Ulster Final Preview Night

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14th July 2017: 9.00pm–11.45pm

Ballyholland Harps Social Club


There is a small and very select group of people in the GAA who are known as the ”football men”. In short, it means they have a proven ability to make other people better at the game. That’s the space where Paddy Tally operates.

There are now grown adults in this world who have no recollection of that fact that for most of their history, Tyrone were another Kildare, Roscommon or Monaghan; a county that loved football, and were ready to give anyone a game… but had simply no idea how to win matches when it really counted.

That all changed in 2003, and it’s easy to forget that this truly was an underdog year. We didn’t know then just how good some of those young players would become…. including a couple of our other guests Brian McGuigan and Enda McGinley. But it was the team ethic of that young Tyrone side that really struck a chord. Some called their high-energy pressing game puke football, but most of us began immediately to try replicate the template. Alongside Mickey Harte in delivering this revolution was his trainer, Paddy Tally.

Fast forward to the end of that decade, and Down football is in the proper doldrums. Incapable of putting together a Championship run, made more distressing again by virtue of squad of players bedecked with Sigerson and All Ireland Minor medals seemingly forgetting how to win.

Paddy Tally came on board as trainer in Ross Carr’s final season, and remained in place when James McCartan took the helm in 2010. And it was no coincidence that for the first time since the mid-nineties, Down developed into a cohesive unit and learned how to win again. We ended up only a single kick of a ball from Sam in 2010.

Having had feet in both those camps, it’ll be interesting to learn Paddy’s perspective on what it was that got Tyrone over the line.

But perhaps the Galbally man’s biggest achievement is his most recent one in guiding St Mary’s College to the Sigerson Cup in February this year. Why? Because a college smaller than most grammar schools, with a panel of largely unheralded players, were forged into a focused unit that semi-professional teams could not match.

Welcome on board Paddy, we look forward to hearing you on Friday night.


Before the Jimmy McGuinness revolution of 2010, football was a much simpler game. You paired off as 15 vs 15, and the team that won the most individual battles, tended to win outright.

But for as long as anyone could remember, there was always the one tactical “innovation” employed by most teams, especially when up against a stronger opposition. Sometimes it involved playing a corner forward as a third midfielder, other times as a sweeper, other times in a roaming role. But it was always a corner forward sent out, and it was always one of the three jobs assigned to him.

For most of his Tyrone career, Enda McGinley was that corner forward. But what made him different, and outstanding, was that he somehow simultaneously managed to play all three of those roles. And he even chipped in with scores too. This made him an intrinsic part of Tyrone’s first two All Irelands, but if anything his selflessness, his willingness to do the donkey work, largely went unnoticed. Even though he managed to play 50 minutes of the 2003 final with a broken neck, the media were always more interested in Canavan, Mugsy and Ricey.

By 2008, when if truth be told Mickey Harte had a more workmanlike team, Tyrone needed strong central figures to run their game plan. Enda stepped into midfield that season, and simply lorded it. He ended it with another All Ireland, a richly deserved All Star and a call up to the Ireland International Rules team to boot.

When he’s not polishing his extraordinary medal collection, which would take a few hours out of anyone’s schedule, the Errigal Ciaran man now writes a weekly column for the Irish News.


Head back to the early noughties and there was a centre half-forward who seemed to enchant the entire nation; a remarkable physical specimen who could kick the ball literally the length of the field. But while he was busy raining futile high balls on top of 5’ 5” Conor Mortimer, the best playmaker in the country was winning All-Irelands.

Don’t take my word for it; in an unusual hands-across-the-divide moment for a Derry wan, last year Joe Brolly used his Sunday Independent column to describe the Ardboe man as the best no.11 he had the privilege of seeing. His ability to constantly drive a team forward, while never giving the ball away, has rarely been matched.

If truth be told, a double leg-break and a serious eye injury meant we only really saw McGuigan at the absolute peak of his powers for a few years, but the fact that Tyrone’s All Ireland successes each occurred in three of his relatively injury-free seasons, tells it own story. His 2003 All Star was a given. His 2005 absence from those awards is still a mystery.

Brian’s name was tarnished in the Mourne county for a few years after his involvement in Gregory McCartan’s sending off in the Ulster Final in 2003. We will never know for sure, but that ball in the face is often regarded as the start point of two opposing trajectories for our counties. While time is a great healer, I’m sure he’ll be reminded of it again (and again) on Friday night. That said, as the son of legendary footballing maverick Frank, we’d expect he’ll more than be able to hold his own with a microphone in hand.



