Grandstand finish approaching in Northern Ireland Football League
The Danske Bank Premiership, which is Northern Ireland's top flight in club football, doesn't get much publicity outside the country. Yes, Sky Sports will show the very odd game during an international break but it's generally just a gap filler for them when they need to fill a few hours on a Monday evening. It's a shame because there's not a league on the planet that is heading towards as exciting a finish as what Northern Irish football fans have in store on Saturday.
At the top, Crusaders and Coleraine are level on points going into the final game. At the bottom, Carrick Rangers and Ballinamallard United are also level on points with the team who finishes bottom relegated. Second-bottom will go into the relegation playoffs against Newry City from the Championship. As it stands, if all their games end in draws, Crusaders would win the league on goal difference and Ballinamallard would go down, but there's a lot of football to be played. Fans at every game will be wearing earpieces to keep up with proceedings elsewhere on their radios.
Crusaders are favourites to lift the Gibson Cup, the trophy awarded to the league champions. They travel to Ballymena United, who just so happen to be Coleraine's biggest rivals. Ballymena will no doubt try their best to ruin the party but it will be a strange atmosphere at the Showgrounds. Fans will no doubt be happy enough to accept defeat if it means stopping Coleraine from winning the league.
Crusaders have arguably been the best, most consistent side in Northern Ireland over the last few years. They have two league titles in three years, from 2014/15 and 2015/16. They probably should have won it last year too but blew a big lead to let David Healy and Linfield nick the title away at the death.
Coleraine fly the flag for all the clubs outside Belfast. Belfast sides have dominated the last 15 years. Every single league champion during that span has come from the city. The last non-Belfast side to win the league was Portadown in 2002. Coleraine themselves haven't won the league since 1974. The vast majority of neutrals will probably be happy to see the Bannsiders lift the trophy.
Coleraine are also on their travels on Saturday. They face a trip to Lurgan where they will take on Glenavon. The Lurgan Blues are third but a long way back from the two pacesetters.
At the other end of the table, Carrick and Ballinamallard seem to have been battling between themselves for much of the season. The two remain quite a bit adrift of the other sides.
For much of the season, Carrick managed to keep themselves a little bit ahead. To their credit, Ballinamallard have found a bit of form late in the season after a change of manager. Over their last seven games, they have only lost once while picking up ten points, doubling their total from the previous 30 games.
Ballinamallard looked to have fully turned the corner when they beat Carrick on the 17th April, putting them two points ahead of the East Antrim side.
However, Carrick used that defeat as motivation. They went to the Oval, home of Glentoran, and came back from a goal down to win 2-1 against the East Belfast side. Ballinamallard could only draw with Ards to set up an intriguing finish.
As up top, both sides are on their travels this weekend. Carrick journey to Warrenpoint while Ballinamallard head to Belfast to take on Glentoran.
While the majority of the football world will be glued to Jeff Stelling and friends as they bring updates on what's happening across the English and Scottish leagues, there will be a small band in the North of Ireland watching and listening to what's happening all over the country. Four of the nation's top-flight clubs battle it out for titles and survival. Outside Northern Ireland, there won't be many people who care about what happens but these games will make or break seasons, summers, and most probably budgets for the next 12 months.