Irish Cup Final: Wondrous occasion rescues Cup's lustre as Glentoran defeat Cliftonville 3 - 1
It was the Irish Cup Final we all needed it to be.
Played out against a backdrop of raucous noise and shimmering colour, it was an occasion fiercely contested both on and off the park on an afternoon which was always guaranteed to present a fairytale ending.
As it transpired, it was Glentoran's dreams which came true as Eddie Patterson -- so often cruelly labelled 'the nearly man of football management' for never having being able to deliver a major title during his tenure with yesterday's opponents -- denied his former employers and boyhood favourites a famous Treble and, in doing so, masterminded the Irish Cup's long overdue return to east Belfast.
Coming as it does at the end of a campaign when the Glens generated as many negative headlines as they did positive, the achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider the ordeal Patterson and his players endured when their wages were not forthcoming at various stages of the season.
Look at their joyous celebrations and try to tell them they don't deserve every minute of it.
The scene was set more than an hour before kick-off, when fans on either side started spilling into the stadium to snap up the best vantage points for one of the most eagerly-anticipated showpieces of recent times.
Over the last few years, Irish Cup Finals have lacked a certain something. There's been no spark, no buzz and, as far as television viewers could tell, no spectators.
There were no such concerns yesterday, with Glenmen cramming into both decks of the North Stand as well as providing a more aesthetically pleasing Railway End than the eyesore of a building site which haunted last year's photographs.
Reds supporters, meanwhile, were queued at the turnstiles long before their 1pm opening time and, in addition to snapping up every available ticket for the South Stand, made themselves seen and heard on the Kop, where they unknowingly unveiled their club's brand new home strip emblazoned across a gigantic banner.
Disappointing as it was for the flock concerned and as poor a reflection as it is on an international stadium evidently incapable of coping with the numbers involved, how incredible is it to wake up this morning, reflect on the enormous crowd at the match and consider that there were further hundreds -- thousands, even -- who couldn't get in because tickets were like gold-dust?
Both clubs regularly sold out their allocations and, despite the capacity being increased on more than one occasion, there still wasn't room for everybody who wanted to attend -- a slap in the face to the Irish League's naysayers and motivation for those inside the stadium to justify their places by cranking up the volume to ever greater levels.
Almost in an act of defiance against those who had attempted to hijack a sporting spectacle to make political statements, both sets of fans stood united while roaring their own songbooks into the south Belfast air.
'Dance, dance, wherever you may be ... ' was the Red Army's cry, matched bar for bar by a passionate rendition of 'As I lay on my bed last night, I fell into a dream ... ' by the red, green and black hordes on the other side.
This wasn't just a crowd of locals who'd dashed across a few postcodes to be there.
This was truly an international operation. All week, flights have touched down in Belfast to deliver ex-pats from far and wide and, even in the hours preceding kick-off, the Enterprise train from Dublin brought forth the final cavalcade.
All that was missing was the day's hero. Step forward Andy Waterworth.
If that's to be his last contribution in a Glentoran shirt, then what a way to bow out.
Belfast Telegraph Digital