WITH fourteen Senior titles between them, split evenly at seven apiece, it’s unusual that Senior Championship meetings between two of the county’s heavyweight forces have been as rare as hen’s teeth over the years.
It’s thirteen years (Prem Rd 2006) since they last locked horns and indeed Trillick and Errigal Ciaran have never met in the O’Neill Cup decider (even dating back to the days of Ballygawley St Ciaran’s) thus bringing a novel element to today’s much anticipated showdown at Healy Park.
There’s no doubt that both sides have reached the decider on merit (there’s no such thing as a gimme in the Tyrone Championship), with each having accounted for other livewire contenders in impressive fashion in their respective sides of the draw.
Perhaps ominously for Errigal, a quick peruse through the history books indicates that the Reds always show up for the big occasions. Trillick have played in eight Senior County Finals down through the generations losing just the one (to Ardboe in 1987). These boys have tended to seal the deal once they get to the big day.
Errigal, under their current guise, have also delivered more often than not when it comes to finals though their most recent appearance (2017) resulted in a disappointing two point loss to Omagh.
The Dunmoyle club have garnered a reputation as something of ‘league specialists’ over the past decade, a tag which rivals have often sneered at, though it speaks volumes for their admirable levels of consistency and the winning habit embedded in their mentality.
Their manager Pascal Canavan is as aware as anyone of the importance their supporters place on the Championship having played an integral role in most of their memorable runs not just in Tyrone but also Ulster during the 90s and early noughties.
His Trillick counterpart Nigel Seaney overseen the Reds last triumph in the competition in 2015 and after a few heartbreaking losses during the intervening period will believe that a return to the top table is overdue.
The St Macaratan’s are acknowledged to have the most naturally talented team in the county, their line-up laced with quality siblings in the likes of the Donnellys, Brennans and Grays, who are surrounded by a polished and highly-motivated support cast.
They sent out an emphatic statement of intent with a first round demolition of neighbours Dromore, and followed that up by accounting for those twin beasts from the east, Clonoe and Coalisland in the two subsequent rounds to reach the Final.
They have displayed no shortage of silky skills as well as steely resolve enroute to today’s match, their determined full-back line of skipper Stephen O’Donnell and the Kellys, Ruairi and Damian, proving just as pivotal to their progress as the headline grabbers further up the pitch.
Opponents Errigal can also call upon a plethora of established quality campaigners, most notably Tyrone panellists Peter Harte, Aidan McCrory and Ben McDonnell.
However as with the Reds, it’s the unheralded members of their squad, such as Damian McDermott, Niall Kelly, Eoin Kelly and Pauric McAnenly, who have really stood up to be counted during this campaign, with victories registered over Eglish, Omagh and Carrickmore.
Of course any successful team needs to be sprinkled with a bit of magic dust and in Lee Brennan and Darragh Canavan, both sides have that ‘woo’ factor which can turn a match on its head at any moment. Witness Canavan Og’s wonder goal in a fairly turgid semi-final battle with Carrickmore.
Questions will always be asked about the haste with which the Tyrone County Board runs off its blue ribbon competition (15 SFC matches between August 30 and September 29th) and compeling teams to play three Championship ties in eight days, in the case of replays.
But whatever the rights and wrongs of a gruelling club knockout schedule, the Tyrone Senior Championship continues to pen a gripping and unpredictable narrative, providing a marked contrast with the 4 or 5-in-a-row tedious monopolies so commonplace in other Ulster counties.
It’s now fourteen seasons running (dating back to 2005) that the O’Neill Cup holders have been toppled from their perch, Coalisland the latest to suffer the champions curse.
Their crown will be passsed onto either Trillick or Errigal Ciaran this weekend. For one set of supporters today- be it the blue or red corner- it’s going to be a ‘gr-eight’ occasion.