|Founded||2008 (as IFA Premiership)|
|Number of teams||12|
|Level on pyramid||1|
|Relegation to||NIFL Championship|
|Domestic cup(s)|| Irish Cup |
NIFL Charity Shield
|League cup(s)||NI Football League Cup|
|International cup(s)|| UEFA Champions League |
UEFA Europa Conference League
|Current champions|| Linfield |
(7th Premiership title; 55th Irish title overall)
|Most championships|| Linfield |
(7 Premiership titles; 55 Irish titles overall)
|TV partners|| BBC NI (12 live games per season and 50 live games plus highlights via BBC iPlayer) |
Sky Sports (5 Premiership games per season and the League Cup final)
|Website||NI Football League official site|
|Current: 2020–21 NIFL Premiership|
The NIFL Premiership, known as the Danske Bank Premiership for sponsorship purposes,and colloquially as the Irish League or Irish Premiership, is a professional association football league which operates as the highest division of the Northern Ireland Football League – the national league in Northern Ireland. The Premiership was established as the IFA Premiership 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.
Linfield are the current champions, having lifted their third consecutive title and 55th league championship overall, after a 1–1 draw with Coleraine on 25 May 2021. This meant Linfield equalled the world record for the most top division league titles won by any club, a record shared with Scottish club Rangers.
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:
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 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.
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, relegation, or even second stage group allocation, lots will be drawn by the Management Committee.
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 winners of the pre-play-off match between the runners-up and third-placed Championship teams.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 Promotion licence required to be eligible for the top flight, there is no automatic relegation. Instead, the play-off is passed down to the 12th-placed Premiership 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.
|UEFA Europa League|
|2015–16||Cliftonville (4th)||3–2||Glentoran (6th)|
|2016–17||Ballymena United (4th)||2–1||Glenavon (6th)|
|2017–18||Cliftonville (5th)||3–2||Glentoran (7th)|
|2018–19||Cliftonville (5th)||2–0 (aet)||Glentoran (7th)|
|UEFA Europa Conference League|
|2020–21||Larne (4th)||3–1||Cliftonville (5th)|
Northern Ireland is currently ranked in 42nd place out of 55 in the 2021 UEFA association coefficient rankings, which will be used to determine qualification places for the 2022–23 UEFA competitions. Northern Ireland's relatively low ranking over the years has meant that the clubs have entered in the preliminary round or early qualifying rounds of UEFA competitions. No Premiership club has ever reached the group stage of a UEFA competition in their current respective formats. In fact, none have ventured beyond the second qualifying round of the Champions League. The closest any club has come to reaching the group stage was during the 2019–20 UEFA Europa League, when Linfield became the first club from Northern Ireland to reach the play-off round, narrowly missing out on a place in the group stage after a 4–4 draw on aggregate against Qarabağ FK from Azerbaijan resulted in elimination on the away goals rule.
For the 2020–21 season, the association will earn four berths in the 2021–22 UEFA competitions - three for the Premiership, with the fourth reserved for the Irish Cup winners. The Premiership champions will enter the qualifying rounds for the following season's UEFA Champions League, with the league runners-up and European play-off winners (along with the Irish Cup winners) entering the UEFA Europa Conference League. If, however, the Irish Cup winners have already qualified for Europe as league champions or runners-up, the Irish Cup's Europa Conference League berth is redistributed to the league's third-placed team. In order to compete in UEFA 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. Unlike the English League Cup, the Northern Ireland Football League Cup winners are not awarded a European berth.
A play-off system for the final European qualification berth was introduced for the 2015–16 season. If the Irish Cup winners finish seventh or higher in the league, which historically has been the case in the majority of seasons, the four remaining teams from the top seven that have not already qualified for a UEFA competition (the teams in 3rd–7th, excluding either the Irish Cup winners, or the third-placed team if they are awarded the berth as explained above) compete in a series of play-offs for the final European place.If, however, the Irish Cup winners finish outside the top seven in the Premiership or play in a lower division, and if they also possess a UEFA licence, all five teams finishing 3rd–7th qualify for the play-offs. This would require an additional quarter-final match to be played by the sixth and seventh-placed teams, with the winner joining the other three clubs in the semi-finals. The play-offs did not take place during the 2019–20 season, as the league's UEFA ranking fell to 52nd. This meant that it lost the European berth normally awarded to the play-off winners. The play-offs returned in the 2020–21 season, after the league's ranking improved to 48th place - earning the fourth European berth back again.
