Skipper keeping Cliftonville on course
George McMullan has admitted he will swept away on an emotional tide if Cliftonville can get across the finishing line in the title race today.
The Reds right-back has donned the captain's armband in the absence of injured club skipper Chris Scannell and if he lifts the Gibson Cup high into the north-Belfast air it will be the proudest moment of his roller-coaster career.
McMullan has been close to this promised land before, but not close enough.
Cliftonville finished third in the 2007 and 2008 campaigns behind Glentoran and winners Linfield.
They went one better in 2010 by finishing runner-up but once again the champagne corks were popping at Windsor Park.
David Jeffrey's side, the reigning champions, visit Solitude tomorrow but this time you can take it as Red that there will be different colours on the Gibson Cup.
Cliftonville are so close to the club's fourth title in their history and first since Marty Quinn's heroes hit the big time in 1998.
A point against the Blues would seal the deal given their vastly superior goal difference to second placed Crusaders (+26).
Even if Linfield were to grab a victory at Solitude, Tommy Breslin's impressive outfit would be crowned champions if the Crues fail to beat Coleraine at Seaview.
But forget all the ifs or buts – it's not a question of 'if' but 'when' McMullan and co. will be dancing a title jig.
Expectant home fans have snapped up all available tickets for the fixture and now it's over to the players to finish the job in style.
McMullan admits it will be a special and emotional occasion – a moment he feared he would never see.
"We've been close before and never managed to do it and it has been heartbreaking," he said.
"To finally be able to celebrate a title win would be very special.
"At the start of the season we were paying in Europe and you just had a target in your mind of qualifying for European football again.
"But when we defeated Kalmar FF in the Europa League I think that result just gave the boys that added confidence and belief that this could be a special year.
"It was a great achievement, beating a full-time team, and it gives you the believe that you can beat anyone. I thought then that this group of players could achieve something special and we are close to it."
Modest McMullan is reluctant to lift the Gibson Cup as he feels Scannell deserves that honour as club captain.
Chris suffered an Achilles tendon tear in a game against Glentoran back in August.
It was a horrible twist of fate for the 35-year-old but he could make his long-awaited return before the end of the season and he will be all smiles if he lifts the trophy with McMullan tomorrow.
"I'm just filling in for Chris as captain," said McMullan.
"I would be thrilled if he could lift it but maybe we could do it together. Everyone was upset about his injury and hopefully he's back soon.
"I'm just hoping this will be the proudest moment of my career. It means so much to me personally. I'm also looking forward to my first Irish Cup final as I was suspended back in 2009."
McMullan, whose penalty against Crusaders last weekend helped fire the Reds into the showpiece final, expects the Blues to be in party-wrecking mode.
"Linfield have been the champions for so long and I'm just delighted the north-Belfast sides have stepped up a gear," he added.
"The Blues have received criticism this season but that's only because of their outstanding record and the standards they have set. They are still a strong team and we will show them the respect they deserve."
Hotshot Liam Boyce is expected to snap up the Player of the Year awards at the end of the campaign but McMullan ischampioning the defence.
"Boycie has been a different class," admitted McMullan. "I'm sure he will get a lot of recognition for his goals (32 this season) but as right-back I have a different outlook and I would say our defence has been outstanding.
"Marc Smyth and Jaimie McGovern in the middle as well as Ronan (Scannell) and Eamonn (Seydak). Conor Devlin as well – as a back five we have been very solid. So for me, Conor or Marc have really delievered for the team this season."
• Ahead of today's game Cliftonville Football Club announced, with great sadness, the passing of Geraldine Holland. The club stated: "Mother of Barry and Mark, Geraldine was a regular visitor to watch her sons play at Solitude and the Club extends its sincere condolences to both brothers, her husband John and the entire Holland family circle at this difficult time.
"May she rest in peace."