Cliftonville FC secured the Northern Irish league title and an elevated place in club folklore thanks to a 2-0 win at Portadown FC on Tuesday afternoon.
The Reds' victory, coupled with Linfield FC's 2-0 defeat by Glentoran FC, meant Tommy Breslin's men clinched the championship with a game to spare at a packed Shamrock Park. It is the first time the North Belfast club have won back-to-back titles in their 135-year history.
Second-half goals from Chris Curran and Stephen Garrett sealed the title at Portadown. Breslin, who delivered a first championship to Solitude in 15 years last season, hailed the historic significance of winning back-to-back titles.
"Last year was special, but this feels even better," said Breslin, whose team will enter the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round. "Good teams win titles, but great teams retain titles and continue winning trophies. It's an outstanding achievement and gives me great pride. I'm delighted for the club, the board, staff and fans. I also have huge admiration for the players."
Cliftonville, who will be presented with the championship trophy following Saturday's trip to Crusaders FC, lay mid-table in November and trailed Linfield by seven points before Christmas. However, maximum points from four games against the Blues during the course of the season, and a strong end to the campaign has taken them an unassailable six points ahead of Linfield.
"We won ten and drew one in our last 11 league games," said Breslin. "We showed consistency when it mattered, but also real desire and quality. We have worked hard since November and turned around a seven-point deficit, so a lot of credit has to go to the players. It was an outstanding effort. We weren't at our best at Portadown and it wasn't a great game, but character and hunger got us over the line."
Breslin, who has been a revelation since succeeding Eddie Patterson in 2011, hopes this year's title triumph heralds further success for the club. "The feel-good factor is back at Solitude, but we don't want this to be the end of our ambition," he said. "Winning can become a habit and we want to sustain the momentum.
"The players have a taste of winning titles now. The squad has a good age profile and if we keep the bulk of this team together, we can build on it. We don't want to be remembered as two-season wonders."
Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor paid tribute to the unassuming Breslin who has now won two league titles, two League Cups and a County Antrim Shield during his three years in charge. "Tommy has been a calming influence throughout, particularly when we were playing catch-up just before Christmas," said Lawlor. "To win successive titles is a wonderful achievement for the club. I am delighted."
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|Last updated: 22/04/2014 17:34 CET|
McCartney 36, Martin 60
Hazely 53, Burns 59
McGrory 82 (P)
Caddell 2, Hanley 53, McCutcheon 60
McKee 59, Stewart 87
Curran 53, Garrett 85
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