Cliftonville closing in on another first
Cliftonville 2 Donegal Celtic 1
As Ireland's oldest football club, Cliftonville's place in local sporting history is assured and, with less than two months of the season remaining, their current team stand on the brink of a milestone of their own.
Saturday's last-gasp victory over Donegal Celtic maintained the Reds' 14 point advantage at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership and it's entirely conceivable that the Gibson Cup could join the Irn Bru League Cup in the Solitude trophy cabinet before the end of the month.
The rearranged derby clash with Crusaders at Seaview on March 25 could well prove to be D-Day as far as a first title in 15 years is concerned and, even if Tommy Breslin's men aren't able to get over the line against their near neighbours, Solitude will play host to both the Crues and Linfield on what's shaping up as a titanic Easter weekend on the Cliftonville Road.
Prior to the weekend's game, however, it was the club's past rather than future which was being honoured as the Reds were formally initiated into a family of football's founding fathers.
The 'Club of Pioneers' is an association which traces the history of football and celebrates its migration across the planet, with Richard Tims – chairman of the world's oldest club, Sheffield FC – heading up the project.
"We're pleased to welcome Cliftonville to the Club of Pioneers because it's another chapter in our story and one that is only open to a very select group of football clubs from right across the planet," he explained.
"Football isn't just about the Manchester Uniteds, Chelseas, Barcelonas and Real Madrids – it was all started by the likes of Sheffield, Queen's Park and Cliftonville and we're going along, trying to tell the story piece by piece. We've only just got started but already we've had interest from right across the world from clubs wanting to get involved and, further down the line, there's scope for all of the Pioneers to get together for friendly games and tournaments to celebrate the birth of the game but, for now, it's all about promoting the integrity, respect and community that football is built upon and we're delighted to have formally welcomed Cliftonville along as the next step in our journey."
The Reds took another giant stride of their own when they overcame a dogged Donegal Celtic thanks to an 84th minute winner from Ciaran Caldwell (left) after Ryan Deans had cancelled out Stephen Garrett's first half opener.
"We made hard work of it and, as I've just said to the players in there, I don't understand why it took DC to equalise before we started playing," said boss Breslin afterwards.
"That's another three points that's helped us on our way and, with only eight matches left, we're in a very strong position."