By Niall Gartland
IT’S the showpiece occasion in Tyrone club football. Thousands of expectant supporters descend on O’Neill’s Healy Park to witness a full-blooded contest between two fine teams going hell for leather for the senior championship title.
Defending champions Errigal Ciaran are set to line out on county final day for the second year running, but Mark Harte is mindful that these things don’t happen by chance.
Harte speaks from experience both as player and manager – he pocketed county medals in 1997, 2000 and 2002 before leading Errigal Ciaran to the promised land last year alongside his former teammate Adrian O’Donnell.
In the annals of Errigal Ciaran he’s more than done his bit, but he’s conscious that the club as a whole is a bubbling ecosystem with plenty of unheralded work being done behind the scenes.
“It’s a credit to the club and the structures that we’re back in another county final,” said Harte.
“Right down to u-6s we have men and ladies out building and building and bringing youth players through. It’s a credit to our coaches who are giving up of their time to nurture the structures in the club.
“You’re hoping it’ll come to fruition at senior and it doesn’t always work out but thankfully we have the opportunity now to see some of the boys who have come through the production line playing in the final and that’s a credit to the club.”
Errigal Ciaran produced one of the most convincing semi-final performances in living memories when they tore Ardboe asunder on a scoreline of 2-19 to 0-7. For a prolonged stage in the first half they scored point after point after point, but Harte points out that for a 13-minute spell at the start of the game, they didn’t muster a score of any description. That aside it really was a devastating performance from the reigning champions.
Harte said: “There were parts of our performance in the semi-final that I wasn’t happy with at all, particularly the start, we were 0-2 down after 13 minutes with a strong breeze and it was looking ominous for us actually.
“Before and after the game we said that semi-finals are for winning, you put a line through it and move on. We’d be realistic enough to know what we can’t not play for 13 minutes against Trillick and expect a positive result, so we’re going to have to bump that towards 60 minutes in the game.”
Just a few weeks ago, Errigal Ciaran ladies won a thrilling Tyrone Senior Championship final against a formidable St Macartan’s. There are many interpersonal connections between the men’s and ladies’ teams and Harte was pleased that they got their hands on the title for the first time since 2015.
“Our ladies are our sisters and our neighbours, our mothers and in some cases, our daughters. The women are the backbone of our club, they have led by example off the pitch and at underage they have always been very strong. To see them get over the line was brilliant as they have soldiered for some time against a very dominant St Macartan’s team and all credit to them for the effort, they got their rewards this year.”
Errigal Ciaran had a reasonable enough league campaign, narrowly missing out on a place in the semi-finals. They had to fend without their large county contingent for a period and lads like the Canavan brothers, Ruairi and Darragh, Peter Harte, Joe Oguz and Cormac Quinn have been at the forefront of their run to another championship final. Add in the likes of Ben McDonnell (on sabbatical from Tyrone this year), Ciaran Quinn, Mark Kavanagh, Aidan McCrory and goalkeeper Darragh McAnenly and it’s no great surprise that they’re one step away from completing the two in-a-row.
“The boys are working hard, they’ve really tried to knuckle down. We had what I’d describe as a patchy league, the starred games affected us early on and that stymied us from getting a bit of momentum. But everybody has come back and others have come back from long-term injury, the boys are working hard and all we can ask is that they put in a shift session in, session out and they’ve done that.”
Asked whether the prospect of becoming the first team to retain the O’Neill Cup in nearly 20 years adds a bit of pressure, Harte preferred to accentuate the threat posed by 2015 and 2019 champions Trillick.
“Our focus is putting in the best performance we can in a one-off game of football. It’s on the day, in terms of the league form and also championship performances, there has been nobody better than Trillick in my opinion right across the season.
“They’re sitting in the league semi-final and are in the championship final so we’ve a lot to do and it’s a big challenge but we’ll give it our best crack.”