By Niall Gartland
LIAM Gray has been so central to everything good about Trillick for years now that it’s easy to forget that he’s still only in his early twenties.
The 23-year-old midfielder made his championship debut back in 2018 and played every minute of their county final success against Errigal Ciaran a year later alongside his brother Ryan.
While Trillick’s formline didn’t exactly fall off a cliff in the meantime (they won last year’s Division One title, for example), there’s been a few disappointing championship defeats that prompted considerable soul-searching.
That manifested itself in serious hard work done behind the scenes to get back to the top table in Tyrone, and now they’re mere days away from another championship final against reigning champions Errigal Ciaran (Sunday, O’Neill’s Healy Park, 3.30pm). And it didn’t come around by chance, as Gray explains.
“We were probably disappointed with ourselves after the way things went in the last two years. We probably let our standards (slip) and you saw that in the closing stages of big matches where we fell short.
“People on the outside don’t see it but we put in serious work over the winter period and it hasn’t been easy. But it’s all worth it when you come out on top of massive championship games and hopefully we’ll get over the line in the final.”
It’s been quite the journey to the final. They overcame Loughmacrory on penalties before shading Edendork by a point, and then it all seemed to come together as they produced an incredible display against their old foes Dungannon Clarkes in the semi-final. Was that particular victory a monkey off the back?
Gray said: “We’ve had our bad days out against Dungannon in the past, even as far back as the Intermediate final in 2014, but it’s not something that was lingering in my head to be honest. It wasn’t something we spoke about and we make a point of not lingering in the past, we just try and move forward.
“We know that Dungannon are a seasoned championship outfit, you know what you’re going to get from them, they’re such a dangerous side. It was great to get the victory but it’s all about the final now.”
Trillick native Jody Gormley came on board as manager this year after a season assisting Nigel Seaney. Seaney had spent nearly a decade at the coalface before stepping down last November, leading the team to senior championship titles in 2015 and 2019. Gormley brings an abundance of qualities as manager but Gray is mindful to recall the good work done by the previous set-up.
“A bit of freshness definitely helps but to be honest people from the outside won’t be fully aware of what Nigel brought to the group. It’s hard to even put it into words but boys within the group know what he did for us and it brought us two titles.
“Jody’s come in and brought something fresh and something new. He’s a Trillick man through and through and he knows what makes us tick.”
Trillick had many inspirational performers in their 2-11 to 1-9 victory over Dungannon as they set up a Tyrone SFC final appearance with Errigal Ciaran. Two of their most experienced campaigners, captain Rory Brennan and Richie Donnelly, were particularly influential in a seismic encounter.
“We knew we were going to have our hands full especially with Dungannon’s two big men inside (Paul Donaghy and Patrick Quinn). We had those warning signs in the league, they aren’t afraid to land one on top of us.
“Rory was brilliant for us back in defence, you can’t put into words what that man has done for Trillick. It was the same for Richie and some of his fetches. Their leadership was brilliant, we have leaders all over the field but those two men were brilliant.
“It was nip and tuck, Dungannon are such a strong side so we’re thankful of getting over the line. We’ve experience of winning and losing finals so we can’t get carried away, but there’s a great spirit in the camp and we’re glad to get back to where we feel we belong.”