I have said it before and I will say it again there is nothing to compare with the thrill of the club championship to get the blood pumping and the pulse racing.
Granted following the county team to an All Ireland title and watching them lift Sam for the first time is fantastic but for real drama and excitement the club championship is what matters to most. Watching your neighbours or your children represent the parish and carry the hopes of the whole community can inspire you in a way that few other things come close to. More than anything the club is about true identity, real parochialism and belonging. The AIB tapped into all these things and got it right with their advertising campaign for the club championship.
I managed to get to all eight championship games on the last weekend of June and although the attendances at some of them were not particularly large, the passion and will to win, to strive for the glory of the club were there for all to see. The sense of elation at winning, at making it through to the next round was palpable while the desolation and hurt of defeat was as acute as physical pain and will probably last even longer.
The winners will go through to the next round while the gallant losers return to their families and neighbours feeling that somehow they have not just lost a match but that in this defeat they have let their entire parish and all that belong to them down. That is the real appeal of club championship and if you get along to a club final at any grade just observe the contrasting emotions felt by the winners and the losers and you just might begin to understand the thrill of the club championship.
The weekend opened with two hugely entertaining and very close games in Killyclogher on Friday night (25th June). Dregish managed to pip Brockagh by a single point in a match that was a fantastic advert for Junior football. This game was tough, hard but fair and its closeness meant the result was in the balance right up until the end. Brockagh threw everything at Dregish in the second half but a mixture of poor finishing and some magnificent defending ensured that The Pearse Ogs held on for a narrow win courtesy of a fine Cathal Rodgers point late in the game.
As close and exciting as that game was it couldn’t hold a candle to the quality of the second game of the night between Newtownstewart and Eskra. This was as good a match as any I have seen all year with great fielding, good tackling, quality scores and two teams going at it hell for leather from the start. The fact that it was superbly refereed by Donal O’Neill added greatly to it as a spectacle also.
The final result will show that Newtown emerged winners on a scoreline of thirteen points to eleven but the two point winning margin only came late in added time when it seemed that extra time was a possibility. Big Finbarr’s men never stopped working and in Brendan Boyle and Kevin Gallagher they have two of the best footballers in Intermediate football. Pascal Mc Connell was also outstanding for his side and made three fantastic saves at crucial times in the first half. The St. Eugene’s were full value for their win and they will not fear the prospect of meeting great rivals Strabane in the quarter finals.
Saturday’s games were nowhere near as close or exciting as Glenelly made hard work of beating Derrytresk. Sean Mc Connell’s team had been fancied to win this one easily but the beauty about the championship is the hunger of the underdog and the men from the hill fought tooth and nail for every ball. They were beaten by two points but their performance was as passionate and committed as you would want from your players and they went away from this game knowing that with a bit of luck and craft they could even have had a win from it. Marty Rea and Cathal O’Neill were the standout men for Paul Hughes’ team who will hope to build on this display in the remainder of the league games.
The Killeeshil v Clann Na nGael match that followed it rarely caught fire and the crowd that was there would have been hugely disappointed to see that star forward Stevie O’Neill was unable to start as a result of his foot injury. How Clann na nGael could have done with him, especially halfway through the second half when two points down, they were awarded a penalty by referee Martin Lynch. Full forward Mc Gill dragged his shot wide and the chance to go ahead was lost. Although the Tyrone man was sent on shortly after that Clann na nGael never recovered and they exited the championship a well beaten and dejected side.
Last Sunday’s schedule of games was sure to attract large crowds and with good weather on the horizon that turned out to be the case. Aghyaran and Ardboe were first up and last year’s defeated finalists were fancied to win, the only question being by how big a margin. Obviously no-one in Aghyaran had read the script as Michael Anderson and Martin Penrose and their colleagues played the shirts off their backs. Aghyaran deserved at least a draw from this game but Micky Coleman’s goal in the second half was the decisive score. I spoke to Micky after the game and he assured me he had spotted Jeremy Hans off his line and decided to chip him from fifty metres. I have known Micky for a long time and never doubt his word (up until now that is) but even Micky would admit his goal was rather fortuitous.
This game was old fashioned championship football at its absolute best with no quarter asked or given. Having had my appetite whetted with this one I was looking forward to seeing the other games hoping for more of the same. Unfortunately the three remaining matches were poor by comparison to the first one and lacked atmosphere and intensity. Errigal beat Cookstown by seven points with Ronan Mc Rory, Peter Harte and Ciaran Mc Ginley outstanding while Omagh and Carrickmore enjoyed facile victories over Moy and Killyclogher.
