Late Larne equaliser saves Donegal Celtic and sends PSNI down
Donegal Celtic retained their Championship One status in dramatic fashion on Saturday afternoon.
While the TV cameras and radio reports relayed the action from the Carrick Rangers and Bangor games, the real drama took place at the other end of the table.
With the PSNI a point ahead of Donegal Celtic, a win would have kept the Police in the division and relegated DC. However, Jamesie Kirk’s men drew 1-1 with Larne at Inver Park, while DC blew Loughgall away at Lakeview, winning 3-0.
A brace from Joe Todd and single strike from Niall Murray gave Nicky Maye’s men a comfortable win over Loughgall, but for a while it looked like it wasn’t going to be enough. Ryan Berry gave the PSNI a second half lead with a 30-yard effort. Berry’s goal looked like it was going to be enough to complete the great escape, but Larne’s Paul Maguire saved DC and relegated PSNI with a late equaliser.
Donegal Celtic manager Nicky Maye said: “It was a very emotional day for myself and my assistant Patrick McLaughlin. We’ve been on our own for the last couple of months and we’ve put everything into keeping this side in the Championship.
“People will say, understandably, that Gary Haveron is the manager of the year, but I think when you look at what we have achieved here, on no budget, then you have to say it’s something very special.
“I think people misunderstand when they hear we have no budget. That doesn’t just mean no wages, it also means no expenses. These guys aren’t getting a penny.
“So for a virtually unknown manager to keep a team of players who aren’t getting paid in the division, is incredible. I’ve never experienced a team spirit like it. These guys have put everything into keeping this team up, they’ve been sensational.”
When Maye first heard of Maguire’s crucial goal at Inver Park, he refused to believe it, but it was enough to cement Celtic’s place in next season’s second tier.
“Just as we had a player sent off in the second half, we heard that the Police had taken the lead at Inver Park. We all thought that was it - that we had done everything we could but it just wasn’t enough.
“Then as we went 3-0 up, it filtered through that Larne had scored. Everyone was going crazy with fans on the pitch, but at first I refused to believe. I was asking people to show me their phones so I could see it myself. I wanted to be certain before I started cheering.”
Maye was keen to praise his opposite number at the PSNI.
“I feel for Jamesie Kirk. At Christmas, people had written them off, but they put up one hell of a fight. He’s a gentleman and deserves a lot of credit for what they have achieved. He texted me to congratulate me on Saturday night, which says a lot about him.”
After a draining year at Donegal Celtic Park, manager Maye is considering his future at the West Belfast club, but first of all he has a couple of small personal matters to attend to.
“It’s my young lad’s first birthday this weekend and my wedding next weekend, so I’m going to forget about football for a couple of weeks.
“It’s been a really difficult and emotional few weeks for me and the players, and I need to take a step back.
“Danny Wallace has signed for Linfield and a few of our other players have attracted offers, so if I do stay on, then it will be a rebuilding job again.
“The club are keen for me to stay, but at the same time, a few things have to change.
“For now, I’m just very proud that we’ve managed to keep this team in Championship One.”