Rathfriland Rangers clinched title glory in emphatic style by steamrolling Larne Tech Old Boys with hotshots James Costello and Ally Wilson scoring a glut of goals.
Just a single point was needed for the Whites to get their hands on a first league championship in almost two decades.
But they made sure the trip to Dennis Harvey Park on Saturday will live long in the memory of their supporters by capturing the prize with a resounding win as Costello struck four times in between Wilson’s two strikes.
The win was the Rangers’ joint-biggest of the season so far, matching the hiding they gave Dunmurry Rec in March, and players and fans celebrated long into the night with the silverware secured.
Larne were hardly lacklustre, in spite of what the scoreline might suggest.
They simply came up against a team that is in white-hot form and had history in their sights.
The home side held off the inevitable for 20 minutes until Wilson unleashed one of his trademark low drives with pinpoint accuracy that passed ‘keeper Stephen Adair in a flash and went into the bottom corner.
A mini-battle between Wilson and Costello for the club’s golden boot has been an enthralling subplot to the title drive, and that opener took Wilson level with his strike partner on 30 for the season.
Costello had hit a hat-trick in midweek against Abbey Villa and he was hungry for more.
He added his name to the scoresheet when Chris Havern’s through-ball from defence allowed him to break the offside trap and apply the finish on 38 minutes.
And he almost doubled his tally before the break when he latched on to Marty Havern’s pass but was denied by Adair, who made a superb save low to his right.
Costello’s second came just before the hour-mark, though, as he hung on the shoulder of the last man and collected a ball sent from deep before ‘keeping his nerve to put Adair on his backside, round him and apply the finish.
Larne’s only opportunity of note came when substitute Conor Larkin’s lofted backpass proved a tricky one to deal with for Shane Harrison, who had to tip it over the bar and give away an indirect free-kick just a few yards out.
But with 10 Rathfriland men on the goalline, Reece Moore was unable to find a way through the wall of white.
Costello soon notched his treble when a poor clearance allowed Wilson to burst into the box and unselfishly lay the ball on for his strike-partner to lash home.
And Costello grabbed a remarkable seventh goal in just two games just a minute later. Wing-wizard Thomas Lockhart sent a sumptuous ball towards the penalty spot and Costello slid in to connect, taking the scoreline to 0-5.
That took Costello to 34 for the season but Wilson was determined to close the gap on his fellow hitman and he seized his opportunity to do just that as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes.
Adair did well to repel Marty Havern’s effort but he could only parry it into the path of Wilson, who knocked the ball in from eight yards to notch his 31st of the campaign and complete the rout.
The bubbly was cracked open as the final whistle pealed around the park and Rathfriland manager Clifford Sterritt looked a proud man as he led his players through a guard of honour given to them by the travelling band of fans.
This, they all hope, is only just the beginning of something special.
Man of the match: James Costello (Rathfriland Rangers).
Rathfriland Rangers: Shane Harrison, Jake Redpath, Chris Havern, Aaron Black, Nathan Baird Darren McGrath, Jonathan Scannell, Marty Havern, Thomas Lockhart, Ally Wilson, James Costello. Subs: Jonny Black, Lee Feeney, Conor Fegan, Conor Fegan.
2016 AMATEUR ROSEBOWL
Congratulations to three Rathfriland players Shane Harrison, Tommy Lockhart and James Costello in their selection to the annual Amateur League Rosebowl Squad.
This is another great achievement by theplayers in what has been a successful campaign for the club.
Paul Kirk, who currently manages Lisburn Rangers in Division 1A, has yet to lose in his role in charge of the NAFL side in their annual showpiece against the Scottish Amateur Football Association, and has every intention of continuing that proud record when the two sides face off at Downshire’s home on the Old Coach Road on May 14 at 2pm.