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Omagh St Enda's cook up a special treat

Place in Ulster final is fitting reward for club achieving success on so many levels

By Declan Bogue

Saturday morning, on the foothills of the glorious Sperrin Mountains, overlooking the Strule River on a clear autumn day.

Inside, a line of Omagh St Enda's players are preparing cooked breakfasts for their fellow clubmen and women in their latest fundraising venture.

Liam Morris grabs you and points out a window at his old homeplace on the mountain. It falls into Newtownstewart country, so that is where he played his football. He was a Newtown man through and through, even though life took him to Omagh.

When his children were born, he thought he might follow the example of Frank and Declan Darcy and bring them back to the homeplace to play their football. Soon, the kids were restless. Their mates were all playing with Omagh, so why couldn't they?

Liam acceded. When his children got involved, he got involved. He is now a naturalised Omagh man, chairman of the club.

There's a special feeling in the air around Omagh at the minute.

You might not know Niall Laird for example, but chances are you would have seen his work. He is the artist behind the Ulster Council matchday programmes and their daring artistic themes. He designs more club crests than you would imagine.

Contacted last week about a separate matter, the talk turned to Omagh and their progress to the Ulster final, in which they play Slaughtneil at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh on Sunday (3.30pm). A former player, he beamed: "We just can't stop smiling. For weeks now we can't."

It's not just on the football field that Omagh are succeeding. Some years ago the hurling wing of the club disbanded. It is slowly coming back through a programme of joint underage coaching, ensuring that at each shared session, the children would spend as much time hurling as they would at football.

Senior footballers such as Conor McMahon and Stephen Mullan, men whose hands had never been hardened into calluses by a hurl, now conduct sessions.

Their ladies footballers have brought much success to the club in recent times. They have a successful Scór wing for those more inclined towards cultural activities.

The week after the Ulster final they are hosting their club panto. Players Aáron Grugan and Jason McAnulla are performing, along with selector Vinny McCullagh.

People like to measure the health of the GAA in their club or their county in terms of that horribly narrow phrase, 'medals in pockets', as if this is the only reason for such a community-based organisation to exist.

I see it in different terms. Your club or county senior hurling or football team is the shop window, but the engine of your club is behind that. The health of the engine, and the more people involved in driving it and keeping it in fuel, is the real success.

For in some ways, it is harder to run a big-town club of 800 members, with all the distractions and competing interests that a town of 22,000 people can offer.

But at Healy Park, they are as close as any group of players. Ronan O'Neill tells of the stick he takes from Tyrone physio Michael Harte.

"He says the full back row of the cinema is full of Omagh boys, but that's the nature of us, we like to do things together, we don't like doing things in twos or threes," said O'Neill.

"We like to show where we are from, we take immense pride in where we are from. We are a large town and people have plenty to say about townies and not having that closeness that country teams have. But we are best of friends."

Their final opponents, Slaughtneil, are entirely different.

They are the typical club on the crossroads that we all like to eulogise every now and again in that generally well meaning, yet impossible not to patronise, way.

"Everyone in Slaughtneil from the age of eight to 80 wants to be involved in GAA," said Chrissy McKaigue, their clubman who is just back from international duty in Australia.

"There is nothing else that matters. It's GAA, GAA, GAA. And when you have that ethos, success will follow."

Unfortunately, I will not be there to see their Ulster club final, and it pains me because Omagh has been my home for the past five years. The place has been good to me and the people are infectiously irreverent, informal and upfront.

Slaughtneil did not have a media event, and as a result, we didn't get the same colour from the club. And that's a pity, because their stories deserve telling just as much as Omagh's.

Should they win, perhaps they might.

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