Ballyclare Comrades fans will be treated to visits by a Scottish side and a Premiership team before the Championship 1 campaign kicks off on August 8.
The pre-season highlight will be the clash with Scottish League One outfit Stranraer, who line out at Dixon Park on Saturday, July 18.
“I have been working on this fixture for some time, and I was delighted when it was finally confirmed,” said Reds’ manager David Dorrian.
During the past few seasons Ballymena United have been annual visitors and Showgrounds manager Glenn Ferguson is looking forward to bringing the Sky Blues to Ballyclare on July 25.
The friendlies get under way this weekend away to UUJ on Saturday (1pm). This will be followed by: Nortel, away, Thursday 16; Stranraer; Shankill United, away, Tuesday 21; Ballymena United and Moneyslane, away, Saturday, August 1.
Saturday’s initial training session in Ballyclare confirmed that the countdown to the big kick-off is definitely under way. Thirty-four players from the senior and reserves teams were put through their paces at Ballyclare Secondary School by managers David Dorrian and Stephen Hughes along with assistants Ross Oliver and Andrew Higginson.
Notable absentees were Paddy Flood, Joel Cooper and recent recruit JB Dobbin who are in Dublin with the European Regions’ Cup squad. Ballyclare’s new assistant-manager, Stuart King, is on honeymoon.
“I was pleased with the turnout at our first training session, and new signings Curtis Dempster, Sandy McDermott and Michael McQuitty, were impressed by our facilities at Dixon Park,” said Dorrian.
Reserves manager Stephen Hughes confirmed that there will be changes in personnel with Nathan Stranaghan, John Thompson, Chris Crowe and Jamie McTaggart having moved on.
“My remit is to produce players for the senior side,” said Hughes, “so we concentrate on teenagers and that means that I will be starting a new cycle in August by recruiting from our Under-19s, and unfortunately that means that some of the older players have had to be released.
“This season Craig Todd, CJ McIlwaine, David McCullough and Mark Conn have all graduated to the senior squad, but they will boost my team from time to time.
“Meanwhile, I am looking forward to working with our new Under-19s manager, Nicky Buchanan, who was at Dixon Park before going to university.”
Ballyclare’s Championship 1 fixtures were released on Friday with the Reds handed a home tie against Loughgall on the opening day of the season. For full fixtures list, see page 69.