Too close to call as Omagh and Errigal Ciaran clash for Tyrone title
The first ever Tyrone SFC final between Omagh and Errigal Ciaran provides a fitting climax to what has been a thrilling championship series tomorrow at Healy Park (4pm)
A fascinating clash of an experienced St Enda’s side against an Errigal outfit sprinkled with exciting youngsters is just about as predictable as any of the many close, exciting and surprising ties played out over the past month or so.
Typically, the Tyrone championship has been fiercely competitive once again this year, with seven different champions in the past seven seasons.
And the teams who eventually made it through to the decider have been stretched to the limit along the way.
Omagh endured some testing moments in their ties against Ardboe and Trillick, while Errigal had to dig deep to get the better of Carrickmore and giant-killers Pomeroy.
Games like those have provided essential grounding for what looks like being another finely balanced contest in pursuit of the O’Neill Cup.
Omagh, seeking their second title in four seasons and their ninth in total, are arguably stronger than they were in their triumphant 2014 season.
Midfield pair Conor Clarke and Micheal Gallagher, who missed that campaign through injury and work commitments respectively, are back to form an effective central partnership, adding a new dimension to Paddy Crozier’s side.
At the back they’re solid, with the experienced Joe McMahon providing leadership for the likes of young corner back Gregory Murray, who has had a fine debut season.
Barry Tierney and Justin McMahon add further quality to the defence, with Conor Meyler dropping back to provide extra cover. He could be detailed to shadow his Tyrone colleague Peter Harte, the man that makes Errigal tick.
Ronan O’Neill and the in-form Connor O’Donnell give Omagh a cutting edge and finishing power up front, and Errigal full-back Aidan McCrory is likely to be handed a man-marking job on O’Donnell, who has been prolific right through the championship.
Errigal Ciaran skipper Cathal McRory, Michael McRory and Mark Kavanagh also perform important defensive roles, with the latter always looking for opportunities to get forward.
Former Tyrone defender Davy Harte, now a dangerous full-forward, is a reliable source of scores from frees and play, and along with Peter Harte, will look to bring Padraig McGirr and Pauric McAnenly into the game.
Errigal haven’t been back to a final since the last of their seven championship triumphs in 2012, but former Derry boss Crozier, back for a second stint with Omagh, feels they are always a threat.
“Everybody knows Errigal Ciaran and they haven’t gone away. They were in transition there for a couple of years, but they’re back with a bang,” he said.
“They’re a formidable outfit, and we don’t underestimate the task in front of us.”
Crozier feels he has unfinished business to complete, having tasted defeat in a couple of semi-finals in his previous spell in charge.
“I came here in 2010, it was a very young squad, there was about five of those fellows that are playing on the senior team and I think they were still minors – Stevie Mullan, Barry Tierney, Ronan O’Neill and Conan Grugan.
“We finished in the semi-final in 2010 and the same in 2011, but I felt I could possibly bring them across the line, so you could say it’s unfinished business.”
And he praised the dedication of his players as they dedicated themselves to a major challenge for the title this year.
“It seems an eternity since we started back in February, but the work that has been going on, they never stop, this bunch of players, they’re near enough professional gaelic players.”
Errigal Ciaran boss Pascal Canavan is hoping his mix of youth and experience can find the winning blend on the big day
“There’s a lot of fellows who came through from the U21s at the start of the year, boys that were involved with the county U21s last year, so they’re all coming through and they’re certainly adding to it, and that’s all part of the enjoyment, part of the mix,” he said.
“The boys worked very hard, training-wise, and things seemed to gel a wee bit better this year, and they all seem to be enjoying it, and buying in to what’s going on. They’re pushing each other on, and hopefully they’ll keep that going.
“There are boys who put in a serious effort not just this last two years, but this last ten years. They mightn’t have too much to show for it, but they’re a very dedicated bunch, and very committed, and it’s great for them.”
It’s too close to call, and like last year’s decider, a replay may be required to produce an O’Neill Cup winner for 2017.