Errigal Ciaran out to buck the trend in Tyrone Senior Championship

By Niall Gartland

PRECEDENT suggests reigning champions Errigal Ciaran are on to a hiding to nothing in Tyrone but they’ll be quietly confident they can buck the trend by retaining the coveted O’Neill Cup.

No team has successfully retained the title since Carrickmore did the back-to-back in 2004 and 2005.

Some have come close – Trillick lost out on penalties to Dungannon in 2020 for example – but they’ve all ultimately fallen short in their efforts, a testament to the competitive nature of the Tyrone Senior Championship.

As always it’s a knock-out format and the talk is that Errigal Ciaran’s first-round clash against Killyclogher will be scheduled as the championship curtain-raiser on the evening of Thursday, September 21 at O’Neill’s Healy Park.

There’s a good six or seven teams that will fancy their chances of going all the way. Holders Errigal Ciaran have had a solid if unspectacular league campaign but they have serious quality in their ranks. Canavan brothers, Darragh and Ruairi, are getting better and better, Peter Harte is a lynchpin of the team, while Ben McDonnell is back on home soil having spent time in Australia. On the flipside, Niall Kelly has been ruled out for the rest of the season while wing-back Cormac Quinn, who enjoyed plenty of game-time with Tyrone this year, is struggling with a serious enough hamstring injury.

Hiding in plain sight are their first-round opponents Killyclogher, who had a super league campaign and have welcomed back former Tyrone star Mark Bradley in recent weeks (he played his football in America for the summer). They’re going very well indeed and there’s a real sense of unity about their team this year.

2021 champions Dromore will be strongly fancied to get the better of last year’s Intermediate winners Galbally in the first round, but their ace forward Emmet McNabb is spending the year in Australia and his absence leaves a significant void as he’s usually good for six or seven points a game. That said they still have a stellar team and they had a strong league campaign.

Trillick are second to Errigal in the bookies’ rankings even though they have suffered a massive loss with the recent news that Mattie Donnelly will play no part in the championship through injury. They still have a really good team but they face a potential banana skin in the first round against Loughmacrory, who are managed by Ciaran Meenagh (yep, the same man who spearheaded Derry’s surge to the All-Ireland semi-final). They’re a really well-organised group of players and they recently beat parish rivals Carrickmore for the first time in their 51-year history.

Other leading contenders include Dungannon, who can call upon the majority of the team that claimed the O’Neill Cup title in memorable fashion three years ago. Padraig McNulty has returned to the team after a year out through injury and Chris Rafferty remains in charge of the team for another year.

Last year’s beaten champions Carrickmore can’t be discounted either. They’ve racked up big tallies with young forwards Danny Fullerton and Lorcan McGarrity going well up front, while Cormac Munroe, a big presence on the team, will be available after a few months in Australia. Marty Penrose is still starting for the team and his former Tyrone teammate Stephen O’Neill is a big asset as forward’s coach.

Elsewhere, Omagh and Ardboe have slowly but surely started to creep up the league table in recent weeks. Ardboe are managed by Gavin Devlin and have some talented young lads on the panel, while Omagh can call upon Tyrone duo Conor Meyler and Aidan Clarke as well as former county man Ronan O’Neill.

Edendork may fancy their chances of going on a run – Darren McCurry, Niall Morgan and Conn Kilpatrick are three of the best players in the province let alone Tyrone – and they’re managed by former Derry player Conleith Gilligan this year. Their first-round clash against Carrickmore is one to keep an eye on.

Donaghmore have been the big success story at underage level in Tyrone lately and many of those players are starting to make an impact at senior level. They’re managed by former Monaghan minor boss Mark Counihan and have the potential to spring an upset or two.

Coalisland haven’t had a good time of it this year and at the time of writing are embroiled in a relegation battle alongside Moortown and Greencastle.

But the Tyrone Senior Championship being what it is, they could still go on a run if they regain their mojo in time for their first-round clash against Greencastle, Sean Teague’s team who always give everything for the cause. So who will it be? Holders Errigal Ciaran certainly have the talent but if they manage to keep hold of the O’Neill Cup, it’ll certainly be hard-earned. It’s all to play for.

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