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|Number of teams||12|
|Level on pyramid||1|
|Relegation to||NIFL Championship|
Irish League Cup |
NIFL Charity Shield
|League cup(s)||NI Football League Cup|
UEFA Champions League|
UEFA Europa League
Crusaders (7) |
|Most championships||Linfield (4 Premiership titles; 52 Irish titles overall)|
|Website||NI Football League official site|
The Northern Ireland Football League Premiership, known as the Danske Bank Premiership for sponsorship purposes, is a professional association football league which operates as the highest division of the Northern Ireland Football League – the national league in Northern Ireland. It was formerly called the IFA Premiership until 2013, with previous competition formats called the Irish Premier League, Irish Football League Premier Division, and before that simply the Irish Football League. Still known in popular parlance simply as the Irish League, the Premiership was established in 2008 under the auspices of the Irish Football Association before the Northern Ireland Football League was created for the start of the 2013–14 season. At the end of the season, the champion club is presented with the Gibson Cup.
The current Premiership format was introduced for the 2008–09 season after the League system for Northern Ireland was re-organised. The top flight was reduced in size from 16 to 12 clubs, included on the basis not only of their performance in the 2007–08 season, but in the previous two seasons, and other off-the-field criteria. Each applicant club was assessed by an independent panel and awarded points against the following criteria:
- Sporting (maximum 450 points) – based on league placings, Irish Cup, League Cup and European performances in 2005–06, 2006–07 and 2007–08; with points also awarded for running youth teams, women's teams and community development programmes
- Finance (maximum 200 points) – based on solvency, debt management and cash-flow projection
- Infrastructure (maximum 150 points) – based on stadium capacity, changing provisions, sanitary facilities, field of play, floodlighting, existence and standard of control room, first aid room, drug testing room and media facilities
- Personnel (maximum 100 points) – based on qualification and experience of staff
- Business planning (maximum 50 points)
- Attendances (maximum 50 points)
Portadown were the highest-profile casualty of the new system, suffering relegation to the newly formed IFA Championship as a result of submitting their application for inclusion in the Premiership 29 minutes past the deadline for consideration. The Premiership remained under IFA control for five seasons until the creation of the Northern Ireland Football League in 2013, when it became the NIFL Premiership.
Each team plays a total of 38 fixtures during the season. Each team initially plays every other team three times (either twice at home and once away, or once at home and twice away) for a total of 33 fixtures per team. The league then "splits" into Section A and Section B, the top six teams in Section A playing each other for a fourth and final time to settle championship and European qualification issues, and the bottom six teams in Section B playing each other to settle relegation issues. The post-split fixtures are usually arranged in such a way as to result in the teams in each half playing each other twice at home and twice away. After the split, teams in the top six cannot finish lower than 6th place, and teams in the bottom six cannot finish higher than 7th place, regardless of the results in the final 5 games. The League campaign begins in August and continues until late April or early May. Most fixtures are played on Saturday afternoons, with occasional fixtures on Friday evenings, and some mid-week games, usually on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings. Traditionally, there are Bank Holiday afternoon fixtures on Boxing Day, New Year's Day and Easter Tuesday.
Three points are awarded for a win, and one point for a draw. No points are awarded for a loss. Points can be deducted for breaches of rules e.g. fielding an ineligible player. The teams are first and foremost ranked by number of points. The team with the most points at the end of the season wins the championship. If two or more teams finish level on points, four tiebreakers are used to separate them: highest overall goal difference, most goals scored, most points gained in the head-to-head meetings, and finally, highest goal difference in the head-to-head meetings. In the highly unlikely event that teams are still tied in a key position after these tiebreakers e.g. determining the league champions, European qualification, or relegation, lots will be drawn by the Management Committee.
The league champions qualify for the following season's UEFA Champions League, with the league runners-up, and Irish Cup winners qualifying for the UEFA Europa League. If, however, the Irish Cup winners have already qualified for Europe by finishing as champions or runners-up in the league, the third-placed team is awarded the berth. In order to compete in any of these European competitions, however, clubs must possess a UEFA licence. In the event that a team qualifies without such a licence, lower-placed teams may take their place.
