Warrenpoint Town hoping to point way
Warrenpoint Town's rise from obscurity to the big time will be complete on Saturday when the curtain rises on another Danske Bank Premiership season and only then will the enormity of their achievement dawn on boss Barry Gray.
The south Down men's progression through the leagues is one of the great fairytale stories of Irish League football and it has led to a rather more hectic preparation period for the new boys.
Town – who were only formed in 1988 – will play their 'home' matches at Stangmore Park until a new stand is completed at Milltown – hopefully by late November.
Ironically, their first challenge in the top flight is a 'home' clash against the Swifts and it promises to be a momentous occasion for miracle worker Gray and his merry band of history makers.
When Gray took charge of the club seven years ago, Town were an Intermediate outfit battling in the Mid-Ulster League.
But there have been three promotions in four seasons as the club found the inspiration to clamber into Championship Two, the Championship and now Premiership.
There has been no mystery benefactor behind this success story – it's all down to ambition, hard work and believing that anything is possible.
Of course, now the 'experts' are predicting that Gray's men will go straight back to the division from which they came but they should perhaps think again. Ballinamallard United have demonstrated how a forward thinking club with the right structures and approach can consolidate and develop.
'Consolidation' will be the key word for Gray and co. in the coming months but for now they will have to get used to life at domestic football top table.
"There's going to be an immense feeling of pride for me and so many others who have worked hard for this day to come," said Gray.
"We have travelled a long way in seven years and come from Intermediate football to the big stage and we cannot wait to get started. There's a huge buzz and it will sink in what we have achieved on Saturday.
"I think it really hits home when you walk out onto the pitch. The preparations have been hectic but we wanted this and we are ready for it.
"We have a solid group of players here and we like to think that consistency and hard work has got us to this level. We have built steadily and you also need to get the rub of the green along the way.
"Newry City folded and we managed to pick up some of their players."
And Gray isn't worried if the pundits are already predicting his side's demise as it could make some of his team talks easier.
"Everybody has us going straight back down again," he added. "That's something we can't think about too much but Ballinamallard United showed that that isn't necessarily what happens.
"The Mallards beat Linfield at Windsor Park last season with nine players from their starting 11 who played against us when in the Championship so we are up for the challenge.
"People will have their opinions but we are a good footballing side and anyone who watches us will see that. I know it's a higher standard of football and the opposition is stronger but I have faith that we will be a match for many sides."
Gray has brought former Dungannon Swifts boss Harry Fay into his coaching set-up and his experience and wisdom will be crucial in the weeks ahead.
While players prepare to do battle with performers of the calibre of Andrew Waterworth, Chris Morrow and Stephen Carson, Gray is relishing the prospects of pitting his wits against touchline characters like David Jeffrey, Eddie Patterson, Tommy Breslin and Stephen Baxter.
He added: "Their managers will have stronger squads and we will always be the underdogs but we are happy to have that tag."
Champions Cliftonville don't need to be reminded of Warrenpoint's capacity to deliver a knockout blow.
They stunned the Reds 3–1 on penalties at Solitude in the fifth round of the 2010–11 Irish Cup.
A rollercoaster ride awaits the new boys but there could be a few more heroics ahead.