In their opening league match against Killyclogher, a late surge from the Clarkes saw two points from Conor McKee and Ryan Jones earn a one-point win.
It cannot be over stated how much the promotion to division one means for the club.
It is a return to the top table for a club with a proud history.
They have won ten titles, all coming between 1908 and 1956.
Only Carrickmore have more titles in the Red Hand county.
The club was founded in 1917, and is named after the 1916 leader Thomas Clarke.
Hailing from the biggest sporting town in the county, one that boasts top level teams in Soccer and Rugby, the Clarke’s regard themselves as the town’s standard bearers for Gaelic Football in the east.
Yet since the 1956 title, there’s been a dearth of championship success.
Hence the great aplomb at the club’s fantastic run of results in division one.
After they beat Killyclogher in round one of the league, they pulled off another victory over West Tyrone opposition, and this time it was a sweeter scalp, that of Omagh, the 2017 county champions, and their big town rivals.
It was upon this foundation that the senior team built their amazing run which has led them to fourth place in the division.
The senior team this year are managed by Chris Rafferty and Terry Loughran who are being assisted in training by Collie Holmes. Their target is maintaining their place in division one. It appears that they look capable of doing so, and that would provide further evidence that here is a team that could challenge for senior championship honours in the future.
The signs have been coming for a while.
The club won the Intermediate championship back in 2014, under the guidance of James Slater. They recorded an incredible 4-11 to 0-14 win over Trillick in the final, confounding the critics, and surprising the naysayers. And was heartily celebrated in McAleer’s, Hagan’s and PJ Quinn’s for many days afterwards.
That all their scores came from play only further added to the incredible nature for
Slater explained how the success came about that year.
“We had a lot of good 19 and 20 year olds, and a lot of boys pushing on in their late 20s.
“We had come out of division three. What we wanted to do was to get in to senior football. The 2014 season gave us the confidence. We had not won championship match in a few years but that gave us the
Unfortunately for Dungannon, they struggled in the top tier in 2015.
Slater said that the time wasn’t right.
“In a way they weren’t ready for it. We lost a few players to travel but that happens to a lot of clubs. We had a lot of games which we lost which we should have won, but in a way we just weren’t good enough to stay in division one.
“Going back to division two is hard. It’s dog eat dog.”
They made the play offs in 2016 but missed out, but finally got back up to senior football last season.
Slater, who is not involved in coaching at the club this season, said: “This year has been fantastic. They are in a healthy position in division one and that is a credit to the players and to the management. They have good players there and good youth coming through. There are three Dungannon players on the Tyrone u-17s and five on the u-20 teams (playing in the Ulster final this weekend).”
But did the experience of 2015 help the players when they returned to the top flight this year? Slater said: “I am not part of the management team this year, so you’d have to ask the players but I think the experience of 2015 taught the players that they don’t want to go through that again.
“What helped us this year was winning those early games. A lot of credit has to go to the management. They have done a great job.”
So where has the current strong senior team come from? Club PRO Joe Toner explained that the club’s priority over the past ten years has been strengthening their underage.
“The lifeblood of the organisation is with the youth of the club and indeed we can see the investment at youth level now paying dividends at Senior level.
“We have had children officers in Michael McHugh and currently Niall McNulty who regulate the busy underage schedule for all these squads.
“We have managers and coaches in place to ensure that training is fun as well as developmental to build on the success of the club.”
The Clarkes Ogs program starts at Under 6 level and continues up to Under 10.5.
The coaches and teams meet up regularly to further their development and enjoy the gaelic games.
Many players get to experience blitzes or tournaments on a regular basis throughout the season.
PRO Toner said: “Like many in the GAA, coaching is on a voluntary basis and we owe these people so much to entrust our children to them in order to made them better footballers and better individuals learning about themselves and teamwork.”
In the last 10 years, Dungannon have won grade 1 county titles at Under 13, 14, 16 and minor levels.
