Brackaville have been one of the most consistent teams in the county this year and Stephen McHugh has been an integral part of their success, writes Seamus Donnelly.
McHugh right, along with Kieran Holland have taken their charges to the brink of championship success and to the upper echelons of Division 2 table.
Over the last few years Brackaville have looked on as their neighbours have went on championship runs and this Stephen reveals was something that has inspired the Owen Roes players.
“I suppose over the last few years we’ve been looking on as Coalisland, Clonoe, Derrylaughan, Killyman and Brocagh got on a bit of a run, got to finals or won championships.
“Derrytresk getting to the All Ireland final last year was a big kick up the backside for our boys. We had beaten them in the league a few weeks before they went on the run and I suppose our boys thought ‘why can’t we do that?’ That was the moment for our boys to wake up and smell the roses.”
The Roes had gone on a fantastic run in the league and were the last unbeaten team in Ulster until they fell late to Dungannon.
The defeat still rankles with McHugh: “I was annoyed after we were beaten by Dungannon because I didn’t think we deserved to be beaten that day.
“We managed to equalise with a free 10 minutes into injury time and just before the free was taken our player was led to believe that was the last kick of the game.
“Two and a half minutes later Dungannon scored the winner. Take nothing away from Dungannon; they probably didn’t deserve to lose the game either but a draw would have been a fair result.”
Brackaville have bounced back with wins over Newtownstewart and Owen Roes in the interim and the win over Newtown in particular has given the Owen Roes players a fresh focus.
“We had a great game with Newtownstewart last week and it got some of the Dungannon game out of the system,” said McHugh.
Looking ahead to the final, McHugh sees the game as a huge opportunity for the Owen Roes, but he knows Aghaloo will ask his team plenty of questions.
“The final is a big, big opportunity for the boys. Aghaloo are big physical team for out boys to try and beat.
“They have some very good players with the likes of Brian McKenna, Kevin O’Gorman and Ruairi McGlone in their attack.
“They also have plenty of experience in their side with Stephen Donnelly, John O’Neill and the two McCaugheys.
“They played us in the league at Brackaville and gave our boys a fantastic game. A draw probably would have been the fair result that day but we just managed to get the points.”
Sunday’s fixture will be a big day in the McHugh household, not just because of Stephen’s presence on the sideline but also because his son Rian will be amid the action on the field.
“It’s great to have Rian involved with the team. I’m very proud of him and what he’s achieved this year.
“He’s very young, only just turned 17 but he’s done well for himself. We were forced to throw him in at the deep end at the beginning of the year after we picked up a few injuries and he has acquitted himself well at midfield.”
Rian isn’t the only young player on the Brackaville team, as Stephen explained.
“We would have a very young team with the likes of Rian and Che O’Donnell. Darragh McGuinness and Marty Gervin are young fellas as well.
“There are a few elder statesmen, the likes of Ciaran Currie and Mickey McGuinness but by and large most of the team are only 21 or 22.”
McHugh also points to the presence of Holland in the management team this year as an important factor in the Owen Roes development:
“I’ve been working along with Kieran this year. He’s made a big difference and brought about a few changes in attitude of the players.
“Cathair McGuinness there is the captain and he’s been a huge part of getting the lads to knuckle down and work. It’s probably Kieran’s first position managing a club at this level and he’s done an excellent job so far.
“He’s been extremely passionate and you’d never guess he’s a Killeeshil man. Kieran’s brought a more business like approach. He talks very well to the players and has instilled a lot of confidence in the team.
“Myself and Kieran would work well together and we’ve established a very good relationship. I would have known all the players from minor, U21 and reserves over the last couple of years and know how to manage and handle them and it has worked well to date.”