Glorious Clonoe. “First on the field. Last to leave” or so the famous poem goes. Well, the O’Rahillys of Clonoe were certainly the last to leave the Healy Park field on Sunday as they claimed an eighth Tyrone Senior Football crown at the expense of a stubborn Carrickmore team.
It was a PJ Lavery goal fourteen minutes from time that eventually pulled the Clonoe men clear, Lavery taking advantage of good work from Danny McNulty to fire low past Plunkett McCallan.
That score, Clonoe’s third goal, gave them a lead they wouldn’t surrender, having twice given up healthy leads as Carrickmore refused to be shaken off.
The return of Lavery to the O’Rahilly’s side this year after a serious leg break had prevented him from partaking last year was one of the keys to success for the whites. The wing backs forays into opposing defences gave Clonoe a dynamic this year that they’d lacked in the past.
It was county star Connor McAliskey who stole the show however, scoring four points in total, and acting as a constant thorn in the side of Carrickmore over the 60 minutes.
Carrickmore were the first side to register,but it was the O’Rahillys who settled faster.
A Michael McCallan point from play after 35 seconds gave Carmen the lead but Clonoe registered three in a row in the first 10 minutes.
McAliskey was the key to the first winning the ball in the seventh minute and drawing a free that Stephen McNulty duly dispatched over crossbar to bring the sides level.
The county man got the next two points, the first a brilliant effort from under the stand, as he kicked into the Gortin Road end goal. McAliskey took on his man along the wing before firing over.
A minute later he might well have had a goal but the onrushing Plunkett McCallan was enough to put him off as he blazed the ball over the bar.
Carmen responded with a Martin Penrose point from play, but McAliskey was to have another say.
The Clonoe speedster won a long ball from Ryan T O’Neill just inside the large rectangle, before firing the ball back out to Paul Coney who finished low into the Carrickmore goal.
Carrickmore were stunned but by half time they were back on terms as they rallied. A Paul McAleer point from play began their fightback.
Clonoe might well have extended their lead after Danny McNulty was hauled down for a penalty but Plunkett McCallan, playing in his last Tyrone championship game after 21 years, produced a stunning save diving low to his right to deny Colm Doris.
Carmen seized their chance as the Clonoe heads dropped and Martin Penrose, with two points and Ruairi Loughran brought the sides level at the interval.
Unbelievably Clonoe had failed to score in 18 minutes before half time but they rectified that inside 11 seconds of the restart.
A long ball from Ryan T O’Neill picked out Danny McNulty who brilliantly outfielded veteran Carrickmore defender Colm McGurk and fired low to the net.
Once again, though, Carrickmore responded brilliantly.
Michael Donaghy, Carrickmore’s wing back stepped up to the plate for his side and fired over a brilliant score to reduce the gap to two.
The defender was involved again five minutes later as a threaded pass picked out Caolan Daly who pointed excellently.
A Mark Donnelly free brought the sides level before perhaps the games pivotal moment.
Donaghy, who turned in an excellent performance for the St Colmcilles, found himself bearing down on goal after a super Martin Penrose pass but he was spectacularly denied by Michael O’Neill in the Clonoe goal. Michael McCallan pointed the rebound to give his side the lead but Clonoe were kicked into life.
Connor McAliskey fired over a free to bring the sides level again before Lavery struck for his sides third goal of the game re-establishing Clonoe’s lead.
Niall Loughran responded for Carrickmore but Clonoe weren’t going to let this lead slip.
Connor McAliskey kicked a massive point from play for his side with six minutes remaining.
Paul McAleer pulled one back but Clonoe kicked on again with Colm Doris from play and Stephen McNulty both firing over frees.
McNulty, Doris and Shane O’Hagan stepped up for their side when they were most needed and as Martin Sludden brought the game to a close the Clonoe masses stormed the field to acclaim their heroes.
There was a touching moment, away from the celebrations, as McAliskey, the leading scorer in championship took the time to commiserate with retiring Carmen keeper Plunkett McCallan.
Clonoe must get ready quickly now for Sunday’s clash with Ballinderry in Celtic Park.