By Niall Gartland
IT was all worth it in the end. Stewartstown veteran Anton Coyle, who just as easily could’ve been watching on from the stands as a spectator, played a hero’s role when introduced from the bench in Saturday’s Ulster Junior triumph against Drumlane.
One of the few remaining ties with the Stewartstown team that won the Ulster title back in 2004, Coyle had actually left the panel earlier in the season.
Emotionally, he felt that his heart wasn’t in it, but the 36-year-old was convinced to return to the flock ahead of the Tyrone Championship, and it’s fair to say it turned out to be a prudent move for all involved.
Coyle entered the fray early in the second half when their talisman Gareth Devlin was forced off with injury, and boy did he make his presence felt, nailing four frees and scoring two penalties in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out.
Speaking after the game, he was obviously elated with their success, but there was a tear in the eye as he reflected on what’s been a rollercoaster season for himself on a personal level.
Coyle said: “I’d walked away in the middle of the season as my head wasn’t right and I really needed that win today [Saturday].
“I just felt life was getting to me, that my head wasn’t right. It wasn’t anyone’s fault but Peter [Armour] came and spoke to me and I came back in before the championship.
“I’m so happy with how it’s panned out, days like these don’t come around too often, so when you do, you grasp it with both hands.”
Incredibly, Stewartstown are yet to lose a single game all season. They diced with danger against an impressive Drumlane side, but they refused to wilt in the white heat of battle and eventually emerged triumphant after penalties.
Coyle said: “It hasn’t kicked in to be honest, it just means everything to the town and there’s no way we were going to be beaten. Don’t get me wrong,
“Drumlane are an incredible outfit, and it took penalties to separate us. It’s a cruel way for any team to lose. Our two managers say ‘we turn up on big days’ and it took us a while to get going but we were always going to fight to the bitter end.”
Modest about his own personal contribution – “I’m just glad I could help the boys today, I got a couple of handy frees” – Coyle is nearing the end of his own playing career but he’s confident that there’s a bright future ahead for the Harps, who now set their sights on an upcoming All-Ireland quarter-final clash against Glasgow Gaels.
“We should never have been at junior level when you look at the talent in the team.
“It’s the fate we were dealt with so we just have to push on now. There’s a serious panel, every night during in-house matches it’s a serious battle and it gets you ready for the big games.”