A new method of Europa League qualification was introduced for the 2015–16 season. If the Irish Cup winners finish seventh or higher in the league, which is usually the case, the four remaining teams from the top seven that have not already qualified for Europe (the teams in positions 4–7 excluding either the Irish Cup winners or the third-placed team awarded the berth) compete in a series of play-offs for the final place in the Europa League. The play-offs are seeded, with the two higher-placed qualifiers given home advantage when facing the two lower-placed qualifiers in the semi-finals. The two semi-final winners then meet in the final.
If, however, the Irish Cup winners finish lower than seventh in the league, all five teams that finish in third to seventh will qualify for the play-offs. This will require an additional quarter-final match to be played by the two lowest-placed qualifiers in sixth and seventh, with the winner joining the other three clubs in the semi-finals.
Additionally, the two highest-placed teams in the Premiership also qualify automatically for the next season's all-Ireland Setanta Cup. The third and fourth-placed teams may also qualify if either or both of the winners (or runners-up, in the event that the Irish Cup winners have also finished first or second) of the Irish Cup and League Cup have qualified via the League. Recently[when?] the top two highest ranked teams qualify for the Scottish Challenge Cup.
Promotion and relegation
There is no promotion from the league, as it is the highest division of the league system. At the end of the season, the 12th-placed club is relegated to the NIFL Championship and the 11th-placed club must take part in an aggregate two-legged play-off against the second placed team from the Championship. The away goals rule is applied after 90 minutes of the second leg, with extra time and penalties also used to determine the winner in the second leg if necessary. The Premiership club gets home advantage in the second leg, and is relegated to the Championship if it loses the tie. In the event that the Championship winners do not possess the IFA licence required to be eligible for senior football, there is no automatic relegation. Instead, the play-off is passed down to the 12th-placed club and the 11th-placed club is safe from relegation. In the event that there are no Championship clubs eligible for promotion, there is no relegation.
From the 2016–17 season, the promotion/relegation play-off has been contested by three teams. The Championship runners-up and third-placed team play-off first over two legs in the semi-final, with the winners of the tie facing the 11th-placed Premiership team in the two-legged final for a place in the following season's Premiership.
Restructuring and rebranding
The Northern Ireland Football League assumed responsibility for the top three divisions of national domestic football from the IFA in 2014, putting forward plans to improve the scene of football in Northern Ireland. The plans include improving stadiums, status in European competitions, league structure, commercial image of the competitions, as well as spreading out match kick-off times to be more variable and reintroducing previously abandoned competitions for clubs to compete in, such as the Charity Shield, Floodlit Cup, Ulster Cup and Gold Cup.
Highlights of individual Premiership matches are available online via the BBC Sport website. BBC NI also produces The Irish League Show, a weekly highlights show available to watch via BBC iPlayer. Live online streams of matches are also broadcast by Bwin. Since February 2017 Sky Sports have been broadcasting NIFL Premiership games Live.
|First season in
|First season of
current spell in
|Total seasons |
in top division
|Institute||Derry||1st in NIFL Championship||1983–84||2018–19||16|
|Newry City||Newry||2nd in NIFL Championship||2018–19||2018–19||1|
- Northern Ireland Football League
- Northern Irish football clubs in European competitions
- Northern Ireland football league system
- Irish League XI
- Northern Ireland Football League website
- Irish FA Website
- Irish Football BBC Sport
- Northern Ireland – Champions RSSSF.com
- "The Irish League Show now on BBC iPlayer". Northern Ireland Football League. 11 December 2014. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
- "NIFL signs up TRACKCHAMP as streaming and data partner". Northern Ireland Football League. 31 July 2014. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
- Adrian Rutherford (15 February 2017). "Northern Ireland Football League pens new deal with Sky Sports". Belfast Telegraph Digital. Independent News & Media. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
- "Danske Bank are new title sponsors of the Premiership". BBC Sport. 26 July 2012.
- "Portadown out of Premier League". BBC Sport. 13 May 2008.
- "NIFL Regulations and Club Information – Season 2015/16" (PDF). Northern Ireland Football League. p. 58. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
- "Northern Ireland clubs to play-off for Europa League place". BBC Sport. 25 June 2014. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
- "NI Football League – Restructure Proposal". BBC Sport. 14 June 2014. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
- "Irish Football". BBC Sport. Retrieved 18 September 2015.