Coalisland manager John McKeever tips Pádraig Hampsey for future greatness

Pádraig Hampsey and Danny McNulty fought out a ferocious battle over two games  
Pádraig Hampsey and Danny McNulty fought out a ferocious battle over two games   Pádraig Hampsey and Danny McNulty fought out a ferocious battle over two games  

COALISLAND manager John McKeever has tipped Pádraig Hampsey to become one of Tyrone’s key players in the years ahead.

The 22-year-old defender was his side’s star performer in the two-game Donnelly Vauxhall SFC semi-final saga against Clonoe, snuffing out the threat of Danny McNulty. McNulty had gone into the derby tie as the most feared attacker in the county, having stunned Omagh and Carrickmore with late goals in previous rounds.

But against Hampsey, he managed just one point from play over the two games, as Coalisland ran out 0-14 to 0-8 replay winners: “Pádraig Hampsey is an excellent footballer. You saw him with the Tyrone U21s last year and he continues to do well for us. That can only be a plus for Tyrone at senior level,” said McKeever.

Both players were team-mates on Tyrone’s All-Ireland U21-winning side last year and Hampsey’s experience of marking his Clonoe opponent in training provided him with valuable insights which he was able to use in a terrific personal duel at O’Neill Park last Sunday.

“Danny McNulty, I had him through school, he’s a tough, tough player, he’s an excellent target man and I felt that the neutrals that came to the game were delighted to pay in to see that tussle between the two of them, two weeks in-a-row,” said the Fianna boss, a teacher at Holy Trinity College in Cookstown.

“And fair play to the two of them, they were very respectful to each other, it was disciplined and it was tough.”

In his first year as Coalisland manager, McKeever has guided Coalisland to their first county final in six years. The former Antrim defender is no stranger to championship success in his adopted county, having led Cookstown to an All-Ireland IFC title in 2013.

This Sunday, however, he faces his most difficult test to date. Killyclogher are hurting from last year’s defeat in the championship decider and go into the game with serious levels of motivation: “We’re under no illusions, Killyclogher will be going into that game as strong favourites.

“We had been going in under the radar this last couple of weeks and that’s probably the way we wanted it. But full respect to Killyclogher. They got beat in last year’s final, they would have been disappointed to lose to a last-minute score for Trillick. In terms of the two McCanns and Mark Bradley and Dermot Carlin coming back into fitness again, they’re a strong outfit. But if we show the same heart when it comes down to a final, there’s absolutely nothing in it and the team that shows the most heart on the day, it could be the bounce of a ball that decides the game. We’re just delighted to be there.”

Killyclogher have had two weeks to prepare for the showpiece shoot-out, but McKeever feels his side has momentum on its side going into championship action for a fourth successive weekend. Crucially, the Fianna have suffered no injuries and approach Sunday’s Healy Park decider with a clean bill of health.

“We’re very lucky at the minute, we have a fully fit squad and that’s down to the training that Tommy Devlin and Conleith Gilligan are doing with the players and we can push on from that. We brought on five subs and it shows the quality of our bench, the competition for places that we have and long may it go on.”

McKeever is adamant no replay would have been required had his side not lost Peter Donnelly to a straight red card a week earlier. Playing for more than 50 minutes with 14 men, Coalisland matched their opponents in a 0-10 to 0-10 draw and the experienced Donnelly was available for the rematch after having his red card rescinded.

“We felt we could have produced that performance last week," he said. 

"To lose Peter Donnelly after 12 minutes... We had started well in the first five minutes, we were 5-1 up and to go down to 14 men was a tough ask. But the boys showed extreme character and pushed on last week and continued to push on this week. But there’s nothing won yet.”