One of our two local guests, Ronan Murtagh is currently in his 19th consecutive season of senior club football for Ballyholland, and we’re proud to have shared him with Down for over 10 of those seasons.

An extraordinarily skilful player as a juvenile, after winning an All-Ireland Minor title in 1999, he committed himself almost entirely to the game, and bulked up into a powerful, direct forward; the type who left defenders both with nightmares and dental appointments.

Ronan’s Down career spanned from 2001 to 2011 and like players most from his run, he spent the early part of his county career unable to escape the Tyrone shadow. In 2003 it took Tyrone a replay to see off Down (Ronan bagged a goal in the replay). In 2008 it took Down a replay to see off Tyrone. In between, it wasn’t pretty… but the gap was never really as big as the score lines suggested. Down just never got going.

Murtagh’s final year of note with the county was in 2010, when he played perfectly the role of super sub en route to the final, scoring in every game, including 1.06 in 20 minutes versus Sligo in the last 16.

An unusual mix of the taciturn and the straight-talking, it’s all about asking Ronan the right question on Friday night.



In Down football we had high hopes that our 1999 All Ireland Minor winning team would drive us towards senior glory. They were an unusually skilful group of players, perhaps summed up by John Clarke – who had won the All-Ireland under-14 skills competition a few years previous – playing as a man-marking corner back.

That might even have proven something of a poisoned chalice for Clarke, as it meant that after he broke into the senior ranks as a 19 year old in 2001 (along with Ronan Murtagh), he came with the reputation of a defender. And while the extremely versatile An Riocht man slotted in adeptly across all 6 back line positions, those of us who watched club football in Down at the time couldn’t help but wonder why a sharpshooter who routinely scored 10 points a game was being tasked with keeping others quiet.

By 2008 Ross Carr had moved him to the opposite end of the field (which saw him finally savour a Championship win over Tyrone), and during the 2010 All Ireland final run, John proved to be the perfect full-forward foil for Benny Coulter.

John is still torturing Division II defences with his new club St John’s, and these days among other things hosts a local radio show and podcasts with the aforementioned Coulter. So he’s well accustomed to the microphone, and we can expect a few solid stories.


It’s not often Brian McGuigan will sit in any room with the possibility of a well-founded discussion about whether someone else in attendance was actually a better playmaker; but it’s something that could happen on Friday night.

While Shane’s intercounty career from 1998-2003 was not perhaps the longest, his Ulster Championship performances in the earlier two years were of the exceptional variety, and as a result he is fondly remembered across the county and beyond. Greg Blaney’s heir apparent was blessed with a rare combination of athleticism and flair, and 1999 saw an Ulster Final appearance, an All Star nomination and a Railway Cup medal in his favoured no.11 jersey.

He continued playing senior football for the Harps until his mid-thirties (indeed he has even donned a tight-fitting reserve jersey once or twice this year), before subsequently managing his own club, the Down Minors, and currently Rostrevor.

The 2003 final between Tyrone and Down is sure to be a regular topic of conversation on the night. Expect more than a few questions, suggestions and rants (from the locals) about why game-controlling Shane spent 25 minutes warming up, all the while Tyrone chipped away at the Mourne men’s 9 point lead. Now that he’s a manager, he should be able to offer an insight from both perspectives.



Let’s be honest, big name footballers don’t always produce the goods when the questions are asked “yeah, we expected a big test and we got it; the score line doesn’t do them justice… if we play like that the next day we won’t be getting any further” (© any Dublin footballer since 2010).

Which is why it’s essential to balance the panel with one or two fellas who have dedicated their lives to trying to work out what it is that separates good players from the great ones – and therefore know how to probe those players for a little bit more information.

Some of these – like our host Steven Poacher – go into coaching and management to gain a direct hands-on understanding. Others – like Cahair O’Kane – watch the action from above. They spend their days pondering the game, creating and comparing theories, then entertaining or educating the rest of us.

A Drum (Co. Derry) native who still has a penchant for standing between the sticks, Cahair took on arguably the toughest job in GAA journalism by replacing Paddy Heaney in the Irish News at the start of 2016, and to date has done a remarkably good job of keeping our regional football bible interesting and relevant. He’ll probably try to introduce a Derry angle to the conversation. We will move swiftly onwards.

Published by Anthony McNamee on 11th July 2017.

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