Penalty hero Ciaran Barker turned to the heavens for the inspiration he needed to win the Tyrone senior football championship for Dungannon.
Barker’s childhood friend Cian Corrigan passed away in 2009, just six weeks short of his 12th birthday, from a rare spinal cord tumour.
As he stepped up to take the final spot-kick in the penalty shoot-out, Barker could think of nothing else but the football-mad youngster with whom he had shared a deep friendship.
And when he nailed the crucial kick, the emotion poured, and memories of his old friend collided with the joy of bringing the O’Neill Cup back to the town for the first time in 64 years.
“When I was hitting that penalty I was just asking him to help me out, and he did,” corner-back Barker revealed.
“The family went through so much with Cian and you cannot put into words what they experienced. My hope is that this will help them.
“Cian played football with me and would have been here today.
“His family loved this club so much that I’d like to dedicate this success to them.”
For Thomas Clarkes, Dungannon, this was a historic breakthrough. A remarkable season that saw the emergence of a young team capable of emulating the great side of 1956 never relented in conjuring up dramatic moments, all of which were handled with a fearless intent by a group of players determined to pursue their sporting destiny.
The 2020 champions seized their reward in a welter of excitement and almost unbearable tension, landing the greatest prize in Tyrone club football at the conclusion of a pulsating series of ties, all four of which went to extra-time.
Barker recalled the tension that surrounded a penalty shoot-out that went to a second round, after the teams remained deadlocked after hitting five spot-kicks each.
And it came down to the very last penalty, with all the responsibility resting on Barker’s shoulders.
“The main thing was that my final penalty went in, but it wasn’t just a case of hitting and hoping. It’s unbelievable to be Tyrone county champions because we have waited for years to see this win. There are so many within the club who have longed for this day and now it has finally arrived.”
The champions did it the hard way, dragging themselves through four extra-time thrillers.
“The games this year definitely haven’t been easy. We’ve had three extra-time wins and now this, but finally getting our hands on the O’Neill Cup makes it all worthwhile.
“This success means so much for the club. It’s a real boost for the many people who have put so much work into the Clarkes during the past,” added Barker.
“People like Terry Loughran, who was captain when we reached the final in 1986, never stops talking about the O’Neill Cup. Now he has it, I have it and everyone in the club can share in this.”