Strabane paints town red and white as Tyrone eye up GAA’s glittering prize
Expectant Tyrone supporters have turned the county into a sea of red and white ahead of tomorrow's All-Ireland final against Dublin.
The county's fans take their GAA seriously, particularly in Strabane, where several of the key players are from.
Yesterday, most of the shops played The Knights, Tyrone Here We Go and Philomena Begley's Come on Tyrone on a constant loop.
Many of the town's people were attired in Tyrone jerseys, bunting and flags hung from every lamp post and very little else was talked about on the streets.
Strabane grandmother Mary McAleer (69) has taken her support to a whole new level, painting her terraced house in the town's Bridgend area in the team's colours and lining up 15 fully kitted out teddy bears representing the team outside her home.
"I am Tyrone's biggest fan," she said. "There is no doubt about that. I love Tyrone. I have been a fan for many, many years.
"The outside of my house is painted white and red. I have put teddy bears out and every one of the teddy bears represents one of the team.
"I have red boots in my hall and the entire inside of my house is done in white and red and my walls are covered in pictures of the team.
"I have a red sofa, red rugs, red and white blinds, everything. It's like a big Tyrone Christmas in my house every day."
The mother-of-two, who has a red Tyrone tattoo on her forearm, says a worsening health condition will keep her from travelling to tomorrow's final in Dublin, but that she will be cheering on the team from her sofa.
"I can't go to the match this Sunday," she said. "I'm just out of hospital and not feeling well, but Mickey Harte has been down here seeing me and I expect he'll be here again soon.
"They know I am Tyrone mad. I had to be rushed to hospital in an ambulance last weekend with the blue lights flashing. I asked the paramedic if he could change the lights to red, as Dublin's colours are blue.
"I'll be watching the match here at home on the television. I'll be praying all morning and I have my little angel ornaments, Padre Pio and Our Lady statues all set up in front of the TV. I know Mickey Harte will do it. We will bring Sam home."
Tyrone are seeking a fourth All-Ireland, and their first title since 2008.
Yesterday, Sinn Fein's Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill, who is from Tyrone, posted a photo online showing her clad in the county's colours alongside Dublin-born party president Mary Lou McDonald.
Michelle was supported by a crutch as she recovers from a broken leg sustained last month.
Across Strabane, and the rest of the county, people are joining in the pre-final buzz.
Grainne McCann (21), whose two brothers Tiernan and Conall are playing tomorrow, said the excitement is building elsewhere, but at home her siblings are totally focused on 'beating the Dubs'.
"My mum and dad are very nervous, I'd say they won't sleep," she said. "There is a lot of pressure on the boys and they just want them to do well after all their training.
"I honestly think we will win if they go out and play as best as they can and hold nothing back."
Liam Ward (65), from Dumanagh, said he wanted to see Sam "come home".
"I'll be wearing my lucky jersey, the one they won the All-Ireland with in 2003," he said. "I think the match will be close. I want to see Sam coming back home."
Strabane woman Chrissie Devine (63) said she will save her prayers because "Tyrone don't need them".
"I have been a Tyrone fan since I was a child," she said. "Ten years we have been waiting to get Sam back, and I have high hopes that it will happen this Sunday."
Michael Devlin, a journalist at the Strabane Chronicle, said the mood in the town in the build-up to the game has been phenomenal. "The whole place is decked in red and white," he said. "There's bunting and flags everywhere and every second person has a Tyrone top on. Everyone I know wants a ticket to the game.
"Tyrone are the underdogs, but them having played before will leave them in good stead, but it's just too close to call."
Maria McLaughlin (53), who works at Strabane's O'Neills Sportswear - which sponsors the team - said they have been overrun by the demand for Tyrone jerseys.
"The atmosphere this week has been brilliant," she said. "The whole county has gone mad. Our tops have been flying off the shelves, we have been flat out.
"We have the music blasting out from the 2003 final and everyone is in great form.
"I think it will be very tight, but I think we will do it. I think Dublin will get the shock of their life. But win, lose or draw, Tyrone people stick together. It will be a party all the way."
Former Tyrone player Brian Gormley played in the last final clash against Dublin in 1995 and is now head of the PE department at Holy Cross School. He said Tyrone have a good chance of winning, particularly because past pupil Cathal McShane is in the squad.
"Tyrone are obviously the underdogs," he said. "And everyone loves an underdog. As long as the players give it 100% I think they have a really good chance.
"Looking back at the day before my All-Ireland final, I know that the boys will be trying to keep themselves focused and grounded, they won't want to get carried away on all the hype."
Maire Ni Dhochartaigh, principal of Gaelscoil Ui Dhochartaigh, said her staff and pupils will be taking Monday off school so that they can appreciate the monumental day.
"Everyone in the school is so excited," she said.