THERE are few people who know Tyrone hurling better than one Gary McGettigan – the genial giant who is a native of Strabane – but who has been living in Doneyloop for over a decade.
Gary hurled with Strabane Shamrocks for many years, starting around 1989, and won quite a few junior county titles after reaching the club’s only county final in 2004 when they were beaten by Saturday’s opponents, Éire Óg of Carrickmore.
McGettigan also hurled with Tyrone seniors for the best part of a decade before taking up with Setanta, who take on Éire Óg in Saturday’s Ulster Intermediate Championship final, around the same time as he made his home in Doneyloop.
Since then, he has been an ever-present figure in the background. But McGettigan’s role is probably even more vital on the line this year as both managers Niall Cleary and Kevin Campbell are on the field of play.
He stated: “I started hurling in Strabane with the Shamrocks around 1989 with some of my friends and there were five O’Connor brothers on the team, and we did get to a Tyrone senior final in 2004 but Carrickmore beat us.
“I played in the forwards, and I hurled with Tyrone for around ten years from I was 18 until I was 28 and I won seven or eight Tyrone Junior county titles.
“But around 2015/16 I had been living in Doneyloop where I built a house and there was no team in Strabane so a few of us hooked up with Setanta.
“Gerard Gilmore is from Strabane as well, and has a Lory Meagher and a Nickey Rackard Cup medal with Tyrone came later and he has made a big impact.
“Ciaran O’Neill, who is still involved with Setanta, came from Strabane with me, Ciaran Bellew who was the goalie, Mark Kane was in goals too and there is only Ciaran and myself of that group still involved.”
Meanwhile McGettigan was involved with Tyrone when they beat Fermanagh in the Lory Meagher Cup final in 2012 and Gilmore was involved also when Tyrone won the Nickey Rackard Cup title in 2014.
While McGettigan has very close ties with Setanta and is living in Donegal he still classes himself as a “Tyrone man”.
However, there is no doubting where his allegiance lies with the men from the Cross clash with favourites Carrickmore in Owenbeg on Saturday.
Gary has an extra interest as his son Conor is on the Setanta team and is a regular at corner-back. And that can make for some interesting exchanges at times as Gary quips.
Gilmore has been a stand out figure all year-but the tricky cross wind did not help his free-taking against Middletown in that exciting semi-final win-where once again, Setanta got off to a slow start. It was the same story against Ballinascreen and is something McGettigan and co. are keen to avoid.
“It is not intentional, and it is a dangerous game to play, and we spoke about it before the Middletown game and the same thing happened again.
“It is very important that we don’t let Carrickmore get a start like that as they have the power to put you away.
“We can’t give teams a four to five points start. We watched the first half of their game against Creggan as they were on before us and Sean Óg Grogan got four goals in the first half, so he is a serious threat.
“Johnny and Cormac Munroe are serious dual players and footballers are sometimes better conditioned than hurlers so they will bring that bit extra to the battle.
“Bryan McGurk, Oisin Daly, Ruairi Slane and their half back-line of Dermot Begley and Conor Grogan are also quite formidable. They are a big physical team as well.
“We know we are in for a serious battle on Saturday but Niall and Kevy have the boys in great shape physically and mentally.
“They are as fit as any Setanta team has ever been and are very well coached.
“Carrickmore have a lot of experience playing Ulster Intermediate matches and we will be underdogs, but we feel the team is well enough prepared to give them a real rattle.
“No Tyrone or Donegal team has ever won an Ulster Intermediate title so it will be a first all round,” he added.