Warrenpoint Town's rise to Premiership football is almost too good to be true
If Ballinamallard United's promotion was a fairy tale, then Warrenpoint Town's rise to Premiership football is almost too good to be true.
Barry Gray's men secured their place in the top flight thanks to a remarkable play-off victory over Donegal Celtic on Friday night – completing the final leg of a journey that started just four seasons ago.
In 2010, the County Down outfit entered Championship Two after winning Mid-Ulster Intermediate 'A', a division that included the likes of Fivemiletown United and Blackers Mill.
That was quickly followed up by winning promotion to Championship One at the first time of asking – in the same season Town knocked Cliftonville out of the Irish Cup.
After a mid-table finish last term, Warrenpoint kicked on this year, finishing runners-up to Ards before triumphing in the play-off.
Captain John Boyle (pictured), who joined the club in 2009, can't quite believe what he and his team mates have achieved.
"It was an unbelievable feeling," he said.
"It really is an incredible achievement and it's one that hasn't really sunk in yet.
"When I arrived at Warrenpoint four years ago, I was told the big game was against Dollingstown. Now our big games will be against Linfield and Glentoran.
"I actually remember Barry Gray telling us he wanted to take Warrenpoint into the Premiership and, to be honest, we all laughed at him.
"We've now got three promotions in four seasons. The players really deserve this chance. There are so many good players in this team, who are more than capable of playing in the Premiership.
"But we all know the hard work starts here. We've got a lot of hard work to do in pre-season. For a start, we will have to improve our fitness, as we will be playing 40 odd games at a very intense level."
Town beat Donegal Celtic 1-0 at home last Tuesday thanks to a goal from Daniel Hughes, before losing 2-1 at Celtic Park on Friday to advance on the away goals rule.
The crucial strike was rattled home by Stephen McCabe, who joined Warrenpoint after Newry City went out of business earlier this season.
He was joined at Milltown by Darren King, Ruari Devlin, Marty Havern and Hughes trio Mark, Daniel and Stephen.
While City's demise may leave a bitter taste in the mouth, at least seven of their players finished a horrible year on a high. It will no doubt be even sweeter for that contingent as the majority of them played in Newry's play-off defeat to Lisburn Distillery just 12 months ago.
While heartbroken Showgrounds fans might find Warrenpoint's success hard to stomach, they can take solace in the fact that a reborn Newry City will compete in next season's Mid-Ulster League.
Boyle was keen to praise the supporters who travelled in numbers to west Belfast to cheer Warrenpoint on to Friday's success.
"I honestly don't think we could have done it without our fans," he revealed. "It felt like the whole area had come out to support us. It wasn't just people from Warrenpoint, there were people from Newry, Rostrevor and from all over south Down there.
"Honestly, it was incredible – they sang and cheered us on when we were 1-0 down.
"That's what helped us push on in the second half. If it wasn't for their support I'm not sure we could have done it."
Warrenpoint fans will have to get used to travelling the length of the country to support their side.
Milltown is not up to Premiership standard, so the club have nominated Dungannon Swifts' Stangmore Park as their home ground after initial plans of a relocation to the Newry Showgrounds were rejected by the stadium's trustees.
The move has proved controversial as Dungannon is almost 40 miles from Warrenpoint, but Boyle believes their fans will still turn out in numbers.
"I don't agree with those who think we will be playing in front of 10 or 15 people in Dungannon.
"We've a loyal fan base, who came out in force for the play-offs, so I'm sure many of them will travel to watch us home and away.
"The area has been crying out for Premier League football. There are plenty of players in south Down who should be playing in the top division and plenty of fans who want to watch good football. I think it's great for everyone involved," he said.
Whether or not the fans will travel to Dungannon remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure – underestimate Warrenpoint Town at your peril.