The 114th season of league football in Northern Ireland saw Crusaders run away with the title despite a stuttering start to the season in which they only managed 5 points from their opening 4 fixtures.
In almost a carbon copy of the previous season, 719 goals were scored in the 228 fixtures at a ratio of 3.15 goals per game.
The final tally
Crusaders F.C. were confirmed as the league champions for 2014/2015, but in truth this was a formality when the teams entered the championship phase of the season. At this point they led the league by a staggering 9 points.
This was Crusaders first NIFL - Danske Bank Premiership title, their 5th Northern Irish title, and their first one in 17 long years.
Despite leading the league up until the start of January, Linfield, the most successful team in Northern Ireland football, fell away horribly. A string of bad results at the start of the New Year allowed Crusaders to build up an unassailable lead.
Institute finished in last possession in the league. They were relegated to the NIFL Championship 1.
Back to the start
At the start of the season, Cliftonville, Linfield and Crusaders FC were expected to be the dominant teams over the course of the league season.
Cliftonville, winners of the league the previous two seasons were expected to make a concerted effort to win their 3rd league title in as many years.
They had retained the services of star striker Joe Gormley who had scored 27 goals the previous season. His striking partner, Liam Boyce had moved to Scottish outfit, Ross County. Cliftonville made numerous signings during the off season including Tiernan Mulvenna (forward), James Knowles (midfielder) and David McDaid (forward). Peter Cherrie (goalkeeper), Rob Bayly (midfield) and Sean McCarron who was signed during January.
During the off season they also sold a number of players including Jack Duffin (goalkeeper) and Diarmuid O'Carroll (forward) to arch-rivals Crusaders.
Linfield, a continual force in Northern Irish football, would be pressing for major honours during the season after having missed out the previous two campaigns. They made a number of signings in the off season. Chris Hegarty (defender), Stephen Lowry (midfielder) and Sammy Morrow (forward) all joined the team in June with Glen Belezika (defender) joining during January. Pundits agreed, Linfield would be pushing for top honours.
A third place finish in the previous season was a slight let down for Crusaders, especially as they ended up 19 points off league winners Cliftonville. This was partly due to their fabled fortress at Seaview giving up a few more points to visiting opposition teams than usual.
The off season saw a number of shrewed signings coming into the club, none more so than Jack Duffin (goalkeeper) and Diarmuid O'Carroll (forward) from Cliftonville, both players that had tasted league success the previous year.
Crusaders only had three players leaving the club, with only Gary McCutheon (forward) and Mathew Snoddy (midfield) going to less threatening rivals in the league.
The turning point
The season started out with Cliftonville the early pacesetters after the first five games. Linfield were well placed in 3rd and Crusaders were 5th after and indifferent start which had seen them as low as 8th after four matches.
After 19 matches, the half-way point of the season, the top four teams, Cliftonville, Portadown, Linfield and Crusaders were only separated by four points.
At this point, Linfield went on a superb run, winning six games on the trot, putting them in 1st position with a lead of four points over Crusaders going into their crucial encounter on 1 January. It was here that Crusaders turned the season in their favour, beating Linfield 2-1 and narrowing their lead to one point.
Crusaders, buoyed by their victory, now began to dominate while Linfield suffered a crisis of confidence, dropping points throughout January. By February, Crusaders led the league by three points with 10 games remaining and they continued with their exceptional form, extending their lead to six points by the start of March.
By the time the championship phase started, Crusaders had a virtually unassailable 9 point lead over Linfield in 2nd place. Although they lost the first game of this phase, going down 0-1 to Portadown, Linfield were not able to apply enough pressure to close the gap. In fact, they could only win two of their last four games, losing one and drawing the remaining two fixtures. Over the same period, Crusaders won three and lost two but they had secured the Gibson Cup and the league title by 10 points. Glenarvon finished in 3rd place, a further six points behind Linfield. The previous year's champions, Cliftonville ended a disappointing season in 5th position.
The NIFL - Danske Bank Premiership 2014/2015 season turned up a fair number of interesting statistics over the course of its 38 week duration.
Windsor Park, the home ground of Linfield was the largest stadium on show during the season and could seat 10 500 supporters, down from its normal 12 300 due to redevelopment. Linfield were forced to play a number of games at other stadiums because of this.
The two smallest grounds during the season were Milltown, home of Warrenport Town and Ferney Park, the home ground of Ballinamallard United. Both grounds only had a 2000 strong capacity.
The league boasted an average attendance of 941 supporters per game. Linfield continued as the best supported team with and average attendance of 2222 per home game. Warrenport Town were the worst supported team during the course of the season with only 240 people attending their home games on average.
Highest scoring match
A thrilling 5-5 draw between Portadown and Ballymena on 17 January as well as the 3-7 drubbing that Glenavon received from Crusaders on 21 February were the highest scoring matches of the season.
Cliftonville secured the biggest home win of the season on 29 November when they thrashed Ballymena 7-0. Warrenpoint Town suffered two 0-5 defeats, first by Glentoran on 3 January and again by Coleraine on 14 March. These were the biggest home defeats of the season.
League top scorer
Joe Gormely of Cliftonville was the league's top scorer for the third season running. He bagged 31 goals during the campaign but his heroics could not help Cliftonville push on towards the title. Paul Heatly and Jordan Owens, both of Crusaders scored 27 and 26 goals respectively and played a large part in their team winning the title.