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Strain predicts Slaughtneil 'dogfight' as he urges Omagh to end Tyrone jinx

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Omagh St. Endas manager Laurence Strain realises the scores will come at a premium against Derry champions Slaughtneil as both clubs seek to win the Ulster club championship for the first time. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Omagh St. Endas manager Laurence Strain realises the scores will come at a premium against Derry champions Slaughtneil as both clubs seek to win the Ulster club championship for the first time. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Omagh St. Endas manager Laurence Strain realises the scores will come at a premium against Derry champions Slaughtneil as both clubs seek to win the Ulster club championship for the first time. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Omagh manager Laurence Strain isn't expecting Sunday's Ulster club final to be an all-singing, all-dancing affair of open football.

They face Slaughtneil, who held Clontribret - with one of the most in-form forwards in the game in Conor McManus - to a measly seven points in the Ulster semi-final. Before that, they restricted Cavan Gaels - with Seanie Johnstone, Martin Dunne and Micheál Lyng - to nine points.

As a result, Strain realises the scores will come at a premium against the Derry champions as both club seek to win the Seamus McFerran Cup for the first time.

"They obviously work very hard on their defence and their defensive system, and results have proven that they're very good at it," said the St Enda's boss, who is assisted by his brother-in-law, Barry McGinn.

"So it's going to be a real dogfight, it's probably going to be a low-scoring game, and the team which sticks at it to the end and takes their time and is patient will probably win the game."

If there is one thing Omagh have, it is patience. In taking their first Tyrone championship in 26 years, they had tight finishes against Coalisland, Dromore and Carrickmore, the latter decided with an injury-time goal by their supreme attacker Ronan O'Neill.

Strain is aware that Slaughtneil manager Mickey Moran has been able to curb the impact of the star forwards his side have come up against this season.

"I don't imagine that Ronan will get that much extra attention. Slaughtneil have their defensive system fairly well worked out, and I don't imagine it makes much difference who they're playing against," he said.

"Conor McManus for Clontibret the last day was fairly ineffective, he didn't play as well as maybe Clontibret needed him to play, and I'd say that was due to the way Slaughtneil defend in numbers."

Strain almost has to pinch himself, being still in action at this stage of the season, admitting he had hardly factored in such progress when taking over for his maiden campaign.

"I'd be telling lies if I said I expected to get to an Ulster final. To be honest, I didn't even take a look at Ulster. It wasn't an issue," he explained.

"Winning the Tyrone championship was everything, it was the be all and end all. And when that happened, it really was only then that you looked forward to see who's next.

"But it's a different mindset now in Ulster. With expectations in the club to win the Tyrone title, and people talking about all these young lads, it's well worn talk now, about them not having the heart for the battle.

"Once they did win that, it was like the pressure was off. Players put pressure upon themselves to play well no matter who they're playing. But there really is a much easier feel about things now that they have won something.

"I don't want to tempt fate, but against Cross and St Eunan's, I think we played better football than we had played in the Tyrone Championship."

"When you're preparing for the Tyrone championship, it's all hurried. You're trying to get lads into good shape fitness-wise, you're trying to work on the way you're playing, you have a league game maybe thrown in there as well.

"Whereas, once the county title is finished, you have your break, with one objective at the end of it, and that's the Ulster club game, and then there's another break.

"All you do is prepare for each game, there's no other issues, and it definitely does help your football and it does help the whole camaraderie thing."

Omagh are bidding to become only the second Tyrone club to win the title, after Errigal Ciaran's triumphs in 1993 and 2002.

"The record of Tyrone clubs in Ulster is well heralded. It's terrible, and it's amazing, because you look at the quality of some of the clubs there," he said.

"Maybe it's to do with the fact that the Tyrone championship is so hard to win that it does feel like the be all and the end all. But thank God we have managed to navigate our way through it."

Irish Independent