A SEASON that started with a painful Rodney Parade exit will end with a long-awaited promotion party for Newport County AFC legend Padraig Amond.

In August the 34-year-old didn’t know what was next after being told that, after four seasons, more than 206 appearances and 59 goals, he was no longer part of the Exiles’ plans.

Up stepped the Grecians in what appeared to risk being a loan move from hell, one destined to finish with tears at Wembley.

Exeter were play-off final losers in 2017, 2018 and 2020, Amond suffered controversial defeats in 2019 and 2021.

Yet on Tuesday night there were celebrations in Devon as the club fought back to beat Barrow 2-1 and end a decade in the fourth tier.

It is a tale of resilience, both by the Grecians and Amond.

South Wales Argus: LETHAL: Padraig Amond scoring against Manchester City in the FA CupLETHAL: Padraig Amond scoring against Manchester City in the FA Cup

“A week before the start of the season I was told from a number of places that I wasn’t wanted at Newport,” said the striker, who was top scorer in every campaign in amber.

“I didn’t know where I would end up, I am just so pleased that it was Exeter.

“At the time things felt very raw about how it happened. I was disappointed, especially being told that late in pre-season, but that’s football and you have to get on with it.

“Maybe things happen for a reason and I was meant to go to Exeter. I am delighted it has panned out this way and things have worked out well for me in the end – I’ve got a promotion after all those years of heartache.”

After falling short before, it was understandably nervy at St James Park.

Exeter trailed to an early goal, levelled before the break but look destined to share the spoils until Matt Jay struck with 12 minutes to go.

“It beats messing about in the play-offs! The club fully deserve it after a lot of heartache in the last five years,” said Amond.

“It was just unbelievable but I’m not going to lie, it was a nerve-racking night.

“It didn’t start off fantastically and you are just thinking ‘oh no, not this way’ when a draw would have left us needing a point from two games, with Northampton and Port Vale to come, two teams just behind us.

“The place was sold out and all I was thinking was that we didn’t need two nervous last games.”

The nerves were settled by Jay but it was almost Amond who was given the role of hunting a dramatic winner.

“The way that we did it was fitting with ‘MJ’ getting the winning goal. I spoke to him before the game and said that between us we had lost the last five play-off finals. Pierce Sweeney the same,” said the loanee.

“The gaffer made one of the best decisions he’ll probably ever make in his career! MJ was about to come off and I was about to come on.

“There was a throw-in and he said to be to give it 10 seconds and wait until after that, then he scored and I was back down.”

Exeter steadily climbed the table after a slow start and have lost just three games (all away to teams chasing the play-offs) since the turn of the year, when they were eighth.

“We played Barrow in August and hadn’t scored. It was 0-0 and there was doom and gloom from outside the dressing room,” said Amond.

“Inside it, we fully believed in ourselves and were waiting for things to click. We went on a near 20-game unbeaten run not long after that, Covid around Christmas time unsettled us a little bit but then we went on another run, then another.

“We have put together a few runs where we have picked up points and churned out wins. At one stage we were a long way off Forest Green without a chance of catching them but we have just kept our heads down.

“We have kept going and going and going to put ourselves in a position where first and foremost we have got promoted and now we have an opportunity, albeit an outside chance, to win the league.

“It’s brilliant achievement by the players, staff and club as a whole."

South Wales Argus: Padraig Amond in action for ExeterPadraig Amond in action for Exeter

Amond has made 25 appearances but just eight of them have been starts and he has totted up just 914 minutes.

However, the striker knew what he was signing up for when Matt Taylor came calling and has enjoyed seeing others develop, almost as much as he loved slotting the crucial last-gasp winner at Carlisle off the bench on April 9.

“It’s a completely different role and one that I have been pleased to have, helping the younger players along,” said Amond.

“The gaffer spoke to me and another player a few weeks ago to tell us how important we could be in the run-in with our experience to go along with the youthful exuberance and fearlessness of the younger lads.

“On Tuesday night I tried to explain to them to enjoy it all because things like this don’t happen every year.

“I won the league with Shamrock Rovers in my first year and thought that trophies would come all the time but I didn’t get promoted for another 10 or 11 years.

“This is Jonathan Grounds’ first promotion at 34 while Cheick Diabate made his debut at Sutton on New Year’s Day, has been a first team player for four months and has a promotion on his CV.

“It’s about enjoying it and I have loved this season. I’ve loved travelling in every day for training from Newport, there has never once been a day where it has felt like a chore.

“Even when there were just five of us training over Christmas because of Covid the sessions were enjoyable. I’ve learnt from the manager, from the staff, from the players. I have loved every minute of it.”

South Wales Argus: County legend Padraig AmondCounty legend Padraig Amond

Amond’s County contract expires this summer, so what next?

“Northampton on Saturday! I’ve no idea what is next, I haven’t a clue,” he said. “I’m not even thinking about it because the season is not done yet and I don’t know what is around the corner.

“The next two weeks is just about enjoying it because football is a rollercoaster.

“I don’t know what will happen, I am just enjoying it now and spending time with this special group of players, staff and people at the club, and it’s rare you get that in football.

“We’ll see what happens after we have tried to win the league, when that is finished we will sit down and have a conversation.

“You don’t know what can happen because things can change quickly in football, as I only know too well.”

Amond is thinking of just two more games and then a summer holiday, carefree about events at Wembley on Saturday, May 28.