A Grand Old Team To Play For: Killyclogher

By Niall Gartland

“I would not swap that championship medal for anything outside of my family. It’s the greatest single possession I have” – Terry McCann

KILLYCLOGHER reached the promised land for the first time in their history in 2003, and it was the culmination of decades-long work from men and women who must’ve known deep in their souls that better days lay ahead.

Men like Donal Magee, Brendan Harkin and Seamus O’Donnell carting Killyclogher youngsters around the country in tin-boxes so they could get a bit of football; women like Marietta Meenan, who passed away long before her time in 2002, and so many others that put their shoulders to the wheel when there was little in way of concrete reward.

That all changed around the turn of the millennium when a talented yet ferociously committed Killyclogher side ripped up the established order in Tyrone, culminating in their senior championship final victory over Errigal Ciaran in 2003.

We’ve spoken to three of the main protagonists in their rise to glory: Peter McGinnity, who managed the side, Terry McCann, who finally got his hands on an O’Neill Cup medal at the age of 39, and Dermot Carlin, who won the Sam Maguire with Tyrone just a couple of weeks beforehand.

A seamless rags-to-riches story it certainly wasn’t, as they lost out in the 1999 and 2002 finals before finally getting their day in the sun in 2003.

Fermanagh legend Peter McGinnity was in charge for all those finals before stepping down in 2004 – perhaps somewhat in haste, he offers – and he recalls his early impressions of the club.

“I was at Leitrim for about a year-and-half and as soon as I left in and around 1999, Sean O’Kane was onto me.

“I’d already come across Brendan Harkin at MacRory Cup matches and I knew there was a great group of young players coming along – the Meenans, the O’Kanes and so on.

“We won the Division One league in 2001 and then the likes of Dermy Carlin came to prominence. They were all good players who were keen to improve.”

Terry McCann had been playing for Killyclogher since the early 80s, making his championship debut in a quarter-final clash against Donaghmore a day after fielding in a reserve championship match, when he was just shy of his 17th birthday.

It was a fairly storied period for the club all being told – they reached three senior championship semi-finals in-a-row, but everything went to pot in 1983 as their five Tyrone senior players were unavailable (Noel McGinn, to cite the most high-profile example, had transferred to Belfast club Sarsfields).

They quietly tipped along for the rest of the eighties and most of the nineties (on the football field, anyway – their hurling team, which McCann played on, was flying it, winning championship titles in 1991, 1994 and 1995).

However, something was brewing beneath the surface and a fantastic underage team produced future senior stars like Brian Meenan, Eoin Bradley and Dan McElroy.

They reached the O’Neill Cup decider for the first time ever in 1999, and McCann remembers that he faced a race against time to get fit after tearing his hamstring. He made the starting 15, but they were deservedly beaten by Carrickmore.

“I tore my hamstring for the first time in my life six weeks beforehand and I did everything I could to get back. By that stage I had a family and I’d been denied enough holidays as it was, so we went on holiday and I trained away on my own. Tiernan and Conall would wait for me as I sprinted up and down hills in Spain.

“I came back home and I remember playing at centre-half back against Kildress and my hamstring went. I must’ve seen physios every other day until the final.

“I wasn’t named but I still ended up playing at corner-back. It was a very strong Carrickmore team and we conceded an early goal from the throw-in. We had stage fright really, we put in a bit of a shift in the second half but we didn’t really threaten them.”

Dermot Carlin, who was Tyrone’s minor captain at the time, established himself as a Killyclogher starter by 2002.

They came up against Errigal Ciaran in the final, and he was tasked with marking, or at least attempting to mark, Peter Canavan, who slipped free for a superbly taken goal in the second half.

It made all the difference on the scoreboard as they lost out by 1-9 to 1-7, and although a late Vinny Owens goal was controversially disallowed for a square ball, Carlin said it spurred him on the following year.

“I remember Adrian O’Donnell got the ball and the opportunity was there to make a tackle, but he shipped the ball off to Peter and the next thing the ball was in the back of the net. It was a great finish in fairness.”

He added: “At the time you’re dejected, but there’s nothing that drives you on more than knowing how close you were, and a feeling of being robbed. The more you look at it, the more of a square ball it becomes, but it’s hard to know in reality.”

Their manager at the time, Peter McGinnity, says he was practically in awe of Owens, who was a fantastic hurler as well.

“Vinny probably had the best hands on a player I’ve ever seen in terms of being able to grab a ball. He was central to everything Killyclogher did in the time that I was there, and I’m sure anyone in the club itself would say the same.

“He played county hurling and you’d love to have him on your team. He was a boxer as well, so nobody gave him any shit – and it wasn’t as if he was aggressive, you just knew that if anybody hit him, that would be the end of them.

“I’ll always remember our semi-final against Dromore in 2003 though. We were a point ahead and Vinny got struck on the jaw. Normally you’d expect him to exact retribution, but he just stood there and it was one of the best examples of discipline I’ve ever seen on a football field, he didn’t react at all.”

McCann, who was in the twilight of his career at that stage, didn’t get any game-time in the 2002 final even though he felt he was in great nick at the time.

“From a personal point of view, I suppose I remember I didn’t get a run that day. For the first time in my life I told Peter I could be useful – I was feeling really good and I felt a big man on the edge of the square could’ve helped us.

