Instonians rise from 11 years in darkness
In a season that, no doubt, will long be regarded as Ulster's annus horribilis, one of the rare bright lights of hope amid the darkness has been emanating from Instonians Rugby Club.
After a number of seasons when they flattered only to deceive in their bid to emerge from Division Three of the All-Ireland League, where they have been since 1997, the Belfast club have finally delivered the goods.
In a thrilling race for one of the two promotion places, Instonians' record of 12 wins from 15 was just enough to pip Queen's University to second place in the league behind Co Limerick club Bruff.
And Clem Boyd's side added the cherry to the cake by exacting revenge for a 6-5 defeat to Bruff at Kilballyowen Park in February with a thrilling 32-23 victory in the Division Three play-off final at Donnybrook on Saturday.
Such a high-scoring and free-flowing approach was evident through the season from Boyd's young side, prompted by the hugely-experienced former Ireland out-half Niall Malone.
Instonians not only collected the most bonus points for tries (10) during the 15 rounds of matches in Division Three this season, they scored the most points (527) and the most tries (79) in all three divisions, a double feat helped by a record-breaking 78-3 victory over Midleton at Shaw's Bridge.
Yet it was the composure soon after the back-to-back defeats to Bruff and then a shock reverse at strugglers Waterpark in February that impressed Boyd most.
Former Ulster and Ireland A prop Boyd, who had to quit playing because of a heart complaint at the age of 29 before he became director of rugby at the club in 2005, had seen his side wobble at key moments during the previous two seasons.
Instonians had also missed out on promotion in 2003, when they finished second when only one club was promoted in a league shake-up, while in 2000 they missed out in a tied play-off against Portadown (the senior club kept its status) after finishing second in the league.
Having blazed a trail this season, Boyd, along with his ever-green assistant Malone, who has committed himself to playing on for another season, was determined that the sticky patch in February would not culminate in another season of missed opportunity.
"We lost both those games by a point and it is always in the back of your mind," said Boyd.
"People have talked about Instonians collapsing after Christmas as being a perennial problem but in previous years that has been largely down to injuries, whereas this year we had strong squads.
"We were unlucky to lose to Bruff and the Waterpark game was a thunderbolt game. It just didn't happen on the day but then we won a tough game away at City of Derry and that steadied things."
Victories against Carlow, Corinthinans and Connemara clinched the Holy Grail of promotion and now Boyd is already working hard to put together a squad capable of challenging in Division Two next season.
"We will need to get a few players in certain areas," added Boyd, who has brought in Australian Jarett Truscott to help with skills work and video analysis.
"We are just working through the squad at the minute to make sure everyone is staying but we will need to strengthen areas such as scrum-half, centre and a back five player. As a Division Two club now we would expect some parity with the other clubs with regards to Ulster-allocated players.
"We are determined to be competitive next season, we don't want to be a flash in the pan and come straight back down again."