cliftonville.
p CRUSADERS have completed the signing of Carrick Rangers midfielder Paul Heatley on a two-year deal.
“Paul is a fantastic player who enjoyed a good year in the Premiership last season. He is a positive acquisition for the club,” said Crues boss Stephen Baxter.
“I believe he can provide a spark on the left wing for us next season.”