It was party time at Taylor’s Avenue on Saturday as Carrick Rangers made a glorious return to the top-flight, clinching the Championship 1 title with a 1-0 win over relegated Dundela.
Skipper Aaron Harmon netted the only goal of a nervy encounter in the 12th minute and it was enough to claim the three points his side needed to be crowned champions.
He was presented with the trophy in front of hundreds of fans who had flooded on to the pitch to celebrate and it was a special moment for the loyal midfielder.
“It didn’t matter to me who scored or how we won,” said Harmon.
“I just wanted to lift that trophy and get to play premier league football next year. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
At one stage Carrick were 21 points off the pace and a move back to the big time, after a three-year absence, appeared to be a tall order. But first-team coach Gary Haveron, who has been the driving force behind the club’s success this year, firmly believes the players have earned the right to be called champions.
“It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? It has been something that we have worked so hard for all season,” he said.
“If we hadn’t have won today Bangor would have taken the league and great credit to them and Ards for the fight they put up, but I just can’t help feeling that the way it worked out this year, we earned it.
“We had to win the Steel and Sons Cup the hard way and the league has been no different. We’ve been playing two games a week for the last two-and-a-half months, basically.
“It has been incredible. I can’t praise the players enough. It says a lot about their character and hunger.”
But there was little time for extended celebrations with the focus now switching to Friday night’s Intermediate Cup final with The Welders.
Victory at Seaview would see the Gers capture an historic trophy treble.
“The pressure is off,” Haveron insisted. “The league is the one we wanted to allow us to ply our trade in the Premiership. These boys have earned the right to play in the Premiership and they’ll go up there and accredit themselves really well.
“But we can now turn our attentions to the Intermediate Cup. The shackles are off. Our priorities at the start of the year was to win the league, the second was the Steel and Sons Cup and we managed to do that. Why not try and go and win the Intermediate Cup now, too?
“The Welders are a very good side but we’re league champions. We’re Steel and Sons Cup winners. The momentum is on our side, so we’ll go there and try and win all three if we can.”