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Omagh now ready for big time: O'Donnell

By Declan Bogue

Beating Crossmaglen takes some doing, but as much as Omagh forward Connor O'Donnell acknowledges that, he would not say it was their finest Championship performance all year.

Instead, it was Jason McAnulla's last-minute goal against Dromore - winners in 2007, 2009 and 2011 - that showed them they had what it took.

"The last minute goal against Dromore turned the season around massively," he said. "One flick of a ball and we've ended up here."

That win catapulted Omagh into the final and a rematch with their 2005 conquers and neighbours, Carrickmore.

Back then, O'Donnell was a fresh-faced teen on a team that had never really sniffed honours going back as far as 1988. They had barely seen off Errigal Ciaran in the semi-final replay in Carrickmore during the week when they were back out in the final, all the games being crammed into a tight timeframe because of the county side's backdoor run to All-Ireland glory that year.

In the end, it was too much for Omagh to bear, but now they are in the big time and in his own way, O'Donnell, the 27-year-old medical clerk, has done as much as any to get to this Ulster final.

A few years back and not long out of underage himself, he was a mentor on the famous 2009 St Paul's Tournament Ulster minor-winning side, alongside the management team of Kenny Clarke and Dominic Murray.

"Most of those players are here today," he said.

Indeed they are. Goalkeeper Ryan Clarke, Ryan McBride, Stephen Mullan, Barry Tierney, Conan Grugan, Ronan O'Neill and Conor Clarke were all part of that side that beat Kilcoo after extra-time. The same year, they reached the Under-21 Ulster final, beaten by Burren, with Shane O'Neill, Jason McAnulla, Conor Clarke and Conor Hannigan part of that squad also," said O'Donnell. "I just knew that it was just a matter of waiting for those boys to develop and mature and we could definitely do things with this team."

O'Donnell has been scarred by more losses than the younger brigade and admits for a time there, it "was getting into our heads".

"Throughout the years it was, 'oul townies - they don't know how to win, they're soft…'" he said.

"It was demoralising going out and getting beat as the team on paper is first class but on paper it means nothing. Once you get that bit of hardness into you and install a bit of belief it has all happened."

Now they have that bit of tin in their back pocket, the release has been an incredible sensation for them. So much so that O'Donnell would contend that the football played in Ulster club action has been less suffocating than in the confines of his own county.

"There was so much pressure on to win that Championship and now we've won it, we can sort of express ourselves a bit and play with a bit of freedom," he added.

He knows it will be tight in tomorrow's final when they come up against Slaughtneil however.

"It's going to be an absolute dogfight by the look of it. They're very hard-working players and Mickey Moran seems to have got them in right shape," said O'Donnell.

"Chatting to a few Ballinderry people I know, they're saying that they're just hungry for everything and they don't slack off. That was evident on the video."

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