Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Glens are champs and pigs will fly

The race for the Irish Premier League title is over, or is it? Stuart McKinley enters into the minds of Glentoran fans to discover what they will be dreaming of when they go to bed tonight.

The scene couldn't be set any better, according to weather reports it's the warmest April day on record. The Linfield fans are ready to party in the Seaview sun.

Starting line-ups are as expected, with Linfield unchanged from last weekend's 2-0 win over Glenavon, while on-loan goalkeeper Chris Keenan and Jamie McGovern start for the Glens. Alan McDonald resists the temptation to go all-out attack, but there is a goal threat on the bench with Darren Boyce, Dean Fitzgerald and Peter Steele all capable of finding the net.

It's 3pm, the whistle blows at both Seaview and the Oval. The final day's action is underway and events over the next two hours will determine the champions and define the entire season.

The games are a formality though, even Linfield manager David Jeffrey has said that the title race is over so it must be. Who am I to argue with a man about to collect his sixth Championship in 11 years?

The first significant incident of the day happens in east Belfast. A streaker invades the pitch with the words 'Linfied are champions' written across his back and a huge arrow pointing downwards in a strange display of optimism.

Maybe his optimism isn't completely unfounded as just five minutes in nerves are settled as Michael Halliday follows up his winner against Cliftonville with the goal that puts the Glens 1-0 up.

On the other hand, maybe not, the Glens can't find another goal before half-time and with no goals at Seaview it's still looking like Linfield's title.

WOW! The Glens know how to get a half off to a good start and astonishingly it's Keenan who scores. Portadown goalkeeper David Miskelly loses the ball in the sun and Keenan's long kick bounces straight past him and into the net. There is now hope at the Oval, they just need something to happen across the city.

Amazingly it does. Gary Smyth started the season in a Glentoran shirt and he does his old club a massive good turn by nut-megging three Linfield players on the edge of the box before rounding Alan Mannus for his first Crusaders goal.

Gary Hamilton steps up to the mark as he always does when it matters most. He takes the ball off Keenan on the edge of the 18-yard box, weaves his way through the Portadown team and spotting Miskelly off his line chips the goalkeeper from inside his own half.

Both William Murphy and Noel Bailie are starting to feel the effects of the soaring temperatures. They tell physio Terry Hayes and Doctor Cameron Ramsey that they can't carry on. With no defenders on the bench Jeffrey asks the referee to allow himself to come on at the back for the Blues for this first appearance in 17 years. The official obviously isn't happy to let someone not named on the match card to play, but Jeffrey is adamant he has to be the one. Play is halted as the issue is checked out with the Irish FA staff in the stand who reject Jeffrey's request, meaning a reshuffle.

This causes all sorts of confusion in the Linfield defence, leaving David Rainey unmarked 10 yards out and another ex-Glenman scores for the Crues.

Is this really happening? The title race that was over may not be after all.

Back at the Oval Portadown striker Andy Smith gets himself in a tangle inside his own box and puts the ball into his own net making it 4-0 to the Glens. Later Andy asks for the strike to be added to his tally of goals for his former club.

There's only a couple of minutes left and with Linfield still in a winning position their fans are singing 'Championies, Championies' and getting ready to celebrate. The delay caused by Jeffrey means the Linfield game is still going on when the final whistle goes at the Oval, the Glens have won 4-0, but that's not quite enough for them and the players begin to trudge off applauding the fans as they make their way to the dressing room.

Glentoran fans, however, are stopped in their tracks as they filter out of the Oval, the news quickly spreads of another goal at Seaview. The third former Oval favourite in the Crusaders ranks is Darren Lockhart. Seven past and present Glentoran players scoring to give Alan McDonald's men the most unlikely title triumph ever.

The drama on the pitch may be over, but it's not finished yet.

Irish Premier League chiefs and representatives from sponsors Carnegie are quickly drafting a plan B. They make frantic calls to a Belfast taxi firm telling them that they have to get from Seaview to the Oval quickly because they won't be handing over the trophy in north Belfast after all. As they've been listening to their taxi radios and not the match commentary they think someone's on the wind-up.

After checking the calendars and realising it's April 26 and not the first of the month a couple of cars are quickly dispatched to the Shore Road - although the trophy is considered as a passenger, so the cab company informs them that it's fare-and-a-half for taking more than four.

When they arrive at the Oval the Gibson Cup presentation is further delayed, it's not a plane heading for George Best City Airport this time, but a flock of flying pigs is circling the Oval. As it turns out it's a gimmick by the club's sponsors who were always confident that there team would bring home the bacon.

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