Clonoe focus switches to championship campaign after league title success

By Michael McMullan

AFTER being relegated from the top flight last season, the Clonoe mantra was to treat every game like they were stepping into the championship arena.

The O’Rahilly’s secured promotion with victory at home to Tattyreagh and step into the championship against Rock on Wednesday night (Stewartstown, 7.30pm).

“Our main aim was to win every league game and now that we are heading into the championship, we’ll try our best and see how we do,” said skipper Declan McClure minutes after raising the Division Two cup aloft.

“We have the Rock and it’s knock-out and we’ll look forward to it and try to do the best we can.”

Relegation hit hard, but Clonoe flipped it on its head and used it as a positive to instill a focus that helped deliver the Ulster League and their bread and butter – promotion from Division Two.

“We said after the Moy game (that saw them relegated) last year that we wanted to get back up as soon as we can because if you stay down too long then it is hard to get out,” McClure added.

“In our first meeting of the year, we said we’d treat every league game with a championship mentality.

“That’s what we did throughout and we wanted to keep it going. Every man has worked hard from the start of the year in pre-season.

“In the Ulster League we started with every game like we wanted to go on.

“We have now got our promotion and we are back in Division One again then we’ll regroup for the championship.

“A trophy is a trophy and everything is there to be won. Our aim was to get promoted and take a bit of the sweat off and then go on and enjoy the championship.”

It was fitting for Clonoe to secure promotion on home turf. Even their warm-up was measured and had purpose, right through to how they used Ronan Corey and Ryan McCabe’s scoring threat on the wings to leave the middle open for Connor McAliskey to be a target for a kicking game.

The extra games in the Ulster League helped fuse their pre-season training into an environment where young players could cut their teeth.

While Clonoe have players like McClure, McAliskey and Michael O’Neill with county experience, it’s their panel that helped them back to the top.

“When you have a load of lads coming through, you want to get them as much game time as possible to bring them on.” McClure said.

“Every (Ulster League) game was competitive, right to the final, so it was a stepping stone going into the (Tyrone) League.

“We had eight minors coming through,” he added, saying how the youth was asking questions of the established players looking for a spot in the side.

“It is going to be a big headache for the managers as they sit down to pick a team for the championship.

“’Skeet’ (Connor McAliskey), the talent is hanging out of him. He is still one of the best forwards in Tyrone over the years and he still has it in the locker.

“There other lads who can tip in…Ryan McCabe, Ryan Quinn, our Fintan (McClure) has a knock and should be back soon, big Dan (McNulty) and Rony Corey who kicked a couple of points there and I could go on.”

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