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.
|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
(8th Premiership title; 56th Irish title overall)
(8 Premiership titles; 56 Irish titles overall)
|TV partners||BBC NI (12 live games per season and 50 live games plus highlights via BBC iPlayer)|
Eleven Sports, OneFootball (Outside the UK)
Sky Sports (5 Premiership games per season and the League Cup final) 
|Current: 2022–23 NIFL Premiership|
Linfield are the current champions, having won their fourth consecutive title and 56th Irish League championship overall, after a 2–0 victory over Coleraine on 30 April 2022. This meant Linfield set a new world record for the most top division league titles won by any club, one ahead of Scottish club Rangers on 55 titles.
The current 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 Northern Ireland Football League assumed responsibility for the top three divisions of Irish League national 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, one point for a draw, and none 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, with the winner having the most points. 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.
Promotion and relegationEdit
There is no promotion from the Premiership, as it is the highest division of the Irish 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 (a.e.t.)||Glentoran (7th)|
|UEFA Europa Conference League|
|2020–21||Larne (4th)||3–1||Cliftonville (5th)|
|2021–22||Larne (5th)||4–2 (a.e.t.)||Glentoran (3rd)|
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. The Irish League’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 2021–22 season, the Irish League will earn four berths in the 2022–23 UEFA competitions - three for the Premiership, with the fourth reserved for the Irish Cup winners. The Irish League 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 900 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. 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.
These statistics cover the Premiership from 2008 onwards. For more detailed statistics covering the Irish League since 1890, see Northern Ireland Football League
Wins by clubEdit
|Linfield||8||2009–10, 2010–11, 2011–12, 2016–17, 2018–19, 2019–20, 2020–21, 2021–22|
|Crusaders||3||2014–15, 2015–16, 2017–18|
2021–22 Premiership ClubsEdit
|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)|
- ^ Linfield declared champions on average points per game, after the season was curtailed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- ^ Portadown earned 25 points, but were deducted 12 points for a player registration breach.
- ^ a b c Record was beaten during the 2019–20 season. However, as the season was curtailed after 31 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland this has been excluded for consistency, as the records are based over 38 games.
- ^ a b "The Irish League Show now on BBC iPlayer". Northern Ireland Football League. 11 December 2014. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
- ^ a b "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.
- ^ a b c d e f g "NIFL Premiership Rules 2018–19" (PDF). NIFL. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 March 2019. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
- ^ "Scottish Challenge Cup expanded to include teams from Wales & NI". BBC Sport. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
- ^ "Irish Football". BBC Sport. Retrieved 18 September 2015.