There were twenty two county men on duty in the games last weekend plus several county minors and a few others who have represented the county at various levels but only three of them stood out from the rest and raised their performance levels to what we would expect from players of such quality and talent. Pascal Mc Connell in goals for Newtownstewart, Errigal’s Peter Harte and Martin Penrose playing at wing half forward for Aghyaran were superb and all of these players deserve special mention for taking their county form and reproducing it for their clubs. It is not easy for these lads who are not always training with their club men to suddenly find themselves lining out in a hugely competitive environment when it has been a number of weeks since they last played with their colleagues.
I should mention also that I was very impressed with the standard of refereeing I witnessed during these games. In addition to Donal O’Neill on the Friday evening I thought both Micky Mc Carron and Eamon Mc Hugh had outstanding games in their senior championship fixtures.
Following the games in Loughmacrory on Sunday 27th June the draws were made for the quarter finals in both senior and intermediate championships and some interesting ties turned up. The senior draw gives hope to Kildress and Galbally having been paired against each other and both would be hopeful of making it through to the last four. The other games in the remaining quarter finals see Errigal Ciaran taking on form team Coalisland, old rivals Carrickmore meeting Dromore and Omagh drawn against Ardboe in a repeat of last year’s quarter final which the O’Donovan Rossas managed to win by a single point.
I realise there is still some way to go in this year’s championship but these games will be sure to draw big crowds whenever and wherever they are played.
Tyrone ladies found themselves playing in front of quite a large crowd last Sunday in Breffni Park. Unfortunately it failed to inspire them and they lost narrowly to Armagh thus ending their involvement in the provincial championship. Tyrone were fancied to win this one but it never looked likely and Niall Colton and his team will now have to put this defeat behind them as they turn their attention to the All Ireland series. Mind you a performance like Sunday last and that campaign won’t last long either.
One other thing that did not last long and was finally brought to an end was John Joe Doherty’s time as Donegal manager. The Tir Chonaill men were soundly beaten by Armagh and looked a dejected lot as they left the Crossmaglen pitch. The Donegal job is not an easy one and John Joe decided enough was enough and resigned last Monday. It can’t be easy being an inter county boss in a small country like Ireland with the weight of expectation and the pressure that comes with it. Hopefully he can now get his life back and leave the goldfish bowl existence of inter county management behind him.
On the Tyrone front I am sure all Tyrone supporters were delighted to hear last week that Enda Mc Ginley has returned to the Tyrone panel in time for The Ulster Final. The big Errigal Ciaran man had taken a break from the squad to try and recover fully from a series of niggling injuries that had blighted him and his form early in the season. He did not seem to be enjoying his football during the league and opted to concentrate on his club responsibilities while he sought to regain his form and fitness. He lined out last week with his club in their championship opener and produced a very solid and combative display as Errigal defeated Cookstown by seven points. Enda started off in the full forward line but came out to midfield following the sending off of Cahir Tierney. His versatility will add to the manager’s choices and options and will also increase competition for places within the squad.
Enda always gives 100% and demands the same from others around him. He has played a key role in all of Tyrone’s great successes over the years and his return will be a massive boost to the whole squad as they prepare for the challenge of Monaghan in two weeks time.
Not such good news it appears from Stevie O’Neill if we believe what we read in some of the local and national papers. It appears his chances of playing against Monaghan are diminishing with each passing day. Well maybe they are but I have a feeling we may be writing him off a little too soon. I was at the Clan na Gael championship match last weekend and kept an eye out for the star forward. Stevie did not start due to his injured foot and when he was brought on he looked as if he was far from comfortable. No surprise there considering the nature of the injury and the obvious discomfort that he must have been experiencing. However I think that with good physio and nearly a fortnight still to go Stevie has plenty of time to get himself fully fit for the provincial final and he will be keen to help his team add another Ulster title to their roll of honour.
Commiserations to Galbally Pearses following their gallant attempts to win The All Ireland Feile title in Derry at the weekend. Things had started well for the Tyrone champions but a final game defeat in the league section by Simonstown of Meath meant that Galbally had to head for home empty handed. They may have come up short this time but this group of players have shown themselves to be a very capable outfit and will surely feature prominently in further under age tournaments as the years pass.
Although the holidays have arrived for some this is still a very busy time on both the club and county front. Divisions One and Two of the All County Leagues had fairly full league programmes over the last few days and with county players still available teams at both ends of their respective tables with county men were hoping to capitalise on their availability.
Friday night saw a home win for Coalisland which keeps them at the top of the table while wins for Errigal Ciaran, Omagh Ardboe and Dromore meant there was little change at the top of the league. Cookstown and Moy benefitted fully from the inclusion of their key men with important victories over Donaghmore and Aghyaran respectively. These wins for Moy and Cookstown have moved both sides well up the table while for Donaghmore this defeat means they are facing a real battle to maintain their Division One Status. It looks like themselves, Trillick and Greencastle could well be fighting it out in a two from three scenario to avoid the drop.
