Sinai Says: Not even Cinderella could have hoped for this

Its supporters and sports fans across the country had plenty of time to digest Kiryat Shmona’s incredible triumph.

Soccer player hitting ball with head 390 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Soccer player hitting ball with head 390
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
In a way, albeit a very small way, it is a shame for Ironi Kiryat Shmona that it dominated its Premier League opponents to such an extent that it clinched the championship five matches before the end of the 2011/12 season.
The fact the northerners built a double- digit lead at the top of the standings as early as January meant that its supporters and sports fans across the country had plenty of time to digest Kiryat Shmona’s incredible triumph, perhaps even taking for granted the unparalleled accomplishment.
So astonishing is the club’s success that it is difficult to even sift through all the details that have made this such a memorable feat.
Where do you start? Maybe with the fact that the club only came into existence in its current form in 2000, or possibly with the knowledge that this is only Kiryat Shmona’s fourth season in the top flight.
Perhaps the most amazing part of all is that Kiryat Shmona became the first real small club to win the championship since Bnei Yehuda in the 1989/90 campaign and the first team from outside of Israel’s big three cities, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, to lift the title since Maccabi Netanya did so 29 years ago.
The list goes on and on.
Anywhere you look, you will find another reason why Kiryat Shmona’s achievement is unlike any other in the history of Israeli soccer.
“I’m stunned. We have completed an amazing course,” said Kiryat Shmona coach Ran Ben-Shimon after his team clinched the championship with a 0-0 draw against Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday night.
“This season was a collection of amazing moments. We progressed with every week and every match was special in its own way.”
It is easy to forget now, but Kiryat Shmona got the season off to a disappointing start.
One of the surprises of last season, Kiryat Shmona’s biggest concern ahead of the start of the current campaign was to avoid the second-season syndrome.
After finishing their first ever campaign in the top flight in third place in 2007/08, the northerners were disappointingly relegated the following year.
They bounced right back and finished last season in fifth place as well as claiming the Toto Cup, their first ever title.
Kiryat Shmona would have been more than happy to emulate last term’s success in 2011/12, but it had real reason for concern when it found itself in 11th place after winning just one of its first six matches of the season.
However, everything began to fall into place in October, with the team winning 11 of its next 12 matches, including over all the traditional big four, Maccabi Haifa, Betar Jerusalem, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv, who hoarded all but two championships over the past 28 years.
With the pre-season favorites falling by the wayside, Kiryat Shmona surged into the distance, opening a 14-point gap at the top by the time its 25-match unbeaten streak was snapped by Betar Jerusalem last month.
By clinching the championship five matches before the end of the season, the northerners have equaled the league record and should they increase the 16- point lead they hold at the moment by the end of the season they will better the record for the largest margin ever between first and second place.
When Kiryat Shmona first achieved promotion five seasons ago owner Izzy Sheratzky said that within 10 years the team will win the league title and play in the Champions League.
He has amazingly lived up to his promise in half the time he predicted and is already plotting future success.
“It will be difficult to win the championship two years in a row, but I’m certain we will finish in the top three next season,” said Sheratzky, who decided to spend millions of shekels a year on Kiryat Shmona’s soccer club simply because he was looking for more ways to help a beleaguered region of the country.
“This wasn’t a one-off. We will win the title again over the next four years.
“The biggest accomplishment for me is that there were more media representatives in this match than there were in the city during the second Lebanon war.
We have turned Kiryat Shmona into a happy city and that says it all.”
While a clash of egos between Sheratzky and Ben-Shimon means the coach will be leaving at the end of the campaign, the owner has almost all his stars under contract at least through next season.
Gili Landau will be announced as the new coach once the season ends, and although he has never succeeded at the very top, the owner is confident he has made the right choice, just as he did when he unearthed Ben-Shimon.
Kiryat Shmona became the 13th club to win the Israeli championship, but only eight teams have lifted more than one league title.
That is Kiryat Shmona’s next goal, together with reaching the Champions League group stage.
Should it manage to do so, the club from Israel’s northern-most city with a population of 23,000 will be one of the smallest ever to play in European soccer’s most prestigious competition.
There is a reason clubs like Kiryat Shmona don’t win championships, which is why despite all that has transpired over recent months, similar success seems unlikely.
But there will be plenty of time to ponder the inevitable future troubles.
Now is the time to celebrate the most uplifting story in Israeli soccer in recent memory.
No matter what happens from here out, the fantastic memories created by Kiryat Shmona this season will last a lifetime, and that is priceless.
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