GAA Football

Coalisland Fianna gearing up for Crossmaglen clash

Coalisland Fianna's Patrick McNiece and Killyclogher St Mary's Gabhan Sludden in action in the Tyrone Senior Club final. Picture by Philip Walsh
Francis Mooney

The wheel has turned full circle for a Coalisland side that found itself facing into a crisis just a few months ago.

A season that looked to be heading for a relegation battle and championship failure took a dramatic twist, and once again the Fianna are champions of Tyrone.

The dynamic switched when a change in management resulted from a string of league defeats that had left the club floundering at the bottom of the Division One table.

Morale was low, but the return of Damian O'Hagan and Peter Herron to steady the ship made an immediate impact.

An unbeaten run through league and championship followed, and a tenth SFC triumph was secured with victory over Killyclogher in last Sunday's final.

“Our plan at the start of every year is to win the championship, but we found ourselves in a bit of a relegation battle after the first five league games,” said defender Niall Kerr.

“We just took things one game at a time after that, got points back and then decided to go for things in the championship.”

Kerr set up one of the second half goals that pushed the Fianna into a dominant position, and they closed the game out for a first title in eight years.

“This win has been a long time coming and we've been played in three finals since the last win in 2010. It's unbelievable to have finally got over the line again and I think if we'd lost again here we would have been set back again,” he said.

“2010 is eight years ago now, and this has been a long time coming. Two years ago against Killyclogher we felt that the game should have been won on the first day and then the second day we could have no complaints.

“At the age of 31, I was wondering would I ever get back to the County Final. To win this now, you'd nearly fire the boots over the wire at this stage.”

The battling spirit that had been missing in the early part of the season was revived as Coalisland battled through a series of tight championship ties, finishing strongly on each occasion.

It was only in Sunday's final that they enjoyed a comfortable margin of victory – 2-11 to 1-7 – having won two of their previous games by a single point, and the other by two points.

“We have been behind in every championship match so far this year and at half-time all the players knew that we'd come good. You need that wee bit of luck and thankfully it has come to us this year.

“This team always finishes strongly and that was how things worked out here again.

“At the start of the year we did six weeks of hard training and the fitness of this team was a big thing. We felt that we were capable of finishing strongly.”

Now the prospect of a run in the Ulster Club Championship is the next challenge for the Tyrone champions, and Kerr is relishing a first round clash with the mighty Crossmaglen on Saturday week.

“We've got Crossmaglen now in the Ulster Club, and they're a team that you always would love to play against.

“It will be nice and a great occasion. The pressure is off us now and we'll be able to go out and express ourselves.”

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