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We can make an impact on Ulster stage: McNally

 

By John Campbell

Tyrone may have dominated the GAA headlines in Ulster to a large extent over the course of recent years, yet two stark statistics continue to prove unappetising food for thought within Red Hand territory.

A decade has elapsed since Mickey Harte's men last took delivery of the Sam Maguire Cup, and on only two occasions in the last quarter-century has the Ulster Club Championship title came to rest in the O'Neill County.

It's the latter perceived famine that is uppermost in the mind of Coalisland Fianna captain Stephen McNally as he prepares for his team's upcoming battle against Crossmaglen Rangers in an Ulster Club Championship series that is laced with intrigue and laden with promise.

McNally's side may have taken delivery of the Tyrone title twice in the last eight years, but this feat is dwarfed by the towering achievements of Crossmaglen, who have not only reigned supreme in Ulster on 10 occasions in the past 20 years but have compiled an impressive six All-Ireland Club titles since 1997.

Yet while recent history would suggest that Crossmaglen Rangers are capable of hitting the high spots again, McNally is strongly focused on seeing his side scale a new peak.

"I believe that our strength lies in the fact that we have leaders all over the field," maintained McNally. "I might be the one who lifted the Tyrone Championship trophy but any player could have done that. I think there is a great spirit in this side and we want to do our county proud on the Ulster stage.

"Even when we were up against it against Killyclogher in Sunday's county final, we didn't panic, and that's a sign of a team that has belief. When the going got tough we just dug deep and hit back.

"We know that there are bigger challenges ahead and they certainly come no bigger than Crossmaglen Rangers."

Coalisland charted a remarkably difficult course to glory in Tyrone, defeating Dromore, Errigal Ciaran and Edendork before getting the better of Killyclogher.

But McNally is convinced that these games will stand his side in good stead as they prepare to make their pitch for provincial honours.

"We had to do it the hard way to win the Tyrone title, but it's always a difficult Championship, as we all know," he maintained. "I think this is reflected in the fact that so many different sides have won it over the course of recent years without any one team dominating.

"Crossmaglen Rangers have a great tradition of success but we ourselves have gained in self-belief and I think the players will relish the chance to go toe-to-toe with one of the best club sides in the country.

"I think there is a great hunger within our side to push on from here, and it's this hunger which could maybe help to push us over the line. We will certainly be giving it everything and hopefully we will have good support. We want to do ourselves justice on the Ulster stage, that's the big goal."

Coalisland have certainly thrived this year to date with manager Damien O'Hagan providing the drive and inspiration that has taken the side to the Tyrone title.

In Padraig Hampsey and Michael McKernan, Coalisland boast two players who were among the most consistent in the Tyrone side this year, while Paddy McNeice, Peter Herron and Daniel Fee are other key men.

O'Hagan, who served Tyrone with distinction in the past and whose son Cormac is currently helping to keep Coalisland's scoring ratio healthy, believes that the stubborn streak within the team can prove a key weapon in what is certain to be a fiercely contested Ulster Club Championship overall.

"The boys never know when they are beaten, they can always be relied upon to respond when the going gets tough. We were tested fully in all our games in the Championship but we came through. I think this shows the character and courage of the side, and also their pride and absolute dedication," asserted O'Hagan.

Already the team is fired up for the provincial series and O'Hagan believes that, with the strong support they have been receiving from their fans, they can make an impact, although the Championship is viewed as being wide open.

"We're only at the quarter-final stage so it's all to play for," added O'Hagan.

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