Fire still brightly burning for Red Hand McCallion

FEW players at 46 years of age are still lining up for a crack at back-to-back All-Ireland football titles, but as Drumquin stalwart Ryan McCallion looks proudly over McGirr Park , he’s determined he will once again do his bit this Saturday as Tyrone Masters again hone in on the Dr Mick Loftus Cup.

This is McCallion’s third All-Ireland over-40s final since joining the Masters panel in 2016, and he has certainly not lost the hunger that has made him a fierce competitor for club and, indeed, county for 30-plus years now.

He shows no sign of hanging up the boots. Despite announcing that his club career was over at the end of last season, the lure of the winter training lights just across the road from his home on the Omagh Road, as well as that buzz in the changing room, was too hard to resist.

“I suppose I made a call on the club football last year, maybe it was spur of the moment but I saw the boys out training this year, went down for one night to watch, took part the next and that was that. I have played a couple of reserve games and I suppose I hope to play a part in the Junior Championship,” he laughs as he recounts a short-lived retirement.

His performances for Tyrone Masters over the past six years have not gone unnoticed with the management team of Eugene Bradley, and Joe and Damian Leonard hugely grateful for his contribution. It’s a two-way thing though as McCallion is full of praise for their role behind the scenes.

“They are genuinely great men. They live and breathe the Masters and I know they have done so much for me and the other players in the squad. You have Kieran there too and Vera (Leonard) is always doing her bit too, washing kits and that. They have given me and so many others a chance to pull on the Tyrone kit and that is special.”

Some may suggest that the over 40s national competition may not have the same kudos as other football competitions, but to the players who pull on the shirt it’s just as important.

“There are some that don’t feel it’s that important but the boys who play in the competition know what it means, pulling on the Tyrone shirt is special.

“The likes of Conor Gormley, Ciaran Gourley and Stevie O’Neill, who have played at the highest level, will tell you that too and for those of us who have only had inter county experience with the Masters this has been such
great honour, the Tyrone shirt is the Tyrone shirt.”

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