A Sunday lunchtime by the Lough sounds like an idyllic way to pass an afternoon but don’t expect to witness such a pastoral scene around mid-Tyrone this weekend.
There’s way more than local bragging rights at stake when Omagh and Killyclogher collide in a crunch derby clash at Loughmacrory (throw-in 1pm) with a spot in the Tyrone Senior Championship Semi-Finals up for
Both teams booked this mouth-watering assignment in contrasting fashion last weekend in their respective first round tussles. While St Mary’s strolled to a nine point victory over Derrylaughan, holders St Enda’s were forced to dig deep against an obdurate Aghyaran unit before eventually pulling clear after extra-time.
Omagh looked out of sorts for long spells of a dour struggle, and were ultimately reliant on a late late goal from sub Damien McGuigan to see them over the winning line.
Conan Grugan was one of those who helped to spearhead St Enda’s decisive extra-time spurt and was denied a brilliant goal right at the death when his thunderbolt effort crashed down off the underside of the Aghyaran crossbar.
While Omagh carried near unbackable odds of 1/33 on into the contest against the basement battlers, Grugan insisted that St Enda’s didn’t approach the contest in any way complacent.
“It was unbelievable, but we knew that going into it, having played Aghyaran in the league at the start of the season it was a draw up there. We knew it was going to be a tough game, and it’s an old cliché, but every game in the Tyrone Championship is going to be tough, but it’s nice to get over the line and we can now look forward to this weekend.”
The stylish centre-half forward felt that Omagh’s experience of tight-fought Championship tussles, garnered over the last five years, really stood to them in the latter stages.
“It’s all a mental game now once you hit extra-time. Down through the years we’ve had games like that. From 2014 onwards a lot of our Championship games have gone down to the wire, so we’re well used to that. It was probably to our benefit. We’ve a good experienced team and know how to grind out results.”
“Towards the end, boys were dropping like flies, we had a number of injuries, so we’ll get into the pool and ice baths and get our recovery right and hopefully we have a couple of guys coming back.”
And like everyone around the county town, Conan was buzzing about renewing acquaintances with fierce rivals Killyclogher, in a meeting of the previous two O’Neill Cup champions.
“I don’t think Omagh have played Killyclogher in the Championship since 2006, I think it was, so it will be a big game, but one to look forward to! It’s full throttle ahead to the weekend!”
It’s now thirteen long seasons since any side successful defended the Senior County titles (Carrickmore, 2004, ‘05) and for periods last Saturday it seemed that Omagh would also join that long line of deposed champions. Grugan appreciates that history is not on their side, though he was refusing to look beyond the Ballinamullan Blues test this Sunday.
“That’s the challenge. I don’t think anyone’s done back-to-back since the early 2000s, but to be honest we haven’t thought about that. Again, it’s a cliché, but we’re just taking each game at a time, not
underestimating any team and are looking forward to next weekend.”