By Michael McMullan
THE O’Neill Cup hasn’t been defended since Carrickmore’s 2005 title and two Ardboe championship winners have their thoughts on the competitive nature of Tyrone club football.
In a feature interview for Gaelic Life, Benny Hurl and Brian McGuigan look back at their memories to recall their 1998 success.
“We nearly play two championships in the year…the league is like a championship and always has been,” offers McGuigan as a reason why back to back titles is a difficult proposition.
Despite playing at the highest level of the game, he still felt nervous ahead of the club season.
“When you go out to play the first league game for Ardboe, there are nerves,” he added.
“You need every point that is available or you’ll end up in a relegation play-off.”
In some counties, their champions can take the foot off the gas if they are either the dominant team or there is a league format with little at stake.
“A team wins the championship and the next thing they are in the Ulster Club and if they are beat in the Ulster Club, they have no time to rest,” he said of the scenario in Tyrone.
“They can’t take two or three months off like Glen who have stepped back to take it easy. In Tyrone, you have to get ready for the start of the league.”
Benny Hurl was part of three Ardboe winning teams (1984, 1987 and 1998) who failed to defend their title.
He looks at counties like Down with the Kilcoo dominance. Sleacht Néill had their spell in Derry and Crossmaglen were the top dogs in Armagh.
“There is such an even spread of teams who can win the championship,” Hurl said of Tyrone.
“You can pick the last four in other counties or even the last two. You can’t do that in Tyrone.
“Brian is right about the league…our first six or seven league games are like championship matches.
“We obsess week after week on the league table, that’s what we do in Tyrone and we are looking at the head to head.
“It is the most competitive and tight Division One we have ever had in Tyrone.”