By Niall Gartland
FOR Fintona Pearses, 2023 is the gift that keeps on giving.
A first Tyrone Junior Championship title in nearly half a century was an era-defining moment for the club, and now they’ve another crack at history as they finalise their preparations for Saturday’s Ulster Junior Championship semi-final against a hardened Blackhill side from Monaghan.
It’s unlikely to be a walk in the park – Blackhill won the 2018 title and blasted five goals past Rasharkin in their quarter-final victory over Rasharkin a fortnight ago – but it’s a measure of how far Fintona have come that they’ve even competing at this level.
Traditionally Tyrone and Monaghan sides have excelled in the Ulster Junior Championship (both are miles ahead of the chasing pack on the overall leaderboard) and Stewartstown came up trumps in last year’s competition, but Fintona assistant manager John O’Neill isn’t sure that’s particularly relevant to their own chances.
“This is a new panel, we’re completely new to this, so we can’t look at it in a lazy manner and say, ‘well, Tyrone teams do well in this, so the script is written for us’.
“We have to write our own script in this. If you look at Stewartstown, Stewartstown is loaded with boys that have played senior or u-20 and minor football with Tyrone.
“They came with a serious amount of experience.
“We have a few experienced players, but a really inexperienced panel, so the challenge is different for us than it was for Stewartstown, but that’s what the beauty of this is.”
Despite sounding that note of caution, O’Neill recognises that this is a magical period for the club while pointing out that it’s the culmination of years of hard work from passionate Fintona men and women.
“It’s brilliant, it’s brilliant for the club, it’s brilliant for the community.
“There’s people leading this club this last God knows how many years that are creating the conditions for this through under-age coaching, through the committee and all of that.
“As you know there’s brilliant facilities there as part of an overall picture, so it’s great for that breakthrough, it’s great for spectators, men and women in their eighties and children that are playing under-age, they’re all getting something out of this.”
Fintona didn’t get it all their own way by any means in a hard-fought quarter-final victory over Down Junior Champions Drumaness a fortnight ago.
They finished strongly to record a 0-11 to 0-7 victory but they’ll need to be on their game right from the opening whistle if they’re to see off Blackhill on Saturday.
“We know Blackhill have come down the line, they’ve been down this road before and will be going in raging hot favourites and I’m not saying that as an old classic line from a management team.
“But at the same time this is a young team and this is about challenges and Blackhill are going to bring something different, we have to get our head around that and if we play within ourselves for the first 20 minutes again, that’s not going to do against Blackhill.”