EVERY year brings with it the hope around Donnelly Park that come September the O’Neill Cup will be proudly marched through Main Street in the town with the players celebrating on the back of a lorry.
It was a scene which became a familiar one in the 1970s and 1980s when six titles were won. But during the barren years that followed, many may well have feared that the good days might never return.
Now, as the longer evenings of 2020 take hold, the scene is again being set. The flags are fluttering and, if victory is secured, it’s fair to say that the regulations around coronavirus won’t prevent a mighty celebration for the St Macartan’s.
For, a third title in five years beckons, and the new generation is edging towards the footballing prowess of their predecessors. Where Brendan Donnelly, Barney McAnespy, Sean Donnelly, Ray Cassidy and Joe McGrade once strode, now Mattie and Ritchie Donnelly, Lee and Rory Brennan, Ruairi Kelly and Prionsias O’Kane are carving their own path.
Among them, too, is a player fitting perfectly into the mould. Liam Gray wasn’t involved in the breakthrough 2015 success, but is now firmly established as a midfielder of note and impressive ability.
The surname Gray is one of the new breed now, along with the Garritys, carrying on the legacy of past generations of players stretching back through the decades. Liam and Ryan have impressed with their stylish running, scoretaking ability, workrate and determination. More of the same would do nicely indeed as the club prepares for its 11th County Final, stretching back to the first in 1917 when they were represented by Kilskerry McDonaghs.
“It’s a big step for this Trillick team to be back in the final, especially in Tyrone because everything is so tight in terms of the championship. In every game, you just have to look no further than the 60 minutes ahead,” remarked Liam.
“There’s no doubt that anything and everything that you win is so hard-earned. It was the same against Coalisland in the semi-final because that was probably one of the toughest games that we’ve ever had.
“No team has defended the title for 15 years and I suppose we’re in that position now. But that’s definitely not something that we’ve thought about at all because in Tyrone you just have to take everything one game at a time. If you dwell too much on getting the result, then that’s when you’re going to get nipped.
“We definitely won’t be thinking about the title in the final. It will be a case of putting the shoulder to the wheel and concentrating on the job at hand.”
FULL STORY IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP SUPPLEMENT INSIDE THURSDAY’S ULSTER HERALD
Posted: 8:26 am September 20, 2020