The play-offs are single knockout matches and are played at the home of the higher-ranked team, with extra time used to determine the winner if the match ends level after 90 minutes, and a penalty shootout to follow if the two teams are still level after 120 minutes. Seeding is used during all rounds to reward the higher-placed qualifiers, with the sixth-placed team given home advantage against the seventh-placed team in the quarter-final match if it is required. The two higher-ranked semi-finalists are then given home advantage when facing the two lower-ranked semi-finalists, and the higher-ranked finalist is again given home advantage against the lower-ranked finalist.
Since the 2016–17 season, the league champions and the runners-up have been invited to participate in the Scottish Challenge Cup.Starting from 2019, the reigning champions have also faced the League of Ireland champions in that year's Champions Cup – the first all-Ireland competition since the Setanta Sports Cup was discontinued after the 2014 edition.
Highlights of individual Premiership matches are available online via the BBC Sport website. [ citation needed ] Since February 2017 Sky Sports have been broadcasting NIFL Premiership games Live.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.
These statistics cover the Premiership from 2008 onwards. For more detailed statistics covering the Irish League since 1890, see Northern Ireland Football League
|Linfield||7||2009–10, 2010–11, 2011–12, 2016–17, 2018–19, 2019–20, 2020–21|
|Crusaders||3||2014–15, 2015–16, 2017–18|
|Club||Stadium||Location||Capacity||Finishing position in 2020–21|
|Ballymena United||Ballymena Showgrounds||Ballymena||3,600||8th|
|Carrick Rangers||Loughshore Hotel Arena||Carrickfergus||6,000||11th|
|Dungannon Swifts||Stangmore Park||Dungannon||5,000||12th|
|Linfield||Windsor Park||Belfast||18,614||1st (champions)|
The Irish Football Association Challenge Cup, commonly referred to as the Irish Cup is the primary football knock-out cup competition in Northern Ireland. Inaugurated in 1881, it is the fourth-oldest national cup competition in the world. Prior to the break-away from the Irish Football Association by clubs from what would become the Irish Free State in 1921, the Irish Cup was the national cup competition for the whole of Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Football League Cup, also known colloquially as the Irish League Cup, is a national football knock-out cup competition in Northern Ireland open to all member clubs of the Northern Ireland Football League. It is the third-most prestigious competition in domestic Northern Irish football after the NIFL Premiership and Irish Cup. It should not be confused with the Irish League Floodlit Cup which ran from 1987–88 to 1997–98. Unlike the Irish Cup, the League Cup does not have a berth for UEFA Europa Conference League qualification. The cup has been operated by the Northern Ireland Football League since the 2013–14 season when it took over the administration from the Irish Football Association (IFA), after which the cup was renamed to the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) Cup.
The Setanta Sports Cup was a club football competition featuring teams from both football associations on the island of Ireland. Inaugurated in 2005, it was a cross-border competition between clubs in the League of Ireland from the Republic of Ireland and the NIFL Premiership from Northern Ireland. The cup was sponsored by Setanta Sports, the Irish subscription sports television network. The competition was discontinued after the 2014 edition. A successor competition, the Champions Cup, was announced in 2019.
The 2009–10 IFA Premiership was the second season of the league in this format since its establishment after a major overhaul of the league system in Northern Ireland, and the 109th season of Irish league football overall. It began on 8 August 2009 and ended on 1 May 2010. Glentoran were the defending champions. On 27 April 2010, Linfield clinched the title after a 1–0 victory against Cliftonville at Windsor Park. On 14 May 2010, Institute were relegated to the 2010–11 IFA Championship, after losing the two-legged relegation play-off to Donegal Celtic, who took their place in the 2010–11 IFA Premiership.
The 2010–11 IFA Premiership was the third season since its establishment after a major overhaul of the league system in Northern Ireland, and the 110th season of Irish league football overall. The season began on 7 August 2010, and concluded on 30 April 2011.
The 2011–12 IFA Premiership was the fourth season since its establishment after a major overhaul of the league system in Northern Ireland, and the 111th season of Irish league football overall. The season began on 6 August 2011, and ended on 28 April 2012.
The 2012–13 IFA Premiership was the fifth season of Northern Ireland's national football league in this format since its inception in 2008, and the 112th season of Irish league football overall.
The 2013–14 NIFL Premiership was the sixth season of Northern Ireland's national football league in this format since its inception in 2008, the 113th season of Irish league football overall, and the first season of the league operating as part of the newly-created Northern Ireland Football League. The season began on 10 August 2013 and concluded on 26 April 2014.
