Tyrone decider could go the distance again as Coalisland and Dromore collide
LCC Group Tyrone SFC final: St Dympna’s, Dromore v Na Fianna, Coalisland (tomorrow, O’Neills Healy Park, 5.30pm)
MOMENTUM has been the buzz word around these parts all year. Less than a month before the first ball was thrown in on Gaelic football’s ultimate scramble to the summit, still the county basked in the warm afterglow of the most typically Tyrone of All-Ireland triumphs.
Written off after the collapse in Killarney, given little hope as the Kingdom returned to view, neither Kerry nor the Covid crisis that spread through the panel was capable of derailing the Red Hands’ men on a mission, momentum carrying them beyond Mayo to the ultimate prize.
If that spirit startled in summer, the onset of autumn has served only to enhance the appreciation of what it is that sets Tyrone apart. The calibre of footballer within the county has never been in question, but the same relentless, never-say-die approach has guaranteed edge of the seat action in almost every game.
None have showcased that better than Coalisland and Dromore - the two clubs who emerged battered, bruised yet unbroken to contest tomorrow evening’s decider in Omagh. And it would be a huge surprise if supporters are treated to anything other than one last cracker to sign off on the whole mad escapade.
So, who will win? Your guess is as good as anybody else’s. How could anybody possibly predict, with any degree of confidence, who will walk away with the O’Neill Cup after reflecting on the chaotic path that brought both to this stage?
Look back to the first weekend of games even, when Ardboe levelled up their preliminary round clash against Dromore with two minutes to go. In those moments, in a county where knockout is king, anything can happen.
But it was Colm McCullagh’s men who kept the dream alive for another day courtesy of late scores from Ronan McNabb and Colm O’Neill.
The next day, up against defending champions Dungannon – themselves crowned after an unforgettable rollercoaster ride – Dromore trailed 2-3 to 0-1 with eight minutes gone.
Taking on a side with such pace and attacking verve, it can be nigh on impossible to plug the dam. But they did. Tiernan Sludden’s goal in first half added time ignited the fightback, last year’s extra-time kings eventually succumbing as an absorbing contest slipped from their grasp.
The St Dympna’s found themselves in the same territory once the last eight rolled around, Eoin McCusker and Niall Sludden dragging them back from the brink against Eglish before finishing the job in extra-time again, while a see-saw semi-final had them seven up then five down before a first final appearance since 2012 was secured.
The route Coalisland took to Healy Park was no less potholed.
Behind by seven to Edendork in their first outing this year, two late goals saw them scrape through at the death. Against Carrickmore they were four down at half-time and had Paddy McNeice black-carded five minutes after the break.
However, a huge 10 minutes from the experienced Plunkett Kane provided the platform for another rescue mission, Cormac O’Hagan equalising before Tiernan Quinn fired Brian McGuckin’s men through to the semis.
The pick of the championship Houdini acts was yet to come, though.
With 10 minutes to play against Errigal Ciaran, Coalisland were gone. Seven points behind, down to 14 after the red card shown to Tyrone star Michael McKernan, soon made 13 when Peter Herron also walked.
Somehow they conjured three goals, but it wasn’t until a huge O’Hagan free sailed between the posts that the most remarkable of comebacks was complete.
Momentum will lie on both sides of the field in Omagh but, more importantly, so does an unshakeable belief that, no matter what pattern this game takes, nothing is ever lost. You can’t put a price on that ability to always find a way to win but, eventually, something must give – it just might not be tomorrow.
Last year’s final went to extra-time before Dungannon sealed the deal on penalties. That can’t happen this time around, with a replay in the event of a draw at the end of 80 minutes.
It would surprise absolutely no-one if the O’Neill Cup is still up for grabs after the lights go out at Healy Park, leaving the winners of next week’s Fermanagh final between Derrygonnelly and Enniskillen Gaels waiting to find out who they will face on December 4.