How the Gibson Cup will be transported as Premiership title hangs in the balance
Northern Ireland Football League Managing Director Andrew Johnston has revealed that the Gibson Cup league title trophy will be sat in a car in the vicinity of Nutts Corner on Saturday as Crusaders and Coleraine battle it out to get their hands on the silverware.
With the Danske Bank Premiership title race going down to the final weekend, and the decisive matches taking place in Ballymena and Lurgan, NIFL officials plan to monitor radio coverage somewhere in between in order to make their way to the new champions as quickly as possible in time for a televised trophy presentation just after 5pm.
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Crusaders enter the last round of fixtures on the same number of points as Coleraine, but Stephen Baxter’s men have a vastly superior goal difference meaning that, should they beat Ballymena at the Showgrounds, they will finish top of the table for the third season out of four.
If the Crues slip up, however, and Oran Kearney’s Bannsiders secure a better result against Glenavon at Mourneview Park, they will clinch the crown for only the second time in the club’s history and follow in the footsteps of the legendary 1973-74 Coleraine side.
The last time a club outside Belfast won the title, Portadown in 2002, a helicopter was used to ferry the Gibson Cup to Shamrock Park.
On Saturday, the most prized piece of treasure in local football will arrive in a Skoda!
“We have an official car partner, Mervyn Stewart Skoda, and we will be utilising them to assist with the presentation. We will listen to the radio on Saturday and make a decision when we feel it is safe to do so and move when he think the time is right,” Johnston revealed.
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Leaving nothing to chance, both venues will be set up by NIFL for a trophy presentation which is scheduled to be shown live on BBC NI's Final Score programme on Saturday.
Johnston added: "We had site visits on Monday at both Ballymena and Mourneview Park and we'll have set-ups at those grounds for a trophy presentation. The only dilemma is how we get there in time for the trophy presentation just after 5pm.
"We are mindful that the way this season has gone we wouldn't rule out a final twist late on. It will be an interesting day."
The title race is not the only aspect of what will be a fascinating climax to a thrilling season.
At the bottom, Ballinamallard United and Carrick Rangers have the same tally of points but the latter are ahead thanks to their superior goal difference.
The Fermanagh men travel to Glentoran while Carrick visit Warrenpoint. The team that finishes 12th will be relegated while the 11th-placed side will enter a play-off to maintain their top-flight status.
Five out of the six fixtures on Saturday have something major riding on them with Linfield and Glenavon fighting for third place which, if Coleraine win the Irish Cup, guarantees Europa League qualification.
David Healy's team, who are fourth, one point behind Glenavon, host Cliftonville with the Lurgan Blues at home to Coleraine.
"It's a fantastic finish to the campaign," said Johnston. "At the start of any season you want it to be competitive and for the major issues to go on as long as possible. It shows how competitive and exciting the league really is."