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Winner takes all

Ali Beckett and his Omagh Accies team-mates face a season-defining encounter tomorrow

FEW would have imagined it possible that come Saturday Omagh Academicals would be vying for a place in the Ulster Bank All Ireland League 2B given that four seasons ago they were on the brink of relegation to the third tier of Ulster rugby.

The turnaround in Omagh’s fortunes has been nothing short of remarkable and after last weekend’s stunning 34-13 semi-final play-off victory over Thomond, the Coneywarren side are just 80 minutes away from securing promotion in their first season back in the All Ireland League.

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Standing between Phil Marshall’s resurgent outfit and a place in 2B is Belfast Harlequins who saw off Malahide 19-13 in the other last-four decider.

If the Coneywarren men do the unthinkable on Saturday afternoon it will be their third promotion in just four seasons under Marshall. It’s been quite the roller-coaster ride and the coach is in no mood to jump off just yet.

Needless to say he’s relishing the opportunity of taking the Accies to the next level and putting one over the city slickers at Deramore Park.

“Harlequins is a hard place to go, a hard place to win and we’ll respect them,” he said.

“They have the resources, the coaching team but we’ll not fear them. We are going there to win, simple as.

“They have more to lose than us, they are trying to stop a freefall.

“It’s going to be extremely difficult. I watched some of their semi-final and they played some very good rugby. I believe we are good enough to beat them. On the day you just never know, you get the bounce of a ball, a referee’s decision, that’s sport.

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“To be brutally honest to finish second in this league has been one hell of an achievement and kudos to the boys. When you reflect on the season there are games we should have won and didn’t and ones we won we shouldn’t have.Maybe it evens itself out over the course of the year.

“To come second proved to ourselves, everybody connected with the club and those outside that we deserved to be there.”

The Omagh coach believes there is more than promotion at stake against relegtion-threatened Harlequns. He claims a number of other clubs are already courting some of his players for next season and that being the case he insists a win on Saturday would make it easier for him to retain the services of the players being targeted.

“Because we have done so well there is a side issue here,” he added.

“Should we secure promotion on Saturday it will make it easier for me to keep one or two players who are being targeted by other clubs. I know they are. It will help when I sit down and have conversations with those players. Recruitment and retention, may have a big bearing on that.”

•Tomorrow’s winner-takes-all decider kicks of f at Deramore Park at 2.30pm.

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