Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

GAA: It's the final countdown

And four into two won't go

The race in Tyrone for the coveted O'Neill Cup reaches the penultimate hurdle today with two attractive semi-final ties down for decision in opposite ends of the county.

The race in Tyrone for the coveted O'Neill Cup reaches the penultimate hurdle today with two attractive semi-final ties down for decision in opposite ends of the county.

First into action are Errigal Ciaran and Coalisland at Dungannon in the afternoon and then it's the turn of Healy Park to host the clash of Dromore and reigning champions Carrickmore.

Three of the top four sides in Division 1A are still in the hunt for the championship with the exception being Coalisland but there is no way the Fianna can be ruled out of the equation in two games which look too close to call.

Errigal Ciaran will start as warm favourites at O'Neill Park against surprise packets Coalisland but there is no way Malachy O'Rourke's men will take their opponents for granted. At the same stage last season they were expected to get past the challenge of Omagh but lost out after a replay and no doubt will have learned from that experience.

Since winning their first championship in 1993, Errigal Ciaran have been there or thereabouts every season in Tyrone in both league and championship and they will be bidding to take another step towards a sixth title in that period.

They have a side packed with players with county experience such as Enda McGinley, John Devine, Cormac McGinley, Mark Harte, Pascal Canavan and Davy Harte and are led by the mercurial Peter Canavan, still one of the best in the business as his 1-5 against Killyclogher in the league last weekend demonstrated.

Coalisland though have steadily improved in the championship and after accounting for Kildress and Clann Na Gael they produced a superb performance to get the better of a fancied Ardboe outfit.

County player Peter Donnelly is a key figure for them at full back in what is a very youthful side. Philip Toner has surely caught the eye of the Tyrone management with his displays to date with the likes of Brian Toner, Martin Early, Richard Thornton and Plunkett Kane others who can cause Errigal problems, the latter scoring 2-6 against Omagh last weekend.

County champions Carrickmore will start as favourites against a Dromore side hoping that this is finally their year to make the breakthrough. The St Colmcilles are going for three in a row and they showed all their trademark determination in the previous round when they dug themselves out of a hole against Donaghmore when trailing by four points going into the final quarter.

The loss - through a broken ankle - of Conor Gormley is a severe blow to but they have a good mixture of youth and experience with former county players Brian Gormley and Ronan McGarrity complementing the likes of Finbar Magill, James Nugent, Kevin McNally and Michael Gallagher.

This is the third year in a row that these two sides have met in the championship. They crossed swords last season at the same stage and 12 months prior to that in the final. Dromore have come close on both occasions and may well feel it's a case of now or never. They will be led by county duo Ryan McMenamin and Colm McCullagh with big performances also required from the likes of Mickey Garry, Kevin O'Brien, Eoin McCusker, Joe Campbell and promising young full back Cathal McCarron.

Dominic Corrigan, in his second stint as Carrickmore manager, has yet to taste defeat in the Tyrone Championship and it will be interesting to see if Noel McGinn can end that record and lead his side to the decider in his debut season at the helm.

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