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McEldowney revved up to drive Slaughtneil to Ulster club glory


Captain’s role: Francis McEldowney (left) is confident that his Slaughtneil side can make it into the All-Ireland play-offs

Captain’s role: Francis McEldowney (left) is confident that his Slaughtneil side can make it into the All-Ireland play-offs

Captain’s role: Francis McEldowney (left) is confident that his Slaughtneil side can make it into the All-Ireland play-offs

Slaughtneil captain Francis McEldowney is hoping that his team can avoid controversy when they confront Omagh St Enda's in the Ulster club football championship final at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh tomorrow.

It was a hotly-disputed Gerald Bradley injury-time goal that saw Slaughtneil overcome Ballinderry in the Derry final, the fall-out from that game continuing for some time afterwards.

Since then Slaughtneil have gone on to beat Cavan Gaels and Clontibret to book their place in tomorrow's decider.

Former Derry county star McEldowney leads this side from defence and is anxious that they should be seen in the best possible light tomorrow.

"I know there was a bit of controversy attached to that game against Ballinderry but you have to live with these things. Thankfully we got through and so far we have justified ourselves in the Ulster club series but Omagh St Enda's are in very hot form at the present time and they will certainly be difficult to beat," he said.

It was the skipper who set up the only goal in the semi-final win over Clontibret for Christopher McGuigan - a score which was to prove absolutely crucial in determining the outcome of the tie.

"People always say that goals are very important but in a championship context at club or county level they can be even more vital," said McEldowney, "If we were get one or two tomorrow it would be very helpful but the St Enda's defence will not be giving away much, that's for sure."

Slaughtneil have managed to keep a clean sheet in their last three games and while McEldowney is anxious to see this frugal outlook maintained, he is equally keen to see the game prove a glowing advertisement for Ulster club football.

"There has been a lot of talk about this Ulster club championship being very open and I suppose that came about after St Enda's beat Crossmaglen. There is certainly little to choose between tomorrow's two teams," he said.

Slaughtneil manager Mickey Moran has been more than happy to allow assistant John Joe Kearney to field media questions in advance of the game and the latter is convinced that the Slaughtneil faithful will have a big part to play in tomorrow's proceedings.

"I know that they will be getting behind us and we would like to think that we will get the backing of other clubs in Derry as well. This is a massive game for our club, something of which we have all dreamed and now that it is upon us we would like to come out on the right side and get a crack at the All-Ireland series," said Kearney.

"But then you would have to say that St Enda's and their manager Larry Strain share these same aspirations."

When St Enda's overcame Donegal champions St Eunan's in the semi-final at Celtic Park, Derry earlier this month dozens of their supporters were absent - and all because of a towering commitment to the club.

On the same day, Slaughtneil and Clontibret met in the other semi at Healy Park, the Omagh side's headquarters, and this meant club members were required to assist Ulster Council personnel in overseeing the contest.

Naturally, the club's coffers benefitted and the willingness of fans to sacrifice the enjoyment of hailing a semi-final victory underlined their loyalty to the club.

Now those same fans are among the most enthusiastic as D-Day dawns. Indeed, the St Enda's clash with Slaughtneil in Sunday's provincial decider at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh dwarfs some inter-county fixtures in terms of intrigue and appeal.

And no grouping is more aware of this than the Omagh team's players.

"A lot of our supporters didn't get to the game against St Eunan's because they had voluntary work to undertake at the club where the other semi-final was being staged," said defender Barry Tierney, "This shows you the commitment of these people - the club means everything to them just as it does to us, the players.

"You can sense the joy and the buzz Sunday's game has created around the town. Being in the Ulster final is not just for us, it's for the supporters and for the people behind the scenes."

Belfast Telegraph