The 2014–15 NIFL Premiership was the seventh season of Northern Ireland's highest national football league in this format since its inception in 2008, the 114th season of Irish league football overall, and the second season of the league operating as part of the Northern Ireland Football League. The season began on 9 August 2014, and concluded with the final round of fixtures on 25 April 2015.
The Northern Ireland Football League, known historically, and still colloquially, as the Irish Football League, is the national football league of Northern Ireland. The Irish League was originally formed in 1890, with the league in its current format created in 2013 to assume independent collective management of the top three levels of the Northern Ireland football league system; namely the Premiership, Championship and Premier Intermediate League.
The 2015–16 NIFL Premiership was the eighth season of Northern Ireland's highest national football league in this format since its inception in 2008, the 115th season of Irish league football overall, and the third season of the league operating as part of the Northern Ireland Football League. The season began on 8 August 2015, and concluded with the final round of fixtures on 23 April 2016. The play-offs took place in May 2016.
The 2015–16 Northern Ireland Football League is the third season of Northern Ireland's national football league running independently as the Northern Ireland Football League, consisting of the top three levels of the national league system, namely: the Premiership, Championship 1, and Championship 2. It is also the 115th season of Irish league football overall. The season began on 8 August 2015 and will conclude in May 2016.
The 2015–16 Irish Cup was the 136th edition of the premier knock-out cup competition in Northern Irish football since its introduction in 1881. The competition began on 18 August 2015 with the first round and concluded with the final at Windsor Park on 7 May 2016. The cup was sponsored by Tennent's Lager, the competition's first title sponsor since 2012.
The 2016–17 NIFL Premiership was the ninth season of Northern Ireland's highest national football league in this format since its inception in 2008, the 116th season of Irish league football overall, and the fourth season of the league operating as part of the Northern Ireland Football League. The fixtures were announced on 7 July 2016. The season began on 6 August 2016 and ended on 29 April 2017, with the play-offs taking place in May 2017.
The 2017–18 NIFL Premiership was the 10th season of Northern Ireland's highest national football league in this format since its inception in 2008, the 117th season of Irish league football overall, and the fifth season of the league operating as part of the Northern Ireland Football League. The season began on 11 August 2017 and concluded on 28 April 2018, with the play-offs taking place in May 2018.
The 2018–19 NIFL Premiership was the 11th season of Northern Ireland's highest national football league in this format since its inception in 2008, the 118th season of Irish league football overall, and the sixth season of the league operating as part of the Northern Ireland Football League. The season began on 4 August 2018 and concluded on 27 April 2019, with the play-offs for promotion/relegation and the Europa League then taking place in May 2019.
The 2019–20 NIFL Premiership was the 12th season of Northern Ireland's highest national football league in this format since its inception in 2008, the 119th season of Irish league football overall, and the seventh season that the league operated as part of the Northern Ireland Football League. The fixtures were released on 26 June 2019. The season began on 9 August 2019 and was initially scheduled to conclude on 25 April 2020, with the promotion/relegation play-off scheduled to take place in the first week of May 2020. However, the season was suspended on 13 March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland, with the clubs having only played 31 of the 38 rounds of fixtures. The season did not resume after the suspension, with the final games having been played on 7 March 2020.
The 2020–21 NIFL Premiership was the 13th season of Northern Ireland's highest national football league in this format since its inception in 2008, the 120th season of Irish league football overall, and the eighth season since the creation of the Northern Ireland Football League. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland at the time meant that the start of the season was delayed by approximately two months. The 38-game season commenced on 16 October 2020 and concluded on 29 May 2021, with the European play-offs then taking place on 1 and 5 June 2021. The fixtures were released on 19 September 2020.
The 2020–21 Irish Cup was the 141st edition of the premier knock-out cup competition in Northern Irish football since its inauguration in 1881. The competition began on 27 April 2021 and concluded with the final at Mourneview Park, Lurgan on 21 May 2021.
The 2021–22 NIFL Premiership will be the 14th season of Northern Ireland's highest national football league in this format since its inception in 2008, the 121st season of Irish league football overall, and the ninth season since the creation of the Northern Ireland Football League. The season normally begins in early August, however, due to the previous season finishing a few weeks later than usual in late May 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland, the start of this season was pushed back. It is due to commence on 28 August 2021 and will conclude in May 2022.