This year their Under 21s are in the Semi-final of the Tyrone County League at Grade 1 having lost out last year to the current Ulster champions Dromore.
Their Minors have won their Grade one section and are preparing for the quarter finals.
The Under 14s lost out to neighbours Donaghmore in both league and championship semi-finals while the under 12.5s and u-16 season are just starting.
What’s interesting about the Clarkes is that they have a very strong international dimension to the club. Industry in Dungannon has attracted families from places like Portugal, East Timor, Lithuania and Poland making the mid Ulster town something of a cultural melting pot.
In January of this year, Dungannon Clarke’s underage coach Peter McKenna told Gaelic Life that the international players are some of the most committed players in the club.
McKenna said: “For ten years we have seen more and more children coming to us from non traditional GAA backgrounds.
“They started at u-6 and carried right through. The early ones didn’t stay on, but in the past few years more of them are staying on. We are hoping that they will stay on and play senior football.
“I think the reason that they are staying on is that they feel more accepted We try to make sure that everyone is welcome.
“We have started to see more of the parents coming out to support teams. They see that their children are enjoying it, so they are coming out to support them.”
This neatly fits into the ethos that the club want to promote.
As the PRO Toner said: “Dungannon Thomas Clarkes is more than a club – it is a family where everyone supports one another.
“Anyone can get involved with the club – whether this be behind the scenes or front and centre playing for the club.
Growing up in Dungannon and playing for the Clarkes in my youth I recall the training and games for about 5 to 6 months of the season.
“Today the training is around the calendar year. It is rare now to go up to O’Neill Park or Cain’s Field and not see a squad training or individuals up practising their kicking or passing skills.
“O’Neill Park & Dungannon Thomas Clarkes – in the heart of the community – is open to all.”
One of the big projects in the club at the moment is their development plan, a major piece of work that seeks to radically improve the club’s facilities.
A facilities and development committee was formed in 2017/18 tasked with developing a masterplan for O Neill Park to begin to lead future developments for the club.
There were previous projects planned by the GAA to develop O Neill Park as a secondary county ground. Due to a lack of funding, these failed to materialise with the result that the club decided to take the initiate and develop their own facilities.
At the AGM in December 2018, a Development Officer was appointed to work with the committee to work up capital development proposals.
The committee set about regenerating the club by developing a club plan and vision for O Neill Park to meets the needs of the community in Dungannon. One of the conclusions that the club reached was that the community needed a facility that would provide a focal point, and a support for it needs.
As a result the club’s development committee have secured planning permission for
a new community building.
All this suggests that the club understands that it plays an important role in the community. They want to provide a service for everyone in the community, whether those people want somewhere to meet, to exercise or to learn a new skill.
While their ambitions are to win club championships, they realise there is so much more to being a GAA club.
For example, This year the club are hosting an “I’m A Celebrity” fund raising event at Dungannon Leisure Centre on November 23rd.
“We will be looking for “Victims” from throughout the community how will be able to bring sizeable support to the event.” The PRO said.
These events not only provide important funding for the club, but also reach out to the local community to come along and take part.
So it is an exciting time to be part of the club. Off the field changes are being made to make the club’s facilities better and to reach out to the community.
On the field of play, from underage to senior, teams are growing, they are winning and moving the club back towards being one of the high kings of Ulster. When they get there, you’ll find them celebrating in McAleer’s, Hagan’s and PJ Quinn’s.
ROLL OF HONOUR
Senior championship winners 1908-09, 1925, 1929, 1933, 1935, 1936, 1944, 1947,
Iggy Jones the Tyrone legend, played for the club in the 1950s.
Ger Cavlan, the All-Ireland winning forward was an inspirational figure for the club
Jimmy McIntosh – is the only player in the club to have ever won five senior
championship medals. He played as goalkeeper in his first in 1925, wing back in
‘29,’33 and 35, and wing forward in 1936.
Art McRory, former Tyrone manager who led them to All- Ireland final in 1986.
Current stars Padraig McNulty has been part of The Tyrone panel in recent years.