On Friday night Linfield welcome LOI Premier Division champions Dundalk FC to Windsor Park (7.45pm ko) for the first leg of the inaugural Unite The Union Champions Cup Final. The second leg of the tie will be played next Monday night at Oriel Park (7.05pm ko, all-ticket).
The competition benefactor Unite The Union trade union movement have put together a very lucrative three year sponsorship deal that will see the champions of the NIFL Premiership and LOI Premier Division compete annually for prize money totalling €50,000/€25,000 (winners/losers). There will also be a further €25,000 distributed annually to community projects based in the locations of the two participating finalists.
Our opponents Dundalk FC come to Windsor Park at the end of yet another long and very successful season. The recent arrival at Oriel Park of a fifth Premier Divison title in just six years is testament to the club's continued dominance in the LOI. Earlier in the season the Lilywhites also lifted the League Cup trophy after victory over Derry City at the Brandywell (2-2 aet, 6-5 pens). On Sunday they came agonisingly close to clinching the treble in losing to Shamrock Rovers in a dramatic FAI Cup Final at the Aviva Stadium (1-1 aet, 2-4 pens). In European competition Dundalk enjoyed some early success when defeating Riga FC (ECL 0-0 agg, 5-4 pens) only to subsequently lose to Qarabag FK (ECL 1-4 agg) and Slovan Bratislava (EL 1-4 agg). Head coach Vinny Perth has assembled a talented squad which includes top scorer Patrick Hoban (ex Oxford United & Mansfield Town) who has hit 97 goals in 169 appearances for the club.
In their last outing Linfield kept pace in the title race with a deserved home win (2-0) over a resilient Carrick Rangers side. The Blues enjoyed plenty of possession looking particularly comfortable at the back and in the middle of the park. On Friday night David will be expecting his team to be asked a few more questions by a quality Dundalk side endeavouring to end their season on a high. Both managers will be looking for a positive result to take an advantage into next Monday night's return leg in Dundalk. The game has certainly caught the imagination of both sets of supporters with a large attendance expected at Windsor on Friday night. It promises to be a highly competitive encounter between two evenly matched teams who have earned the right as champions to compete for this prestigious new trophy. COYB!