GAA Football

Dungannon Clarke's aiming to take Tyrone SFC throne from Trillick

The joyous celebrations as Dungannon Clarke's reached their first Tyrone SFC Final for 34 years.
Picture from @DgnClarkeGFC

LCC Group Tyrone SFC Final: Trillick St Macartan's v Dungannon Thomas Clarke's (Healy Park, 5.30pm tomorrow)

Chris Rafferty has the honour of a third of a page dedicated to him in Dungannon Clarke's centenary history book.

If the town team takes the O'Neill Cup home from Omagh tomorrow evening, the manager might see that expanded in any future editions – to half a page.

Well, it is the Clarke's, after all.

Triumphing this season would undoubtedly be remarkable but Dungannon is a sleeping giant which once bestrode the Tyrone GAA landscape like the legendary Finn McCool, so the current players are following in huge footsteps.

Ten-time senior football champions (albeit the first won by an earlier club in the town, Craobh Ruadh), only Carrickmore are above them on the Tyrone roll of honour.

Still, win or lose, this season merits a chapter all of its own.

Of course, opponents Trillick are out to cement their own place in history, aiming to become the first club to retain the trophy since – who else? – Carrickmore in 2005.

The Reds are the first holders to make it back to the final stage since Dromore in 2008, another indication of the cut-throat nature of this championship.

That Nigel Seaney's side have defended their crown so far is not a great surprise.

Dungannon standing in their way is a serious shock though.

The Clarke's were given a decent chance of winning their first round tie, against Loughmacrory, but after that few would have expected them to progress any further.

Even then, the green and saffrons had to go to extra time to get through, albeit by 10 points in the end.

Five points down early on against Ardboe, a stunning Paul Donaghy point kept them alive, and they edged to victory in extra time.

Then came that epic semi-final, live on RTE, against Errigal Ciaran. Three points down late in normal time, and again down three in extra time, Dungannon dug deep and corner-back Ciaran Barker's '45' went over off the upright to spark scenes of delirium.

Back in the senior final after 34 years – to meet the same opponents who beat them back then, after a replay.

Despite all Dungannon's drama, Trillick have travelled a tougher road to get here.

They had their own thriller in this year's quarter-finals, beating Killyclogher in a penalty shoot-out following a terrific 1-16 to 2-13 draw after extra time. Before that they'd beaten last year's Intermediate champs, Galbally, by five points, and then were four points better than Coalisland in the semi-final.

Trillick's status as favourites is well-founded. Alongside county captain Mattie Donnelly is his versatile brother Richie, and the abilities of the Brennans, Ruairi and Lee, have also regularly graced the county colours.

Talent runs through this Trillick team – from Ruairi Kelly at full-back, Liam Gray at midfield to the Garritys at corner-forward, James and Simon. The Dungannon defence can't keep conceding goals and hope to win.

The Clarke's have no current county players, at least not seniors, although deadeye Donaghy's accuracy from play and from frees (tallying an amazing 31 points so far) will surely be noticed, while Paudie McNulty had stepped away from the senior scene.

Although there are plenty of their underage stars from the past decade involved, including Ryan and Dalaigh Jones, grandsons of the great Iggy, Chris Raff has also astutely brought older heads Patrick Quinn and Kiefer Morgan off the bench to lift his team in the closing stages of normal time, as they did with scores against Errigal.

Three times Dungannon have had to equalise to force extra time. Three times they've gone on to win the tie.

A physically imposing side, their mental strength is evident too.

If the Clarke's require any more inspiration, they need only look at the men in red, who won the O'Neill Cup first clip on their return to senior football in 2015.

If Trillick need any warning against complacency, they just have to recall their shock loss in the 2014 Intermediate Final – against the Clarke's, who stunned them by 4-11 to 0-14.

Although it's a scarcely credible 64 years since Dungannon last won Tyrone, it was only a quarter of a century ago that Carmen even drew level with the Clarke's at the top of the Tyrone tree – and then overtook them the next year.

Trillick will be expected to join Dungannon and Coalisland on 10 titles, extending the Reds' fabulous record in senior deciders – they've only lost once, in 1987, against Ardboe.

Yet in this classic clash of east v west, nothing is written yet. Bertie and Joe Foley may have another tune of glory for their magnum opus.

Trillick should have too much, but maybe nothing is beyond this Clarke's team. They might yet become the first club to collect the Tyrone championship without winning a match in normal time.

Perhaps 'the new normal' will be a return of the old kings to the throne in Tyrone…


Paths to the final:

Trillick St McCartan's:

First round: Trillick 1-9 Galbally 0-7

Quarter-final: Trillick 1-16 Killyclogher 2-13 (aet) (Trillick win 4-3 on penalties)

Semi-final: Trillick 2-13 Coalisland 1-12


Dungannon Clarke's:

First round: Dungannon 2-23 Loughmacrory 2-13 (aet)

Quarter-final: Dungannon 1-23 Ardboe 2-15 (aet)

Semi-final: Dungannon 0-19 Errigal Ciaran 2-12 (aet)

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