McCann brothers courting glory with Tyrone

Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann celebrates last year’s Ulster Championship final win over Donegal

THE heinous accusation that Gaelic football bears more than a passing resemblance to basketball needn’t be derogatory – just ask Tyrone sibling duo Conall and Tiernan McCann.

The dimensions are a lot smaller – a typical basketball court is 28 by 15 metres whereas a GAA pitch is at least 130 by 80 metres – but the crossover in skills is considerable.

Conall credits his love of basketball with the refinement of his distinctive two-handed dummy, which bamboozled a trail of defenders in Killyclogher’s memorable run to senior championship glory last year.

“Myself, Tiernan and Mark Bradley and a couple of others love to play basketball. If you ask anyone they’d say I’m probably a better basketball player than I am a footballer.

“Playing basketball flat out makes your hands really good for football. That’s the main reason I play it, it makes your game so much better, your tackling, handling, jumping.

“It’s mostly messing around, I went to Omagh Thunder for a bit, but it doesn’t really fit in with the Gaelic. I don’t have the name that I can leave training for a couple of months unlike the likes of Kieran Donaghy and Aidan O’Shea. I’d love to get a go at some stage. Football’s my full focus at this stage of life.”

His elder brother Tiernan, so key to Tyrone’s relentless counter-attack, makes a point of highlighting basketball’s fitness benefits as well.
“It encompasses all the same skills, handling, jumping, side-stepping. You’re up and down the court and even the aerobic work mirrors what Gaelic football is now, and it’s incredibly enjoyable too.”

Conall cuts a more modest figure than lightning-fast wing-back Tiernan, whose flashy appearance conceals his competitive nature. Tiernan started every one of Tyrone’s championship matches last year, while bench-tied Conall was an uneasy spectator in last year’s Ulster final win over Donegal.

He said: “It means a lot when you see the people of Tyrone coming onto the pitch.

“That was class but inside you wish you were playing instead of being on the bench.

“I didn’t feature at all in the Ulster Championship so I didn’t feel worthy. I suppose people are different but I’m not really content with being on the bench and being a passenger, I really want to show I can play at this level.

“I didn’t play in the championship, why would I be celebrating or getting a medal? I know I was on the panel and training but it’s a difficult situation when you want to be playing but you’re not.”

His will to play a more hands-on role goes a long way to explain his recent improvement on the pitch. A central figure in Killyclogher’s championship triumph, Conall also starred in St Mary’s historic Sigerson Cup win in February, picking up a college All-Star award for his attacking prowess.

“It [the Sigerson Cup] was a nice wee break from training at the start of the year. It was good to be playing with another team and thankfully we ended up qualifying for the weekend.

“That meant I wasn’t able to go on the training weekend with Killyclogher in Spain but to stay at home and win the Sigerson was worth it. Winning the award was the cherry on top, and it was a massive achievement for us to win a tournament of that magnitude.”

For now though, the McCanns are focused on Tyrone’s Ulster Championship date with Derry on May 28. While Tyrone endured a dismal end to their Division One campaign, shipping heavy defeats to Donegal and Kerry, Tiernan points out that the margins between success and failure are wafer-thin at this level.

“Psychologically maybe we took the foot off the gas a bit knowing we had secured our status.

“Football’s very fickle. If we came away with a few more points we would’ve got to the final and people wouldn’t have thought the Donegal game was so important.”

He added: “Last year was the first time we beat Derry in the championship at Celtic Park. They’ll be out to put that record straight, they haven’t had the greatest of leagues, but we saw in 2015 you don’t need have a great league to have a decent championship.”

His brother Conall, meanwhile, is on a mission to impress Mickey Harte and co. It’s his third year on the Tyrone panel, and while he’s yet to nail down his place, he has improved almost beyond recognition with Killyclogher.

Whether he can translate his club form to the county scene remains to be seen, but it won’t be for want of trying.

“In the first couple of league games I was getting on as a sub and I was hoping to get the chance to start and never really got that chance. I got my chance against Kerry [in the final round] and it was a difficult game to play in.

“I was disappointed with myself as I was trying to get into the game, it’s just a different level. The competition for places is serious, even to get on the panel.

“It’s just about giving it everything at training and showing the management that you’re good enough to play.”


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