Coalisland recover from relegation threat to reach Tyrone SFC Final
THE unthinkable prospect of relegation hung over Fr Peter Campbell Park as successive League defeats pushed Coalisland towards the lower reaches of the Division One table.
With expectations low and morale dipping, a proud club appeared to be lost in a season to forget, perhaps to deeply regret.
The Championship brought more gloom, and the mood darkened as underdogs Edendork surged into an eight points lead at Galbally.
The exit door lay wide open, but suddenly, that famous Fianna spirit reawakened, and two last gasp goals fashioned a remarkable victory.
Comeback wins over Carrickmore and Errigal Ciaran – with more late goals – added further drama to a story of renewal and resurgence, with a final chapter to be written in Sunday's Tyrone SFC decider against Dromore.
"The League campaign certainly didn't go the way that we had hoped it would go. Our ultimate aim in the League was to blend these younger players into the team, into the squad," said Coalisland manager Brian McGuckin.
"We had numerous injuries during the League, and obviously we were without our county men.
"We now pretty much have a full bill of health.
"But one thing that we were in every game was competitive.
"So I was content enough with where we were, knowing that we had injured players to come back, and obviously our county players to come into the fray.
"Obviously I hadn't planned for the way in which our Championship games have panned out, but our aim was to win a Championship, like many other clubs, and we're just delighted to be where we are now."
One of the county's most talented attackers, Tiarnan Quinn, was among those whose season has been badly impacted by injury.
But he's on the way back, and came off the bench to hit vital scores in the last two games.
"A big question mark was over Tiarnan Quinn over the last number of weeks, that's why we have only been using him sporadically, but these two weeks will be a great opportunity for Tiarnan to get up to speed for the Championship final.
"Tiarnan has been injured all year and we have been very unfortunate not to have had his services, but thankfully he's starting to become injury-free, and he now has the chance to get the training in and get prepared for this final."
County final opponents Dromore have a similar instinct for survival, with two of their games going to extra-time, before they came from behind to defeat title favourites Trillick in the semi-final.
"I have followed Dromore through their championship campaign, and they have been extremely impressive," said McGuckin.
"They're similar to ourselves in that they finish games out very strongly, and I know that in order for Coalisland to come out on the right side of the result, they're going to have to play to their very best."
And if Sunday's decider is, as expected, hanging in the balance going into the closing stages, expect some proven match-winners to be sprung from the bench.
"It's something that I have been preaching to them all year, that it's a 20-man game. We're very fortunate to have the players who can come off the bench and make a major impact. That has happened to date, and I have no doubt that we will be calling on our bench," the Coalisland boss said.