Carrick Rangers win promotion to Danske Bank Premiership after 'incredible' final two months
Manager Glenn Taggart has described Carrick Rangers' Belfast Telegraph One success as "incredible".
At the start of March, the east Antrim outfit still had to play 13 of their 26 league games as a combination of cup runs, bad weather and poor scheduling had seen the Taylor's Avenue club slip seven games off the pace.
With Bangor out in front, surely there was no way a team could play half their schedule in two months and still claim the title?
Incredibly, that's exactly what Carrick did, culminating in their 1-0 victory over Dundela on Saturday which clinched the title and promotion back to the Premier League League.
While nobody could doubt Carrick's quality after they hammered Harland & Wolff Welders 4-1 in the Steel & Sons Cup final, plenty doubted their endurance. Yet, in the middle of it all, they reached the Intermediate Cup final, where they could complete a dream treble against the Welders at Seaview this Friday night.
Taggart, now the club's official manager and long-serving player, couldn't quite belive what his team-mates had achieved.
"I'm delighted for the boys," he said after a single Aaron Harmon goal was enough to start the title celebrations.
"It was great to be part of it. There is a great togetherness at this club and I think that has shone through in our performances this season.
"You couldn't win so many midweek games without that kind of team spirit.
"A lot of people were saying there is no way Carrick can win all their games in hand, but that's exactly what we did.
We dropped seven points from our last 17 games, even though we played 10 Tuesday nights in a row.
"It happens in the Amateur League most seasons and generally teams who have to play every Tuesday night because of cup runs end up running out of steam. But not us, we kept the momentum going.
"I don't care who you are, that's incredible."
Knockbreda, Distillery, Loughgall, PSNI, Armagh City, Larne, Ballyclare Comrades, Armagh again, Donegal Celtic, PSNI again and finally Dundela were all defeated inside the space of those eight weeks. Add draws against Bangor and Dergview and a single defeat against Ards and few would disagree with Taggart.
Elsewhere, Bangor kept Carrick honest by defeating Lisburn Distillery 3-0 thanks to goals from Dean Youle, Andy Hall and Jordan Forsythe.
It wasn't enough for the Seasiders to secure automatic promotion, but second place provides a play-off place and a two-legged shot at Warrenpoint Town, first tomorrow night at the Bangor Fuels Arena and then on Friday evening at the Premier League club's ground.
Ards were left to wonder how on earth a 17-game unbeaten run and 56 points weren't enough to secure a top two finish. Perhaps there is a clue in Saturday's result - the 1-1 draw with Ballyclare Comrades was their eighth stalemate of the season
While the final chapter wasn't quite the classic denouement some had hoped for, the epic story of this season's Belfast Telegraph Championship 1 will live long in the memory.