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Barry Tierney is taking GAA title challenge in his stride

By Declan Bogue

Back in the 2002 All-Ireland football final, Armagh were clinging on for dear life when the final whistle sounded for their first and only Sam Maguire. Fittingly, it was their centre-back Kieran McGeeney who safely had the ball at that moment.

On Sunday, it was Omagh's centre-back, Barry Tierney, who was sprinting out of the backline, ball tucked under the oxter, when referee Noel Mooney signalled the end of the game. The St Eunan's siege was lifted, Omagh were into their first Ulster club final.

Few have done quite as much as Tierney to get them to this point, and he attempted to make some sense of the dizzying journey they have been on from perennial also-rans in their own county to Ulster finalists.

"It's insane!" exclaimed the 22-year-old Sports Studies student at Jordanstown. "Especially when the club won their first county title in 26 years. At the start of the year we wouldn't have been looking towards an Ulster title. We took every game as it came and once we got out of the Tyrone Championship it was Crossmaglen."

He added: "Then we took this game, and it will be the same against Slaughtneil. We'll think about it all when the season ends."

Last week, corner-forward Connor O'Donnell reflected that this time of year was normally reserved for house-keeping issues in the Tyrone league, especially if Tyrone had gone far in the All-Ireland series.

For St Enda's, that usually meant something as unedifying as a relegation play-off. It has been some turnaround in their fortunes and unsurprisingly, getting to training hasn't seemed like the usual chore.

"The last few years with Omagh we were going out in the first round of the Championship. Come this time of year, this was known as 'drinking season'. So I suppose there are new challenges this year and it is something you enjoy when you are there," said Tierney.

"It's something you are proud of and privileged to be training at this stage - if you are winning."

Against Crossmaglen, Tierney was on hand to palm home a pass across the face of the goal from O'Donnell before crashing into the post, an impact he says he felt for days afterwards.

Here, he almost had a similar goal when both he and Jason McAnulla threw themselves at a Stephen Mullan centre but neither made contact. Soon after the quarter-hour mark, he was put through by a sumptuous Ronan O'Neill pass and finished to the net.

"It's not often I get up to the last third to get a goal," he laughs.

On O'Neill's through ball, he added: "That's what Rony's for. The man can spring a pass from anywhere. He might have taken a bit of criticism over the last while but I think you are starting to see the potential he has. It took him a while to get back from injury."

Earlier this year, Tierney was much maligned when a man-marking job on Kerry's James O'Donoghue ended in a hat-trick of goals in their league meeting in Killarney for the 2014 Player of the Year. It has become clear to the wider public that he is much more effective as a half-back breaking from defence.

He offers no argument to that theory: "When Larry (Strain, manager) came in, he gave me a role to do and the way that we have been playing, we have workers coming off the half-forward line to come back. It allows me to get forward and thankfully it's paid off. I enjoy it more."

For now, they have an Ulster final to look forward to. Slaughtneil are also set for their first provincial final and as a neat little link between the sides, it was Slaughtneil manager Mickey Moran who managed Omagh to their previous county Championship, back when he was still in his 20s.

"They beat Ballinderry, so they are obviously doing something right," says Tierney of the Derry men. "Any side from Derry are going to be tough. We just look forward to the challenge."

Belfast Telegraph

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