Grimsby Town had to be patient in their fight back to the EFL but, at the sixth time of asking, they won promotion and are now preparing for Season 2016/17 in Sky Bet League Two.The Mariners sealed their return with May's 3-1 Play-Off Final victory over Forest Green Rovers at Wembley, thanks to goals from Omar Bogle (2) and Nathan Arnold.
It was fourth time lucky in the Play-Offs for Town as they had lost in the semi-finals in 2012/13 and 2013/14 before a final defeat in 2014/15 at the hands of Bristol Rovers.
But all that pain was forgotten when Bogle and Arnold struck to send the Mariners back into the 72, where they spent 99 years prior to relegation in 2009/10.
The gaffer – Paul Hurst
Paul Hurst's kind are a dying breed. A one-club man during his playing days – barring a short loan stint at Burton in his final year – defender Hurst made nearly 500 appearances for Rotherham United in a 15-year career.
He moved into management as a joint-boss alongside Rob Scott, who he played with at Rotherham, first taking charge at Ilkeston Town, before moving to Boston United. They guided the Pilgrims to promotion and took over at Grimsby in March 2011.
Read more: Who's new? A look at Sky Bet League Two's newly-appointed managers
Hurst took sole charge of the Mariners when Scott departed in September 2013 and, with three heartbreaking Play-Off experiences behind him, made it fourth time lucky last term.
“It's a fantastic achievement,” Hurst told the club's official website after winning promotion.
“I don't want to take anything away from the support we get and various people but the biggest thing for me is the players. They're the ones that it's about – it's been a hard season for them and they've produced when it matters.
“I said if we got to Wembley then I thought we'd win internally – I said to one or two outsiders that if we were on the Wembley pitch then it will take a good team to beat us.”
Close-season activity – outs
No fewer than 18 members of Grimsby's promotion-winning squad have exited Blundell Park since their return to the EFL was confirmed.
The most significant of those is arguably striker Padraig Amond, who hit 30 goals last term to finish as the division's joint-top scorer. He has moved to Hartlepool United, along with defender Aristote Nsiala, who made almost 100 appearances in a black and white shirt.
Richard Tait and Jon Nolan are two other stars of last term to move on, to Motherwell and Chesterfield respectively, along with winger Arnold who scored the third goal under the arch.
⚫️⚪️🔴⚫️⚪️🔴 pic.twitter.com/88KRquVB1c— Nathan Arnold (@nathananthony10) June 21, 2016
Close-season activity – ins
Grimsby's stand-out signing this summer has to be the acquisition of the experienced Ben Davies, who joined after making 51 appearances for Portsmouth last year as they made the Sky Bet League Two Play-Offs.
Davies will give the Mariners much-needed EFL know-how, alongside the likes of fellow new signings James Berrett, Luke Summerfield, Sean McAllister and Ashley Chambers.
Read more: EFL – A selection of stand-out summer signings
Summerfield and Berrett both played for York City last term, while McAllister signed after making 89 appearances for Scunthorpe United since 2013. Chambers, meanwhile, played 39 times for Dagenham & Redbridge last term and has previously played for Grimsby, scoring two goals in four outings during a 2010 loan spell.
The best of the rest
Skipper Craig Disley was the first Grimsby player to sign new terms ahead of Season 2016/17 and he's no stranger to the EFL having previously played for Mansfield Town, Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury Town.
Speaking after penning his new contract, he said: “We've worked so hard to get where we are now, so once I was offered the opportunity to stay there was never any doubt.”
Read more: Grimsby Town – Dis is back!
Goalkeeper James McKeown has proved a vital asset to Grimsby on their journey back and he was another player to sign a fresh deal going into the new campaign. The former Peterborough United stopper has spent five seasons at Blundell Park, notching 225 league appearances, and is eager to take his chance back in the EFL.
“After the season, I wanted to take a bit of time to weigh up my options,” he said. “I always wanted to sign. A big thing for me was being back in the league.”
Read more: Grimsby Town – McKeown signs new deal
One Grimsby player to definitely look out for this season is striker Omar Bogle. The front man hit 29 goals for Solihull Moors in the National League North in 2014/15 to alert the Mariners to his talents, and they signed him on a three-year deal at the start of last term.
He played a pivotal role in their promotion, hitting 16 goals in a lethal partnership with Amond, and scored two vital goals in the promotion showdown. Now he has his EFL chance.
Follow the Mariners!
Grimsby Town start their Sky Bet League Two season at home to Morecambe on the opening weekend, on Saturday 6th August.
Read more: #FixtureReleaseDay – EFL Season 2016/17 fixtures announced