Conan Grugan feared 2016 repeat as Omagh held on to take Tyrone title
STANDING on the goal line, one of 13 Omagh bodies staring at the ball in Peter Harte’s hands, painful memories of O’Neill Park flashed through Conan Grugan’s head.
It was at the Dungannon ground 13 months ago where Danny McNulty’s late, late goal with the last kick of the game sent the St Enda’s crashing out of the Tyrone championship at the hands of Clonoe.
A bitter pill to swallow, only a repeat occurrence in a county final would be a tougher dose to take. Yet here they stood, two points ahead in a dour game where they had been the better team, determined to make sure history didn’t repeat itself.
“Last year against Clonoe they got a last minute goal, and that was going through my head in the last 30 seconds or so. You’re sort of hoping it’s not déjà vu here,” said the towering forward.
Four minutes into added time, and with the chance to snatch an unlikely victory for Errigal Ciaran, Harte struck the ball sweetly and accurately from 14 yards.
But this time Omagh weren’t to be denied, Cormac O’Neill getting fingertips on leather to send the ball out of play and kick-start the party at Healy Park.
“We had nearly every man on the line and thankfully we blocked it out,” added Grugan.
“Every game you play, whatever opposition you play in the championship, you know it’s going to come down to the last five minutes. Every game you get in Tyrone, you have to grind it out, and it was the exact same there today.
“I’d say it probably wasn’t too pretty to watch at times, especially the second half, but you get that in finals. The final against Carrickmore three years ago was similar, but we dug it out in the end and that’s all that matters.”
Lady luck was smiling down on Omagh earlier in the game too when Harte missed a penalty towards the end of the first half.
Had the ball nestled in the net instead, it could have had a huge bearing on such a tight, dogged affair, and Grugan admits he didn’t expect anything other than an Errigal goal when he saw Harte starting over the kick.
“I’ve known Petey since primary school and every penalty I’ve seen him hit, he’s put it in the back of the net so I was very surprised when he missed it.
“You need that wee bit of luck and we got it there today.”
Sunday’s victory sets up an Ulster quarter-final clash with Slaughtneil, and a chance for Omagh to avenge their 2014 provincial final defeat to the Emmet’s.
That day they were denied by an added time point from Slaughtneil’s Christopher Bradley but, having waited for their chance to get back into the Ulster Club, Grugan insists they are determined to grab the opportunity with both hands.
“It means the world [to win today],” he added.
“For a few years there I was sort of thinking ‘will we ever get back to where we were in 2014?’ But you just have to be patient, and you need a wee bit of luck along the way.
“I suppose we left it behind us a bit in 2014, but then you’re maybe thinking you’ll get back the year after or the year after that. Slaughtneil have been the benchmark the last three years, so we have a lot of work to do.
“The 15 boys who started there today, the majority of them were playing in 2014. We were a young team back them but I think we’re a wee bit more mature now, and we realise you need to take these chances.
“We’ll enjoy the next few days but come Wednesday night we’ll get back to training, we’ve a lot of work to do for one of the best teams in Ireland.”