By Niall Gartland
DOMINIC Corrigan says he was “blessed” and “privileged” to have worked alongside Fergal McCann during his third and final year as Killyclogher boss in 2018 – and further to that it is his strongly held desire that young coaches should seek to emulate the understated way McCann conducted himself in life.
McCann, who passed away last week after a battle with illness, trained the Tyrone senior intercounty team to All-Ireland titles in 2005 and 2008, but he shunned the spotlight and the often fickle world of social media.
Corrigan has no time whatsoever for self-publicising coaches and trainers, and he hails McCann as an exemplar of how things should be done: unstinting loyalty, understated modesty and, above all else, prioritising the needs of the players.
Drawing a comparison with All-Blacks legend Richie McCaw, Corrigan pays tribute to the quiet man from Augher who played such a pivotal role in rejuvenating Killyclogher’s fortunes after a lacklustre 2017 season.
“I don’t want Fergal’s life to be in vain, I want his legacy to live on. I want young coaches to look at the way Fergal did it.
“Look at Richie McCaw, the great All-Black. I remember him saying he’d no interest in social media, he wasn’t going to tweet anything, and he didn’t need to tell people about the player he was – that they could find out for themselves.
“Fergal McCann was exactly the same. He never at any stage mentioned to me that he’d won two All-Irelands with Tyrone. Fergal was the type of man who did his work quietly on the field, he wasn’t going to be tweeting or going on social media platforms.
“That told me everything I needed to know about Fergal. He was so humble and all the players saw very clearly from an early stage that he was all about doing what he could for them.
“I feel like it’s a great example for all young coaches today. I feel there’s far too much self-promotion on social media. For me as a manager it was an absolute thrill, and the players knew they were working for a man who was so genuine in wanting to improve them as footballers.
“I often slagged him in the car going to games, ‘you’re at the top of your game and not many know that’, and he said ‘that’s the way I like it and I wouldn’t have it any other way.’
“It wasn’t a case of having however many followers on social media – egos tend to factor into things in every aspect of a football team but Fergal was as humble as they come, and the tremendous flood of tributes that came in last week from All-Ireland winners like Philly Jordan, Sean Cavanagh and Conor Gormley didn’t surprise me in the slightest.”
Corrigan managed Killyclogher to the Tyrone Senior Championship title in 2016, but he says that the club stood at a crossroads after they were knocked out of the championship the following year by Pomeroy.
McCann came on board and it had a transformative effect as they made it back to a second final appearance in three years, where they fell narrowly short against Coalisland.
“Pomeroy were a better team than many realised, but we were still very flat. Our trainer John McElholm also decided to go to Donegal as he had a great opportunity to go into county football, so there was a vacancy and I didn’t know who else was out there.
“I remember Dermot Carlin recommending Fergal, and I didn’t actually know much about him which again tells you all you need to know about Fergal.
“Dermot gave me his number, but he was very quiet on the phone so we met up in the Valley Hotel in Fivemiletown. I felt not too many people would recognise us around there as it wouldn’t be known as a Gaelic stronghold!
“Nearly as soon as I sat down, I thought ‘this is the man for us’. He had his wee book with him, and we talked about his coaching philosophy and his thoughts about working with players and styles of football. I gave Dermot a ring on the way home and said ‘I think we’ve got our man’ but we gave Fergal some time to think about it.
“Thankfully for myself and Killyclogher, he said ‘yes’ and we were blessed that he decided to take on the challenge. I was also privileged that when I was coming from Enniskillen for away matches, Fergal and I would meet up and share a car together. I got so much out of our chats, not just about football but about life.
“He was a family man, he was a man of great faith, and he was a great football man. I don’t think Fergal would mind me saying that faith was really important to him.
“I’d have been guilty at times of organising training for Sunday mornings, and Fergal would’ve quietly said to me ‘do you mind if we we start a bit late because of mass?’
“I admired it, and the players respected it as well because he had a wonderful balance in his life.”
Corrigan also said that McCann’s forensic and calm approach helped engineer a turnaround in fortunes after a mid-season lull.
“At the start of the year, we’d won three or four games and then went on a poor run. Myself, Ciaran Howe and Fergal had a meeting at Ciaran’s house. We sat down around the table and Ciaran and I were fairly excited – ‘how the hell do we get these boys to turn it around?’
“Fergal had a few notes jotted down and we talked things through. There was no shouting or roaring with Fergal, we teased out the problems and found possible solutions, and worked on them on the training field.
“We then went on a nine or 10-game winning run that almost took us to winning another county title. Put it this way, if the right opportunity had come up again to return to management in Tyrone, Fergal would’ve been the one man I’d have been checking on his availability.”