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Laurence Strain: Omagh's patience will prove key again at Ulster club final

By Declan Bogue

Omagh manager Laurence Strain isn't expecting Sunday's Ulster club final to be an all-singing all-dancing affair of open football.

They face Slaughtneil, who held Clontribret - with one of the most in-form forwards in the game in Conor McManus - to a measly seven points in the Ulster semi-final. Before that, they restricted Cavan Gaels - with Seanie Johnstone, Martin Dunne and Micheál Lyng - to nine points.

As a result, Strain realises the scores will come at a premium against the Derry champions as both clubs seek to have their name etched on the Seamus McFerran Cup for the very first time.

"They obviously work very hard on their defensive system, and results have proven that they're very good at it," admitted the St Enda's supremo, who is assisted by his brother-in-law, Barry McGinn.

He continued: "It's going to be a real dogfight, it's probably going to be a low-scoring game, and the team which sticks at it to the end and takes their time and is patient will probably win the game."

If there is one thing Omagh have, it is patience. In taking their first Tyrone Championship in 26 years, they had tight finishes against Coalisland, Dromore and Carrickmore, the latter decided with an injury-time goal by their supreme attacker Ronan O'Neill.

Strain is under no illusion that O'Neill and fellow inside-forward Connor O'Donnell will be studied and worked on by Slaughtneil manager Mickey Moran to limit their impact. However, he would venture that they are getting no more special treatment than any of the vaunted names the Derry men have faced so far in this year's Championship.

Strain commented: "I don't imagine that Ronan will get that much extra attention. Slaughtneil have their defensive system fairly well worked out, and I don't imagine it makes much difference who they're playing against.

"If it's one v one, then the attackers have a chance, but if it's two and three v one, then it certainly nullifies the odds a bit."

At this stage, Strain has almost had to pinch himself, being still in action at this stage of the season, admitting he had hardly factored it in when taking over for his first season in charge.

"I'd be telling lies if I said I expected to get to an Ulster final. To be honest, I didn't even take a look at Ulster. It wasn't an issue," he explained.

"Winning the Tyrone championship was everything, it was the be all and end all. And whenever that happened, it really was only then that you looked forward.

"But it's a different mind-set now in Ulster. With expectations in the club to win the Tyrone title, and people talking about all these young lads, it's well worn talk now, about them not having the heart for the battle."

He added: "Once they did win that, it was like the pressure was off. Players put pressure upon themselves to play well no matter who they're playing. But there really is a much easier feel now that they have won something.

"I don't want to tempt fate, but against Cross and St Eunan's, I think we played better football than we probably had played in the Tyrone Championship.

"I also found that when you're preparing for the Tyrone championship, it's all hurried. You're trying to get lads into good shape fitness-wise, you're trying to work on the way you're playing, you have a league game maybe thrown in there as well.

"Whereas once the county title is finished, you have your break, with one objective at the end of it, and that's the Ulster Club game.

"All you do is prepare for each game, there's no other issues, and it definitely does help your football."

Omagh are bidding to become only the second Tyrone club to win the title, a statistic that has not escaped Strain, with only Errigal Ciaran's triumphs in 1993 and 2002 to show for the county.

"The record of Tyrone clubs in Ulster is well heralded. It's terrible, and it's amazing, because you look at the quality of some of the clubs there," he marvelled.

"Maybe it's to do with the fact that the Tyrone championship is so hard to win. But thankfully we have managed to navigate our way through it."

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