Crusaders celebrate title glory with one big party
Crusaders 4-0 Glenavon
Crusaders are having a party and it's likely to continue for some time. At 5.05pm on Saturday evening Crues skipper Colin Coates lifted the Gibson Cup and 18 years of hurt at Seaview evaporated in a flash.
Supporters raced onto the artificial surface to embrace their heroes as legends from yesteryear with title tales to tell looked on, beaming with pride.
This wasn't simply a story about a 38-game gruelling league campaign - it was the culmination of 10 years of blood, sweat and tears since the club was relegated in 2005.
It's been a long and at times difficult road to the promised land for Stephen Baxter and his men but they've got there and the 'wee club from the Shore Road' partied like it was 1973, 1976, 1995 and 1997.
With now more than 450 appearances for the Crues, David Magowan has been on the rollercoaster ride even before Baxter agreed to mastermind the revolution.
"I was here before Stephen, as I came in in 2003," said 'Mags' as an optimistic young fan shouted 'can I have your boots?'.
"Beaver (Chris Morrow) and Coatesy were among the younger group and then Deccy (Declan Caddell) came through.
"When I broke into the team we were fighting at the bottom of the league and just trying to avoid relegation. That was tough but the boys wanted to play for Stephen and we just got stronger. We dug in, came straight back up and the trophies started to come.
"We had been close for a few years so it was great to finally get across the line in the league.
"The last few seasons we have challenged but there has been improvement and Stephen made some great signings, the likes of Barry Molloy and Stephen O'Flynn coming in in January gave everyone a lift.
"I'd still like to get an Irish Cup medal after being suspended for the 2009 final but this means a lot. The Setanta Cup was special but this tops the lot. I'll relax for a few weeks then be ready to go in Europe again. I've signed for two years so hopefully I can get to the 500 appearance mark."
This was a moment for the supporters to say thank you to the players and one man who has given 43 years service to the club, goalkeeping coach Roy McDonald, was impressed by the number of young fans keen to join the celebrations.
"The scenes are fantastic and I would say we have more supporters here celebrating now than in previous title winning occasions," said Roy.
"We seem to be gathering momentum and getting more fans supporting us which is fantastic.
"The Academy is a lot to do with it and we have boys involved from under eight age group right through to the reserve team.
"Billy Johnston started the whole thing off in 1972-73 when we won the first championship and it's lovely to see Liam Beckett, Danny Hale, Jeff Gorman, John McPolin and Paul Kirk to name but a few. This season we all signed up to this. When we were in Lithuania for the first qualifying round of the Europa League we had a team meeting and we asked where we wanted to go and the boys said a league championship.
"We could have done it last season but lost some momentum around the Christmas period. This year we didn't lose momentum and we stayed quiet and focused while the spotlight was on Linfield and Cliftonville.
"Stephen is happy with his squad, a lot of the boys are signed up for a few years but he might look to add one or two.
"You can talk about different eras but the camaraderie in the dressing room is just the same.
"Other squads also had tremendous skill but this is certainly a great group and fitness wise they are probably the best."
For the record, two goals from Ulster Player of the Year Paul Heatley and further strikes from Billy Joe Burns and Caddell swept aside Glenavon 4-0. Some of the home side's passing and movement illustrated why they won the league by 10 points.
And, as we enter Irish Cup Final week, don't let anyone tell you the Irish League will die.
It means too much to too many people.
Crusaders: O'Neill, Burns, Magowan, Coates, McClean, Caddell, Clarke, Whyte, Heatley, Owens, O'Flynn. Substitutions: Hanley (McClean, 59 mins), Adamson (Caddell, 59 mins), Leeman (Magowan, 76 mins).
Glenavon: McGrath, McKeown, Murphy, Kilmartin, Rea, Patton, Caldwell, McGrory, O'Brien, Martyn, Elebert. Substitutions: Kelly (Elebert, 46 mins), Lynch (McKeown, 62 mins), Marshall (Kilmartin, 74 mins).
Man of the match: Paul Heatley
Match rating: 7/10
Referee: Colin Burns (N'abbey).