Trillick will win enough battles to claim the war
LCC Tyrone SFC final: Errigal Ciaran v Trillick (tomorrow, 4pm, Healy Park)
IT'S hard to think of a more foolish venture on this earth than trying to predict the winner of a Tyrone championship final.
There have only been three replayed deciders since the turn of the century and yet 15 times in total, there's been less than a kick of a ball between winners and losers.
Sunday looks set to be no exception. With smart planning ensuring they avoided a clash with the neighbouring Derry, Armagh and Donegal finals, there's a chance that the neutral interest could see the crowd in Omagh swell close to 10,000.
It's rare that the final pairing would match-up with the pre-championship thinking but having avoided each other, Trillick and Errigal Ciaran have taken contrasting paths.
If you're studying the form, it has to be Trillick. Ever since they annihilated Dromore, beating them by 17 points in the first round, they've been the best side in it.
Their quarter-final win over Clonoe was the more understated of the three games to date, but impressive in its own way as Damien Kelly's goal helped settle them into a strong second-half display.
That's been a feature of their run. Against the ‘Island, they looked in bother at half-time. They'd played with a stiff wind and trailed the champions by 0-9 to 0-7.
But when they cut free of playing a sweeper and started to run at the men in blue, their quality began to shine through.
It's a quality that's easy to recognise and hard to stop. Trillick do what they do, and they make you adapt to them.
Nigel Seaney's starting 15 has been the same for all three games so far. It's highly unlikely to show any change tomorrow. Errigal Ciaran can study it and know what their opponents will do, but the question is whether they can do enough to stunt it.
A championship is starting to feel overdue around Ballygawley. A large part of that comes from their league form over the last two seasons in particular.
The 2017 final, in which they were surprisingly turned over by Omagh, was the first for a lot of their team. But tomorrow will be no different. Their depth of resource is something that no other club in Tyrone can really match.
While Trillick's has been an ultra-settled team, Errigal have had to cope with more injuries than probably anyone else could have and still reached a final.
They're sweating on Aidan McCrory and Ronan McRory, whose experience alone fulfils a vital role for Pascal Canavan.
They both missed the semi-final, as did Padraig McGirr. If fit, as all three stand a chance of being, they could conceivably all come back in.
Sean McKenna misses out after suffering a torn cruciate in the first round win over Eglish, while suggestions that Darragh Canavan picked up a knock against rivals Carrickmore the last day have been downplayed.
Trillick are unlikely to spend all that much time trying to second guess the Errigal line-up. They're almost certain to send Rory Brennan straight on to Tyrone team-mate Peter Harte, while Damien Kelly is likely to pick up Darragh Canavan.
They will be concerned by the aerial threat posed by youngster Odhran Robinson, as well as Joe Oguz, who's been a very useful man off the bench on the edge of the square this year.
Errigal's match-ups will depend on their injury situation. Aidan McCrory is still their go-to man for big duels and will be on Mattie Donnelly, provided that he's close enough to full fitness for that task.
Ciaran Quinn is an under-rated man-marker and looks like a match for Lee Brennan, with Cormac Quinn – excellent against Carrickmore coming out around the middle – will stay at home this time on livewire James Garrity.
Niall Kelly has been dropping off as their sweeper but they haven't had a settled midfield, and could well end up with Peter Harte and Eoin Kelly pairing up if they decide to give Ben McDonnell a man-marking job.
That versatility will keep Trillick guessing and could well be something that plays out as an advantage for Errigal.
Their league form has been brilliant, almost untouchable, in recent years. That speaks to their sheer depth, but it's a strength that is evened out when it comes to best 15 against best 15 in September and October.
They would have expected to get back over the line at some stage between 2012 and now.
Truth be told, Trillick came of age in 2015 before they were meant to. They were only just up from intermediate and while there was the sense that it was an upward curve that would someday lead them back to the O'Neill Cup, it all happened out of the blue.
They subsequently lost semi-finals to Ardboe and Omagh, in both of which they surrendered winning positions.
After their brilliant semi-final win over champions Coalisland two weeks ago, their manager Nigel Seaney suggested that a few of their 20-somethings they had to get the university years out of the way before they'd be ready to climb the Healy Park steps again.
Trillick have the most star-studded team in the county, between the Donnellys and Brennans and Kellys and Gallaghers and Garritys.
But their vulnerability could be in their self-confidence. They'll do what they'll do. And as much as tactics will come into it, Errigal will live or die on whether they can get enough out of Peter Harte and Darragh Canavan, and whether they can stunt the two Donnellys and Lee Brennan.
They'll win a couple of the battles at least, but it's just hard to see them winning the war. Trillick by two.