By Alan Rodgers
A FULL focus on the key target of championship success is now the big aim for the Tyrone junior teams as the race for honours launches the Red Hand knock-out season this weekend.
League action during recent weeks has highlighted the expectation that the race for the Pat Darcy Cup is set to be another intriguing one. Division Three champions Stewartstown lead the way after clinching promotion last weekend, but hot on their heels will be any number of hopeful challengers.
Strabane, Aghaloo, Fintona, Drumragh, Augher and Glenelly in particular will be hoping that their good form in the league can be translated onto the knock-out stage, and a good run culminating in final glory and an automatic place in intermediate ranks for 2023.
But they’ll all have to find a way past the Harps, who have defeated all comers in the league and concluded a marvellous campaign with an emphatic victory over Brocagh on Sunday past.
The win means that they’ll be returning to Division Two after just a one-year absence, and the team managed by Blake Smith and Peter Armour will be intent on doing the double over the coming weeks.
Centre-back Conor Quinn was absolutely delighted with their win, which was celebrated by supporters, players and managers on Sunday. He says there will be a certain degree of pressure released as they embark on the championship.
“Winning the league is a great end to a brilliant year for us. To go unbeaten throughout the year is pretty special for any teams and for us it’s just brilliant,” he said.
“We came down from intermediate last year, so there was a big determination for us to bounce back straight away and that was important. We felt that we probably didn’t deserve to go down last year, because our belief was that the talent is within the team to do better and push for the top places in Division Two as well.
“Stewartstown have had good minor and u-21 teams during the past few years, and probably feel hard done by. But that’s the way things went, but the attitude was right, and the hard work was put in from the start of the year. We’re now back where we belong.”
Donaghmore Thirds provide Stewartstown’s opposition in the Junior Championship first round. It’s one that they’ll be tipped to emerge safely from, but neither the players nor management will be taking anything for granted.
“Tyrone football is mostly a guessing game, but we’re looking forward to the championship now,” he added. “There has been a lot of pressure on this team since the start of the year to go straight back up. Hopefully now the shackles are off, we’ll be able to express ourselves and just go at it.
“Peter and Blake our managers have been really special this year. The depth they’ve gone into things has been just amazing, and long may that continue.”
Meanwhile Drumquin have been afforded a bye into the JFC quarter-finals as a result of their scheduled first-round opponents Coalisland Thirds folding.