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Colm Cavanagh: Drama and excitement of the Tyrone championship unrivalled

Coalisland players celebrate at the final whistle after their Tyrone SFC semi-final win over Errigal Ciaran at Pomeroy Picture: Seamus Loughran.
COLM CAVANAGH

Where else would you get it? The intensity, the skill, the drama, the shocks, the excitement, simply the best there is. We just had a weekend of results that no-one anticipated I’ll be completely honest and say that I don’t think anyone would have had expected the Tyrone final to be between Coalisland and Dromore if they had been asked any time over the past few weeks. That’s the beauty and appeal of football in Tyrone, we should know by now to expect the unexpected but every year we have a surprise. It was mentioned to me over the weekend that there have been eight different winners of the O’Neill Cup within the last 10 years, an incredible statistic.

What always surprises me about Tyrone football is that league form has absolutely no bearing when it comes to championship competition. The championship is just a different animal and we see teams coming up with results that have absolutely no reflection on their recent form. We only have to look back at Dungannon last year.

This year, Coalisland haven’t been having the best league campaign, the Moy actually beat them only a few weeks ago and they are currently sitting 13th in the table (a lucky number for them perhaps). I don’t think that will be bothering them too much this week though, they have much bigger fish to fry now. They have come through tough games and looked to be in trouble in a few matches, particularly against Edendork and again against Carrickmore but they have proven themselves to be the masters of not giving up, of playing to the final whistle and of always, always believing that anything is possible. That is an attitude that cannot be taught or coached at any level, it is a self-belief and a team belief that is infectious through every man on the squad and it can only be admired and applauded.

Dromore’s victory over Trillick was another shock, going against the bookies' predictions, but all the same was the perfect demonstration of character and resilience. The thing about this game was that Dromore are above Trillick in the League and have been having some really impressive games but yet it was expected that Trillick would come out on top, maybe last year’s championship had a bearing on that thinking.

Dromore’s games in the championship have similar traits to Coalisland’s - looking like the game is all but over before coming from behind, scoring when it really matters and just not giving up.

The one comparative I can take from both of these teams is that they are just that, a team. They simply don’t know when they are beaten and will still keep going to the final whistle. Those lads are out there playing for their families and their friends, and they just aren’t taking no for an answer. We always try to look for the leader within a team, the instigator of change, the one who is driving the team on all the time. We look for team spirit and that bond within the squad but sometimes none of those things are obvious, sometimes you simply can’t put your finger on why things are going your way or how you have got to such a strong place mentally. It just clicks and it works.

It happened like that for us when the Moy won the All-Ireland intermediate (yes, I’ll keep bringing this up forevermore). We played nine games and only won three of them by more than three points.

We had three one-point victories in that series, and a serious amount of luck along the way. That said, it was the collective attitude and determination we had as a team that got us over the line in every one of those games.

We were a team not going well, seventh in Division Two and in a bad run of form but something just set us off and we never looked back. You would never know, it could be Moortown’s turn this year, stranger things have happened.

I would compare Coalisland’s run in the championship to those games of the Moy - goals win games and Coalisland have shown that they can find the net when they really need to and when it is least expected. I did find myself questioning how Errigal Ciaran lost that game, did they switch off? Was it luck? Was it Coalisland’s mental toughness to keep going to the end? Who knows, but that’s the beauty of football and of sport in general, you are always told to play to the end as you don’t know what could happen, it's not over until it’s over.

The question now is who takes home the O’Neill Cup? Another new name on the trophy and a result which will no doubt tear up the form book once again. I’ll get splinters from sitting on the fence but it’s simply impossible to call. If we go on form and league position it has to be Dromore but if we go on results and 'the rub of the green' then it's Coalisland’s name going on the cup. The only thing I can say is that it will be a display of skill, of determination and of teamwork that is unrivalled throughout Ireland, and I for one can’t wait to see it.

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