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Trillick deliver knockout blow to land a senior title

By Declan Bogue

Published 14/10/2015

Winners again: Trillick celebrate their first Tyrone county title since 1986
Winners again: Trillick celebrate their first Tyrone county title since 1986

It's time we talked about the lesser-spotted straight knockout football Championship. In grave danger of extinction, its Corncrake call can only be heard across three remaining Ulster counties - Antrim, Fermanagh and Tyrone.

The USP of Championship used to be the 'all on the day' factor. But safety nets and backdoor systems have diluted the other six counties.

In Healy Park on Sunday, Trillick produced one of those days that will live long in the memory. How exactly do you explain the unique set of circumstances that a team who can lose an Intermediate final 12 months previously, can be crowned senior champions in their first year back?

The short answer is with a straightforward, hell-for-leather straight knockout system. As a county, Tyrone comes in for serious criticism, but there is no denying how deep tradition runs within its GAA culture.

The day of the Tyrone-Kerry All-Ireland semi-final, I recall a conversation with Enda McGinley, there on BBC Radio duty, about the enormous crowd or around 3,000 at a Junior Championship match in Eskra the night before. He himself had spent the previous evening at a ladies' Championship match involving Errigal Ciaran and the attendance was over four figures.

Perhaps on wider issues, Tyrone GAA can be ultra-conservative, but when applied to their steadfast refusal to dilute the competitiveness of their club Championship, they should be applauded.

Maybe Trillick were granted a little slice of luck or two on their way. In drawing Dungannon for the first round they had a clear motive for revenge. Greencastle were dispatched by 13 points, while they surprised many by taking advantage of a mentally-fragile Coalisland to win by eight points in the semi-final.

No doubt, the work of the unheralded sports psychologist Ciaran Kearney within their camp has had a huge role to play.

In convincing Trillick players they were worthy of their forefathers, he might have leaned a little on the tradition of the club that wear six stars on their jersey, one for each of their Championships prior to Sunday.

"We said at the start of the year we would show the county there is heart in Trillick. We apply ourselves from start to finish, and this is what we get," said their captain Mattie Donnelly from the Healy Park steps on Sunday.

He comes from a household steeped in that tradition. Once he walks down the stairs in the morning, he comes face to face with pictures of the great Trillick teams of the past, with his father Liam captaining the last team that won in 1986. Mattie's Twitter handle is @mattydonn86 by way of coincidence.

And those Trillick players not so decorated? He had words for them too: "We all know of the generations of Trillick men who didn't get here. Well, we grew up watching these boys play for Trillick. You showed us what it meant to play for Trillick. This cup is for youse as well."

Mattie's brother Richie waited until all the players had raised the cup before taking it down the steps. His father Liam was waiting for him at the bottom. After an embrace, the father turned away with tears blinding him.

Earlier this year, Mattie and Richie were training at The Edge gym in Augher, with proprietor Pauric Grimes. This reporter popped in one day, coinciding with one of their sessions. The training regime was nothing short of grisly and gruesome.

So impressed was Grimes with their attitude and application, that he put £20 on Trillick to win the Championship, at 25/1. On Monday, he cashed that slip in.

Would such audacity occur with a backdoor or group system in a Championship? Difficult to say.

But hardly.

Belfast Telegraph

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