Cliftonville FC are celebrating a first championship in 15 years after clinching the title in dramatic style at the weekend.
The Reds, who last lifted the Gibson Cup in 1998, sealed the fourth league crown of their 134-year history with a 3-2 win over reigning champions Linfield FC. Captain George McMullan stepped up to convert a penalty in added time to gift the North Belfast club victory and an insurmountable lead at the top of the table. Victory leaves them 14 points clear of derby rivals Crusaders FC with four games to play; with Linfield FC 24 points behind in third.
Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin, who has been at the helm of the Solitude club for only two years, said: "I'm stunned. My emotions are all over the place. I'm delighted to lift the title, but also relieved to get over the line. When I was appointed to the post in 2011, I never thought I'd be standing here two years later celebrating the title. It's like a blur. It'll take time to sink in.
"But we are deserving champions and we have done it in style which is very pleasing. We have tried to entertain and I think the stats back that up." The Reds have won 27 of their 34 league games to date, lost just three, and scored an average of almost three goals per fixture.
Prolific forward Liam Boyce has bagged 34 goals in all competitions, just one short of an 81-year-old club record held by Norman McCaw dating back to 1932, while strike partner Joe Gormley has scored 29.
"I was only seven-years-old when Cliftonville last won the title in 1998, so it is a very special moment for the club," said Boyce. "Georgie [McMullan] actually got a DVD made of that 1998 championship success and the players all watched it together a few weeks back. It really motivated us in the run-in."
Chairman Gerard Lawlor was left "in tears" on the final whistle as a bumper home support celebrated a landmark feat for the club. "My wife and I were crying in the stands," he said. "It is a dream come true. The time and effort so many people have put into this club, on and off the pitch, to reach this point is remarkable.
"Winning the championship was the ultimate target and we have achieved that. I tweeted last week: 'I once had a dream and now it is becoming reality.' I can safely say my dreams came true at the weekend.”
Cliftonville FC, who also lifted the League Cup in January and have an Irish Cup final to look forward to against Glentoran FC on 4 May, are chasing a first ever club treble.
"The players have the opportunity to create a little piece of history," said Breslin. "We will enjoy this success, but be fully refocused for the Irish Cup final against Glentoran. Our season doesn't end here."
The Reds will be presented with the league championship trophy in their last home game of the season against Ballinamallard United FC on 27 April.
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