“It is what it is, the best team always wins the championship and that’s the bottom line – we were playing against a team that had their eyes on Ulster and the All-Ireland.”

McGinnity, whose backroom team included Mick Brennan, Adrian Meenan, Brendan Harkin and Ciaran Carey with input from McCann, says that everything seemed to come together for the team in 2003.

They were set up to play Errigal Ciaran in the final for a second year running, and they were mentally prepared for Canavan to make an appearance (he was still struggling with the ankle injury which had curtailed his involvement in that year’s All-Ireland final). He came on in the second half but Killyclogher held firm as they secured their first title on a scoreline of 2-6 to 1-7.

“We had been incrementally improving all the time and a few pieces of the jigsaw fell into the place,” said McGinnity.

“Dan McElroy was playing in 2003 even though he had to travel from England, and Terry McKenna transferred from Beragh around that time, he was living in Killyclogher.

“Eoin Bradley and that crew were all maturing and becoming really effective players. It was a really pleasant time and I’m still friendly with a lot of the players.

“The matches sort of roll into each other but I do remember the final against Errigal. We’d been through the mill so we knew what we were up against, and we were experienced enough to deal with Canavan entering the fray. I suppose a lot of things went right on the day but it was very satisfying.

“It was strange in a way as I was part of the International Rules set-up, so I had to leave the celebrations early which wasn’t like me. Mrs Meenan and Mrs O’Kane left me to the airport and I was actually away for the Ulster Club match against Crossmaglen, so looking back on it that’s something I regret.”

Carlin won the All-Ireland with Tyrone in September 2003, but he was brought back down to earth with a bump as the u-21 team lost the All-Ireland final to Dublin six days later. Being part of the first ever Killyclogher team to win the O’Neill Cup a few weeks later was some way to finish the season, however.

“I was on a high and a low at the time. We won the All-Ireland final and then six days later lost the u-21 final. I always look back and wonder whey played it so shortly after Tyrone won the All-Ireland, when half the country was still drunk. Sometimes I look back and think the likes of John Devine, Sean Cavanagh, Peter Donnelly and myself could  have completed the set of medals but there’s nothing you can do about it now.

“In the county final I was on Daisy McDermott, who was electrifying at that age. Then I was detailed to pick up Canavan as soon as he came on. I don’t think anybody’s come up with a strategy to stop him, you just do whatever you can. I suppose he was on his way out and I was only starting off but it still wasn’t an easy task,” said Carlin.

McCann was part of the backroom team, but he dearly wanted a playing role and his hard work was rewarded when he was thrown into the action minutes from the final whistle, and he made a vital late interception.

“I know somebody thought that Peter put me on out of sentiment but that was absolutely not the case. He was going to put me on in the semi-final against Dromore with a couple of minutes to go, and I said I’m not going on because it’d only break our momentum – that’s the kind of relationship we had.

“When I came on in the final, I remember timing my run across, intercepting the ball, invited a tackle and it looked like they decapitated me. That used up a minute or two, and the referee blew for full time after the ball came back out after it was driven into the square from the free.


O’Kane always talks about how he got the clincher but I’ll always remember making that contribution.

“The whole thing was unbelievable, you couldn’t put it into words. I would not swap that championship medal for anything outside of my family. It’s the single great possession I have.

“It all came about because of the efforts of so many people. Mariatta Meenan died the year before and I think that gave us that push to get us across the line, it was very emotional.

“In ’79 we didn’t have our own pitch, and in 1981 and 1982 we were playing at St Pat’s Park so we had come a long way. Brendan Harkin had started it all and Donal Magee and Seamus O’Donnell devoted their lives to the club. Margaret O’Kane and Mary drove our children everywhere. They’d all done so much for so many years.

“A lot of really good players missed out through injury or retirement as well – Tommy Nugent, Conall Quinn, Aidan Meenan – so I suppose I was lucky.

“That team had unbelievable leaders as well – Brian Meenan, Kieran Howe, Eoin Bradley, the three O’Kanes, Dan McElroy, Terry McKenna. Strong men who took very few prisoners. Leo Meenan, Marietta was his mammy, he was class up front as well.”

Killyclogher were unlucky to lose out after extra-time to Carrickmore the following year, and McGinnity stepped aside at the end of the season. He now wonders whether it was the right decision.

“I sort of regretted not staying on a bit longer. I felt they’d be better with a change. I’m a great man for making decisions with the benefit of hindsight so maybe I should have stayed on. Maybe the Killyclogher people wouldn’t agree with that!”

Dermot Carlin, meanwhile, was plagued by injuries for most of his career. He needed back surgery a few years ago, but consoles himself with the words of former team-mate and manager Kieran Howe.

“The last time I lined out properly was the county final where we were beaten by Trillick. The following year we were playing Kildress, and Frank McGurk gave me the run around. I pushed myself too hard at training the following night and that was basically it.

“I’m generally fine now I’ve got surgery but the power in my leg never came back right, I run for 10  minutes and then it cramps up.

“I remember talking to Kieran Howe when he was manager. I was frustrated as I was always getting hurt. He said to me ‘Dermie, at least you know you’ve given everything. It’d be far worse if you were 32 or 33 and had no issues, you’ve given it everything.’”

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