Eglish dropped their first point of the season in a surprising draw at home to Augher in Division Two while Loughmacrory, Moortown and Eskra consolidated their places in the top half of the league with hard fought wins. The big winners of the weekend in Intermediate football of course were neighbours and opponents in the next round of the championship Newtownstewart and Strabane. Both teams were involved in local derbies and the game between Clan na Gael and Strabane resulted in a narrow one point win for the Sigersons. Finbarr Mc Connell’s side meanwhile had a morale boosting eleven point win over neighbours Urney to help them pull well clear of any threat of relegation.
While all of this was going on second from the top Derrylaughan were getting themselves ready for their championship replay with old adversaries Rock. Once again there was very little between them and unfortunately for Rock when the final whistle blew they were on the wrong end of a one point defeat.
The weekend was a huge one for Junior football with the concluding first round fixtures in the Target Express Junior Championship. Drumragh faced Dungannon and came away with what many people would have thought was a fairly creditable draw on Friday night. However when you realise they were leading by four points in injury time and virtually handed The Clarkes a game saving last minute goal you can begin to understand the sense of disappointment among the Sarsfields followers.
Fintona and Drumquin also finished in a draw in Urney while Owen Roes had a narrow but deserved win over Castlederg. The game of the weekend saw championship favourites Stewartstown pushed all the way by Tattyreagh in a twenty seven point thriller which resulted in a one point win for the Harps. Small details in close games can often make a huge difference and Tattyreagh will know this was a game they could have won. Brackaville and Killyman were the other winners in the remaining games and it does appear that the wheels have really come off the Clogher wagon.
So replays aside the three championships are down to the last eight so even if Tyrone make it all the way through to The All Ireland Final, and let’s hope that they do, there should be no reason for not having our club competitions run off in good time.
In terms of inter county competition it was good to hear that well known Tyrone referee Martin Sludden has been appointed to referee the Leinster Senior Football Final between Meath and Louth. This appointment of the Dromore man to such a high profile game is reward for his dedication and talent as a football referee. I have known Martin for many years now and I would doubt if there are any other referees who train as hard and as often as he does and I hope he has as good a game as he had in his Ulster Championship appointment earlier in the year.
One point that I am sure must be occupying the minds of many GAA supporters following the weekend’s games surrounds the lack of punishment for Tomas O’Se following the Munster Final. I would imagine there will be retrospective action of some sort but I find it hard to believe that he managed to escape a red card following his display. What about the ref? Will he continue to be appointed to high profile championship fixtures during the rest of the season or will he be dropped from the panel? It would be interesting to hear an explanation from whoever is in charge of refereeing to explain some of the decisions in that game.
MINOR FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP 2010
O’Neills Minor Football Championship Quarter-finals
Cookstown Fr Rocks 3-9 Strabane Sigersons 0-7
Errigal Ciaran 2-17 Carrickmore St Colmcille’s 0-11
Dungannon Thomas Clarkes 2-7 Omagh St Enda’s 2-16
Clonoe O`Rahilly’s v Naomh Mhuire
(Wednesday 7th July 7.30pm)
Pomeroy Plunketts 2-17 Loughmacrory St Teresa’s 0-7
Newtownstewart St Eugene’s 5-8 V Beragh Red Knights 3-8
Augher St Macartan’s 4-10 V Ardboe O’Donovan Rossa 2-12
Drumragh Sarsfields v Eskra Emmetts
(Tuesday 6th July 7.30pm)
Killeeshil St Mary’s 1-11 Aghyaran St Davogs 1-14
Derrytresk Fir aChnoic 0-11 Glenelly St Joseph’s 0-10
Clogher Eire Óg 0-16 Moy Tír na nÓg 3-8
Owen Roe O`Neill’s v Omagh St Enda’s
(Tuesday 6th July 7.30pm)
TYRONE ASSOCIATION GOLFING EVENT
The Tyrone Association Dublin (www.tad.ie) will be holding their inaugural golfing get-together at the Deerpark Hotel, in Howth, Dublin, on July 10th, at 3 p.m. This short course consists of twelve par 3 holes, and if the general golfing standard of the organisers (or lack thereof) is anything to go by, it will be very much an “it’s the taking part and not the winning that’s important” kind of event, i.e., it’ll be much more about craic than competition. That is not to say, however, that competency on the course will go completely unrecognised!
The event is open to all (regardless of county/country) where four players will constitute a ‘team’, with an entrance fee of €20.00 per team member, which includes food afterwards in the hotel itself AND, the services of a professional golfer to give gentle guidance on the tee of the 2nd hole. Please note, however, that there will be a maximum of 20 teams for this particular event. Bígí linn.