GAA Football

Dungannon hero Ciaran Barker inspired by Cian Corrigan's memory

Dungannon Clarke's Ciaran Barker (left) with team-mate Mark McKearney.
Picture Seamus Loughran 

THE pitch named as a consequence of one family's nightmare inspired Dungannon Clarke's to turn Healy Park into their field of dreams on Sunday night.

Ciaran Barker, as he prepared to score the penalty which won the shoot-out against champions Trillick, thought of young club-mate Cian Corrigan, who had passed away in May 2009.

Having failed to convert his effort in the first round of spot-kicks, skying it over the bar, Barker admitted that he needed something to settle himself, and win the Tyrone SFC for the Clarke's for the first time since 1956:

"After I missed the first one I thought my head was sort of away. The other boys hitting penalties managed to compose me.

"The only thought going through my head was – there was a young fella, he was 11 years of age when he died, he was a year below me, I used to play football with him and he was best friends with Connor McKee [another Clarke's penalty-taker].

"His name was Cian Corrigan and his family, [brother] Shane and [dad] Jarlath – what that family went through, no family should have to go through.

"He was in my head, 'Give me a hand here'. I'm not an accomplished penalty-taker so it was 'Do your best'.

"Our top pitch is called Cian's Field, we train there every weekend, that was all going through my head."

Barker was again the headline-grabbing hero for dogged Dungannon, having converted the last-gasp '45' to win the semi-final in added time in extra time against Errigal Ciaran. He also scored a '45' and a late free during normal time in the final, but brushed off the plaudits, pointing to the team, indeed squad effort which won the O'Neill Cup for the Clarke's:

"It was one penalty – the work was put in by all the boys during the game, extra time, normal time, and throughout the Championship.

"I was thinking, hoping that we would do it in normal time. It went to extra time you just have to get on with it, that's the way it is.

"The work of the boys, they just didn't quit, they just didn't stop, didn't stop, didn't stop. We'll celebrate, and rightly so."

However, 23-year-old Barker admitted that he never expected to be crowned Tyrone champions – indeed he thought they were out in the first round:

"I didn't [think they'd be champions] – and the best of it is, Loughmacrory had us beat. We were two points down in injury time, they had us beat, I thought we were beat then.

"We came back – we just keep coming back and coming back."

Even amidst the euphoria of crazy celebrations Barker had the grace to offer sympathy to their defeated opponents, who came so close to being the first club to retain the Tyrone senior football championship for 15 years:

"Hard luck to Trillick because, at the end of the way, it was a draw. Penalties is no way to lose a Championship. That's the bottom line of it. They have a serious team, Championship winners last year, and probably didn't deserve to lose on penalties here, but that's the way it is at the minute."

The winning of the cup was the period after half-time, when the Clarke's came out and, astonishingly, turned a four-point deficit into a two-point lead, outscoring Trillick by 1-4 to 0-1 during that magical spell.

Dungannon had been largely dominated before the break, looking nervous and missing more than they scored, although Barker saw scenes of the upturn in fortunes that was to come, with the team talk largely about getting stuck in and keeping going:

"True [Trillick were on top], but I think we did weather the storm to a certain degree, because we weren't out of the game, and there was a slight wind going down [against us].

"But it was just 'Don't leave it behind you', that's all it was. We were sort of standing off them too much, the message was 'Get more aggressive' – and 'Don't leave it behind you, because you'll be remembered for the rest of your life'."

Ciaran Barker certainly will be, and the names of his playing colleagues will also be inscribed in the Clarke's annals, along with those of the 10 previous teams to take the Tyrone SFC trophy to the town.

"I remember we won an Intermediate Championship [also against Trillick, in 2014] but… you question if this day is ever going to come and then it does - it's beyond my wildest dreams and probably all the boys' too."

Having recovered to bring Loughmacrory to extra time in that first round encounter, Dungannon did likewise against Ardboe, and again against Errigal Ciaran in the semi-final.

And again against Trillick.

Barker feels that belief built up into an unstoppable force: "We did just gather momentum and gather momentum. I guess when you have it in the tank from previous days you can always go to it again, you've been there before. You have a bit of confidence in extra time that you can pull it back, even if you do go two or three points down."

Still, as he stood over penalty number 10 in the shoot-out, with a replay about to be announced, there were nerves aplenty, so to score was "Just relief, just complete relief."

The situation was even more nerve-wracking than his '45' against Errigal, as he explained: "The '45' was a free hit because it was different, we were going to penalties anyway [if it had been missed]. Obviously a '45' is a lot tougher kick than a penalty, to a certain extent.

"After I missed my first one I was hoping one of the other lads would win it but I came up thinking, 'Just put it in the target this time, don't mess around – hit the target at least. Don't put it over the bar'," he said with a laugh.

There'll have been plenty of laughter on Sunday night, yesterday morning, and in the days to come – but also some tears shed as the Clarke's remember Cian Corrigan and many others who missed their return to glory.

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