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Omagh's belief has no limit


Hotly contested: Omagh St Enda’s stars wrestle for possession with Crossmaglen Rangers’ Johnny Hanratty

Hotly contested: Omagh St Enda’s stars wrestle for possession with Crossmaglen Rangers’ Johnny Hanratty

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

Hotly contested: Omagh St Enda’s stars wrestle for possession with Crossmaglen Rangers’ Johnny Hanratty

And then there were six. The dismissals of Crossmaglen Rangers and St Gall's on Sunday has left a sextet of hopefuls, all similarly convinced that their name will be etched on the Seamus McFerran Cup for the first time.

There hasn't been a first-time winner of Ulster since 2003, when the Loup emerged from Derry and went all the way to glory under current Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke.

Among the challengers left, there are varying degrees of experience in the Ulster club. St Eunan's, so impressive and commanding in their Donegal final win, enter their fifth campaign since 2007.

In that time, however, they have been unable to get to a provincial final despite the talents of Rory Kavanagh, Conal Dunne, Kevin Rafferty and the evergreen John Haran.

Clontibret will have memories of 1994, when they reached the Ulster final to be beaten by Bellaghy.

Roslea likewise, as they got to the 1982 final only to be seen off by St Gall's.

Cavan Gaels were there in 1977, vanquished by St John's of Belfast. Since 2001, the Cavan town team have won nine county Championships but have never really shown they could be a force to be reckoned with in the province.

Under the management of Peter Canavan and with Seanie Johnston back playing for his club after that ill-advised sojourn in Kildare, they have greater ambitions now.

Their opponents at Owenbeg on Sunday, Slaughtneil, enter only their second tilt at Ulster.

Then again, what is experience and why does it matter, when you consider the feat of Omagh St Enda's?

Some turf accountants had them priced at 11/2 throughout last week for their game at home against Crossmaglen Rangers.

The thinking behind that - and it wasn't an unreasonable position either - was that it takes a few years of putting your stamp on your own county before you can break the glass ceiling in Ulster.

A few weeks before the game, Omagh centre-back Barry Tierney told reporters that the experience his club gained in winning the St Paul's tournament for minor club Championship winners, and the Creggan tournament which is the equivalent at under-21 level, was all they needed.

It might have easily been dismissed as wishful thinking on his part.

Perhaps their youth gave them a healthy disrespect of Cross.

It was interesting to note the comments of Joe McMahon in the wake of Sunday's triumph as he spoke of a fractured build-up in the five weeks between their county final and the visit of the feared Armagh club.

"We were struggling to get friendlies because it is the time of year that it is, and we ended up playing the Louth champions in a friendly, and that was a good game and it stood to us," the two-time All-Ireland winner said.

He also referenced the experience of the 21-22-year-old brigade and what they had achieved at their age group in Ulster.

"The younger lads have had the experience of playing in Ulster with Omagh, and they have come up against Cross and beaten Cross in the past," he continued.

"This is my first time ever playing against Cross, and I didn't think of it as a mammoth task. I just thought it was another game.

"We worked on things in training, we identified Cross's strengths and places where they could be exploited.

"We knew it was going to be a physical battle, and football probably was going to come second. But thankfully we came through in the end."

Omagh manager Laurence Strain said that factor was exploited as much as possible in the lead into the game.

"It was spoken about," stated the publican.

"A lot of those lads, maybe nine or 10 of those lads, have all got Ulster medals at minor or under-21 or maybe both.

"Then you have the likes of Joe and Justin, who have All-Ireland medals. There are a load of lads who have medals and have played at county level so there's no real fear.

"Plus, when you are playing Coalisland, Dromore, Carrickmore and it goes to the wire and you come out on the right side of the result, it instils belief that you know you have the stuff that can maybe get you across the line."

From 11/2 to beat Cross, Omagh were immediately installed as 6/4 favourites to win the competition outright yesterday morning.

Football at this time of the year, with the evenings closing in and Christmas around the corner, has a real romance about it.

For the 31-year-old McMahon, a man poised to bring down the curtain on a glorious county career, he just hopes the journey continues along with his brothers Justin and Conor.

"I never won a title with the club before until the county final, and it's nice now to go on in this competition," he finished.

Belfast Telegraph