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From U14 winners to Tyrone Senior Champions

By Niall Gartland

A FACT that may have passed you by: Dromore became the first ever team to win the Tyrone Senior Championship from the preliminary round when they overcame Coalisland on Sunday, but you could actually say the journey for many of their players started literally a decade ago at U-14 level.

St Dymphna’s won the Grade One Championship title back in 2011 (by a twist of fate they overcame Coalisland in that final as well), and a quite remarkable number of that team are still creating glorious memories for their club 10 years later.

Peter Teague, Emmet McNabb, Ryan McCusker, Cahir Goodwin, Tiarnan Sludden, Declan McNulty and Odhran Rafferty have now won the biggest prize in Tyrone club football, but it would be pushing it to say they were always destined for great things at Adult level.

Odhran’s father Joe Rafferty, who managed that U-14 team alongside Martin McGrath, John McDermott and Brian McCarron, recalls that they weren’t expected to overcome Moortown in the semi-finals – and they’d actually fallen short against Coalisland in an important league clash the weekend before the championship final.

They’d a few tricks up their sleeve for the decider, however, with Peter Teague and Emmett McNabb, wreaking havoc up front (not much has changed there, then – McNabb won the Patsy Forbes trophy on Sunday, the prize for finishing as the championship’s top scorer).

Rafferty said: “Coalisland beat us well in the league semi-final, so I changed the team around. We put big Teague in at full-forward, he was already six feet at that age.

“We put in Emmet McNabb beside him, he was only a wee toot of a thing but he was still an unbelievable footballer. The plan was just to get the ball into Peter, and that he’d win it and lay it off to Emmett. They were basic enough tactics to be fair!”

“I don’t think Coalisland were expecting it. Cormac O’Hagan was the Coalisland star and they were probably expecting us to put Teague on him. But we put him in at full-forward and Michael McKernan marked him. Teague was too big for him so they ended up putting O’Hagan in defence and that nullified their threat around the middle.”

Rafferty also highlighted the role of two other star players on that young Dromore team, who for very different reasons didn’t play any part last Sunday.

“Our full-back was Cahir McGovern and he was a brilliant footballer, he ended up going to Australia.

“Then we had Ciaran McCormick, he was probably our best player but had heart problems and had to give it up. He’s actually back playing a bit of reserve football this year, it was one of those things that got better as his body matured, but he had to stop playing for six or seven years.”

The road wasn’t entirely paved with gold as those young players struggled to replicate their success at U-16 and minor level. They turned things around, however, winning the Ulster U-21 championship in 2019, and now they can say they’ve played their part in Dromore’s fourth ever success at senior level.

Rafferty said: “They deserve immense credit for pushing the thing on. Big Peter Teague is a serious, serious leader, he does so much behind the scenes and is a born captain. I remember Tiarnan Sludden was a wee tub of a cub at U14 level and he’s said the same himself in interviews. He couldn’t run out of your road and we used him as a spare midfielder. He broke a lot of ball for us as he has serious football intelligence. He’s got himself in great shape now, he’s worked so hard to develop into the footballer he is now.”

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