The NIFL-Dankse Bank Premiership is the premier football league in Northern Ireland. It is a semi-professional league.
History of the NIFL-Danske Bank Premiership
The league, in its current format, was founded in 2013 under the auspices of the Northern Ireland Football Association. It succeeded a string of earlier leagues operated by the Ireland Football Association, including IFA Premiership, Irish Premier League, Irish Football League Premier Division and the Irish Football League.
Format of the NIFL-Danske Bank Premiership
The league currently consists of 12 teams and runs from August to May each season.
The points system is similar to football leagues found around the globe. Three points are awarded for a victory with teams receiving a point each for a drawn match. The team leading the table after all 38 fixtures have been played are crowned league champions and receive the Gibson Cup.
The first phase of the season, amounting to 33 fixtures per club, sees teams play each other on three occasions. This can be two home and one away fixture or vice versa.
Once this phase is complete, a second phase begins. Here the league is divided into two sections. The top six teams play each other once in the championship section, determining the overall league champions. The bottom six teams play each other once in relegation section.
The team finishing in 12th position are relegated to the NIFL Championship 1 league. The team finishing in 11th position face a relegation playoff against the runners up of the NIFL Championship 1 league. This takes place over two legs, home and away. If they win over the two legs they secure their participation in the NIFL-Danske Bank Premiership for the next season. A loss means they too, are relegated.
The winners of the NIFL Championship 1 are promoted to the NIFL-Danske Bank Premiership for the following season.
The champions of the NIFL-Danske Bank Premiership enter into the UEFA Champions League. The runners-up are entered into the UEFA Europa League, along with the winners of the Irish Cup.
The 2015/2016 season will see a new system in place for the Europa League qualification position given to the winner of the Irish Cup. If the winner is placed 7th or above in the league, the four remaining teams in the upper half of the table undertake a series of play-off games. The two highest place teams receive home games and play the two lower placed teams. The winners of these fixtures then play in a final to determine who receives the last Europa league birth.
If the Irish Cup winners are placed lower than 7th in the league, all five teams left in the upper half of the table play a series of play-off games. This requires an extra fixture as the two lowest teams play each other to determine who joins the three other clubs. The two highest place teams receive home games and play the two lower placed teams. The winners of these games then play in a final to determine who receives the last Europa league birth.
Setana Sports Cup
Teams finishing in 1st and 2nd in the NIFL-Danske Bank Premiership are entered into the Setana Sports Cup. This knock-out competition started in 2005 and sees 8 teams from both Ireland and Northern Ireland competing.
Other Local Cups
Teams participating in the league are also eligible to enter a number of knock-out cups staged in Northern Ireland. These are the Irish Cup and the NI Football League Cup.
NIFL Charity Shield
Started in 1992 this fixture sees the league champions taking on the winners of the Irish Cup in the first competitive game of each new season.