Glentoran boss Mick McDermott says Big Two rivals Linfield will be firm favourites to retain the Danske Bank Premiership title next season.
David Healy’s men, fresh from winning a domestic double in May, will be bidding to win a FOURTH successive Gibson Cup when the campaign kicks-off on August 28.
And while Glentoran are being tipped to be one of the main protagonists in the championship chase, McDermott insists Linfield will be expected to lead the way in the weeks and months ahead.
Asked if the Blues will be the “team to beat” when the new campaign kicks off in three weeks time, the Oval coach replied: “Always, always.
“They have been the wealthiest club in the league, they’ve had the biggest budgets for two decades, they’re strong and they have structures in place that support the team.
“So yeah, it would be hard to say off the back of winning the double last season that they’d be anything but favourites to win the league.”
While McDermott believes Linfield are poised to be pacesetters in the title race, there’s no doubt the Glens have strengthened in the summer window.
Twice-capped Northern Ireland forward Shay McCartan was signed from Ballymena for a record Irish League transfer fee of approximately £100,000 last week.
Former Hearts midfielder Bobby Burns, who has returned to the Mersey Street club on a permanent deal, and goalkeeper Aaron McCarey are also new arrivals in East Belfast.
Hopes are high that the Big Two giants, who last won the championship in 2009, can end their long wait for local football’s biggest prize.
And while McDermott has declared Linfield title favourites, he believes Glentoran’s re-emergence, on and off the pitch, under new owner Ali Pour is a positive development for the Irish League.
“Do I think we have a strong Glentoran? You tell me. Ask the fans, ask the media,” he told Belfast Live.
Linfield lifted the Gibson Cup in May
(Image: STEPHEN HAMILTON/INPHO)
“I think what has happened here in the last two years has been really positive for the league and I think that needs to be out there.
“The Larne project has also been positive for the league, the Linfield project going full-time is positive and other clubs putting in new facilities and pitches… again, positive for the league.
“I think we at Glentoran have played our part in strengthening the league, making it much more interesting over the last two years, but let’s see where we go this year.”
Glentoran kick-off the new campaign with a trip to Dungannon Swifts on August 28, before hosting Linfield in the first Big Two derby of the season at The Oval on Tuesday, August 31.