Carrick Rangers are chasing their Belfast Telegraph Championship 1 title dream
Once 21 points adrift, Haveron's men need a win to be champions
Carrick Rangers are on the verge of one of the most remarkable title successes in Irish League history.
The Taylor's Avenue outfit enter the final weekend of their league season needing victory to win Belfast Telegraph Championship 1 and promotion to the top flight of football in Northern Ireland...and this after at one stage being a staggering 21 points away from top spot.
That's not all in this stunning story... just weeks ago the boss who inspired their remarkable surge up the table, Gary Haveron, had to step down because he didn't hold the Uefa B coaching qualification required by the manager of a club applying for a Championship licence, which is needed by Carrick if they wish to take their place in next season's Danske Bank Premiership.
The influential Haveron remains at the club in a coaching capacity and plans to gain the Uefa B licence in the summer when, if successful, he would be expected to resume charge of Carrick. In the meantime Glenn Taggart, who has the Uefa B coaching badge, is officially operating in the role of player/manager.
At least tomorrow is much less complicated. Winning at home to bottom of the table Dundela will see them crowned champions. Any other result and a Bangor victory at Lisburn Distillery will mean the Seasiders moving into top spot and being promoted.
The big finish is a fitting way to end a compelling campaign in which Carrick once had SEVEN games in hand.
The reason for that was their superb runs in the knockout competitions, winning the Steel and Sons Cup and reaching the final of the Intermediate Cup, scheduled for next Friday against Gary Smyth's H&W Welders.
"At one stage we were 21 points adrift. Every time we played a game in hand we had to win it," says Haveron, who became manager of Carrick in September 2013.
"We had seven games in hand at one stage. It was crazy. For the last two and a half months we have played a game every 3.5 days. For part-time players that is a big ask. Back in January most people thought because we had so much to do we'd slip up but the players have been relentless.
"They have done exceptionally well. I can't praise them enough. All that we wanted was to take it to the last game of the season and still be challenging for the league and here we are. To have our destiny in our own hands is fantastic."
A key factor has been the professional recovery methods introduced by Haveron to have the players ready for their next test during the gruelling schedule.
Strong relationships at Taylor's Avenue have lifted the team as well.
When talking about the Championship charge, with Carrick unbeaten in their last 11 games, former Linfield, Coleraine and Ballymena United midfielder Haveron namechecks every single one of his players, from experienced Ciaran Donaghy to sharpshooter Miguel Chines, detailing their qualities.
Before you can ask him another question he is hailing the contribution of the coaching staff, the board, the "loyal fans" and ex-Northern Ireland hero Michael Hughes, a major shareholder at the club. The enthusiasm oozes out of him.
"I have been incredibly proud to manage this group of players. I loved playing and being involved in big games but there is a greater sense of achievement doing it as a manager," says Haveron.
"We have a good relationship with the players and I'd like to think they see me as a friend.
"The way we get the best out of each other is with me trying to help them and make their life as easy as possible both on and off the pitch and they have responded in kind. It hasn't been all love, peace and harmony and a few home truths have been told, but there is great respect, trust and honesty at our club.
"The players have played some lovely football at times and they have a lot of heart."
On having to step down as manager, Haveron admits that was frustrating but says it was important for him to do what was best for the club.
Now all roads lead to Taylor's Avenue for a huge game against Dundela.
"We aren't thinking we are champions yet. Dundela have good players. No way will we underestimate them," says Haveron, knowing defeat or a draw could see his side in a Play-off for top-flight football against Warrenpoint Town.
In their quest for promotion, Carrick have had support from Northern Ireland defender Gareth McAuley, who is close friends with Haveron from their schooldays and time as Coleraine team-mates. When Carrick are facing Dundela, McAuley will be playing for West Brom against Liverpool.
"I'm as proud as punch of the big man. He has done so well and is a great ambassador for Northern Ireland," says Haveron, who can expect a congratulatory call from 'Big G' tomorrow night should Carrick triumph.
It promises to be quite a day.