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John Joe Kearney is relieved to get over the finish line

By John Joe Kearney

The modest and unassuming John Joe Kearney does not quite see himself as a high-profile media analyst but the Slaughtneil assistant manager has certainly been doing his bit of late to promote a championship odyssey of fairytale proportions.

And yesterday, as manager Mickey Moran continued to remain in the background quietly absorbing his latest coup, the genial John Joe just got on with doing what he accomplishes so well - telling it like it is.

Euphoria may have reigned all around him as ecstatic fans hailed the greatest success in the club's history but he nonetheless retained a sense of perspective.

"This is a great day for Slaughtneil but you have to wonder about the value of that early goal we got," he mused gently, "Sometimes it can be a great thing for a team but I think that on this occasion it told Omagh to get out of bed. And after that they came at us in swarms and really took the game to us. I don't know what our lads were thinking after we got the goal but the fact of the matter is that Omagh led at half-time."

And that was when the combined experience and tactical skills of John Joe and manager Moran came into play.

"We decided that in the second-half we would go man to man and that worked for us. Maybe one or two decisions did not go for us but I honestly thought that the referee had a good game. Obviously when we got to the closing stages the game could have gone either way and I was very glad to see Christopher Bradley's shot go over the bar in injury-time," smiled the Slaughtneil No 2.

His relief was echoed by the players with Gerald Bradley, Brendan Rodgers and skipper Francis McEldowney among those who made it abundantly clear that the letter 'h' had played a big part in their build-up to the game.

"Mickey Moran and John Joe are always preaching to us about the three virtues of heart, hard work and honesty and we certainly needed them in abundance out there," declared Bradley. "But we can now say that we have reaped the rewards they can bring. Every player gave 100% and you can't ask for more than that."

Derry county board chairman John Keenan hailed Slaughtneil's victory as a "massive boost" not just for the club but for the Oak Leaf county and the province.

"The manner in which this victory was achieved in a game of this magnitude is just incredible, a massive boost" enthused Keenan. "It was clean, hard-fought and had people on the edge of their seats right to the end. You could not ask for more than that."

For disconsolate Omagh manager Larry Strain, though, there was only the searing pain of defeat in the most heart-breaking of circumstances.

In this his first season in charge he had prior to yesterday overseen the annexing of a first Tyrone championship title in twenty-six years prior to masterminding Ulster club championship victories over Crossmaglen Rangers and St Eunan's. But yesterday saw his team's dream of provincial glory shattered.

"I suppose you could say that we didn't take our chances in the first-half and then we let them back into the game after the break," said the popular Omagh publican. "When you get to this stage of the championship season you like to think you can finish with a win but it wasn't to be.

"But you just have to hand it to Slaughtneil. They are a great side and they deserve all they have achieved. It's always a long way back from the position in which we find ourselves but that's something I don't want to even think about at this minute in time."

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