Failure could have meant years in intermediate football oblivion.
blues and glens are on agendaBig time: Donegal Celtic’s Stephen O’Neill and Liam Watson celebrate their team’s promotion/relegation play-off success which guarantees them a place in the Carling Premiership next season
That is what Donegal Celtic manager Pat McAllister believes after seeing his side come through two pressure cooker play-off matches with Institute to reach the promised land of the Premiership.
Stephen McAlorum’s late goal at Drumahoe last Friday night means they can look forward to facing Glentoran and Linfield rather than the likes of Coagh United and Glebe Rangers when things kick-off again come August.
Two years ago DC didn’t make the cut when local football’s top flight was cut from 16 clubs to a new 12-team league. They did get a domestic licence, but were ranked 13th in a complicated points table which rated the club off the pitch more than the team’s performance on it.
Had things been done differently and the top dozen teams in the league formed the new division then Celtic would have made it, after finishing 11th in the 2007-08 season.
And that is why being sent back to intermediate football after two seasons among the big boys was hard to take and also why there was so much pressure on McAllister and his troops to return to the elite level.
“Getting into the Premiership means so much to the players, the club and the area,” said McAllister.
“For everyone who is involved at the club this is a great reward and one that is richly deserved.
“We didn’t deserve to be put down and not making the Premiership because of off-field issues to do with the ground and things like that hurt us.
“When I took over as manager this time last year I knew that I might only get one shot at getting promotion, but I didn’t mind that. I don’t want to manage a club that doesn’t have ambition and this is an ambitious club.
“I think if we hadn't gone up it would have had a major affect on the club.
“We have players that are hungry to play in the Premiership and if they hadn’t been able to do it with us then, of course, they would have started to look elsewhere.
“We have Premiership clubs looking at our players and I have no problem with that because I know they are Premiership quality.
“Now we can offer them Premier League football and I think they will want to stay.
“If we hadn’t got promoted the squad may well have broken up and that would have made things a lot harder in terms of getting up next season.”
Now, however, the challenge is to stay in the Premier League and make Donegal Celtic a force.
It’s a challenge that McAllister is relishing, because as a player he never shirked a single one in his career.
“We have to try and establish ourselves now and it won’t be easy,” he said.
“We can look at Portadown who pipped us to the league title last season and Dungannon Swifts, who we then lost on away goals to in the play-off and take encouragement from them.
“They went on and finished in the top six, which was a great achievement.
“We’re not going to go out and say we’re going to do this or that. What we are going to do is work hard again and focus on staying in the Premiership. After that we’ll look to make our mark among the top teams.”