It almost came as a surprise to the team to be presented with the trophy. Yes, they knew it was possible to win the title, but with Lifford playing against already-relegated Kilmacrennan Celtic in Rathmullan, it would surely go to a league play-off at best.
However, the Kilmacrennan men held the border side to a shock draw and goals from David ‘Reggie’ Miller and Dara Patton sealed Rathmullan’s maiden Premier Division crown.
“I suppose it was almost an anti-climax,” said Rathmullan’s joint player-manager, Paddy Sheridan. “We’ve been going for the league all year, but I don’t think anybody really expected to win it last week. We were just concentrating on beating Glenea and we managed to do that.
“Everybody thought Lifford would win, and it would go to a play-off, but it’s a funny old game, and you never know what can happen,” he added.
Rathmullan’s high standing within soccer circles in Donegal was emphasised as various clubs and personalities from throughout the county sent on their congratulations to the new champions.
Producing footballers has never been a problem for the town of Rathmullan. Patsy Sheridan (father of Paddy and Eamonn) spent two seasons at West Ham in the late 1950’s.
Jim Sheridan famously captained Finn Harps to the FAI Cup win in 1974, while Paddy Sheridan, Declan McAteer, Liam McAteer, Fr William McLaughlin, Liam McLaughlin, Paddy Merritt, Dennis Sheridan and Declan Sheridan all played in the League of Ireland.
Rathmullan’s current talisman Eamonn Sheridan lined out for Finn Harps in the 1999 FAI Cup Final for Finn Harps, while a number of other Rathmullan natives had successful careers in the Ulster Senior League.
“Down through history, there’s always been a big football connection in Rathmullan. A few of the other local towns have their fair share of gaelic, but it’s all football in Rathmullan,” said Sheridan.
“We’ve always brought through some excellent players. Some of them have gone on to play in the league of Ireland and the USL, but the town never really had a great team.”
For one reason or another, Rathmullan Celtic never quite managed to tap it to that conveyor belt of gifted footballers.
That all changed four seasons ago when the club embarked on a triumphant journey towards the summit of the Donegal Junior League.
“Mark Curran and Dessie McLaughlin took charge and they were making a big push with the team. A few of us, including myself, Eamonn and Dara decided we’d go and give a couple of years to our local club,” Sheridan explained.
“There were some good local players coming through and we had a good mixture of youth and experience and we won the CT Ball Division Two. It was a long time coming.”
It was the club’s first league title and they were delighted with their success. McLaughlin stepped down, but Curran stayed in the dugout and his ambition kept the club moving forward.
“We lost a few fellas after that to emigration, but ‘Burger’ (Patrick Patton) came back from Fanad United and we started to get a few others on board. We won the First Division as well, and we wanted to keep building.”
“We did that and won the Brian McCormick Cup last year. ‘Mush’ (Curran) decided to step down, and the club approached a few people but nobody was interested.
“Myself and ‘Burger’ took it on, because we wanted to keep the momentum going and win the league. We brought in a few experienced players like Kieran Gorman and Glenn Bovaird, and everything started to come together.”
Rathmullan enjoyed an excellent season and led the way from early on. They stumbled slightly in the run-in, but regained their focus to leave themselves in contention heading into the final round of fixtures.
“I was fairly confident we would win, and we deserved it on the day. We played some good football on a bumpy pitch, and although our first goal was a bit fortunate, we were full value for the win.
“I had to come off injured and I was standing on the sideline and someone was on the phone keeping tabs on what was happening in the Kilmacrennan game.
“The final whistle in that game went a few seconds after ours, and the next couple of minutes were just mad. We couldn’t believe we were champions.”
The Rathmullan players and their large contingent of travelling supporters made their way back to the seaside, but not without a quick stop to thank their neighbours.
“We stopped in Nora’s in Kilmacrennan on the way home and we met a few of their players and thanked them.
“When we got back to Rathmullan we got a great reception. There was a big crowd in all different parts of the town and it was great to see people come out to welcome us back.
“In fairness, some of the Lifford players hung around in Rathmullan after their game to welcome us back, but we were a bit late and we missed them.
“That was a really classy gesture from them and we really appreciated that.”
Although it took a dramatic final day for them to clinch the title, few could argue that the Hoops are not worthy champions. They scored the most goals in the league and won the most matches.
“As many people have said the table doesn’t lie, and we finished top. Obviously every game was important, but there was a couple of really important results away in Donegal Town and at home to Milford which kept us going.
“We got a draw in the last minute against Gweedore at home too and that point was crucial as well.”
The celebrations went on long into the night, and the players and supporters kept their party hats on for Monday as well, as they basked in the club’s glory.
Eamonn Sheridan has decided to hang up the boots, and a number of other players including the joint player-manager himself, may yet join him in retirement.
If they do go out, they will have done so in style after helping Rathmullan Celtic to their greatest ever triumph.
Rathmullan Celtic’s history-makers: Ian Strain, David Miller, Patrick Patton, Kieran Gorman, Shea Coyle, Christopher Barrett, Paddy Sheridan, Eoin Sheridan, Eamonn Sheirdan, Glenn Bovaird, Dara Patton, Ryan Connolly, Niall Doherty, Kevin McCarry, Aaron McClafferty, Patrick Sheridan, Oisin McMenamin, Eric Roberts, Kevin Doran, Barry Mooney, Cormac Friel, Barney Patton, Ryan McCleary, Mark Walshe.
Rathmullan Celtic are preparing to take on Ballybofey United this Sunday for a chance to get their hands on...