ONE of the former Tyrone players who benefitted from the coaching prowess of Fergal McCann for most of his intercounty career has praised the innovative thinking of the 47 year old whose death this week has shocked the GAA community.
The Augher clubman joined Mickey Harte’s management team as coach of the Red Hands in 2005 and made an immediate impact. He was to share in immense success with the county, including the two Sam Maguire Cup triumphs in 2005 and 2008, three Ulster titles and numerous McKenna Cup successes.
In addition to his success at county level, Fergal McCann also coached St Macartan’s ladies to Tyrone glory, managed a number of title-winning teams in Augher and at numerous other clubs both in Tyrone and beyond.
In 2005, Joe McMahon was establishing himself as a key member of the Red Hand team. He has no doubts about the influence of Fergal McCann on his career and the footballing lives of so many during a golden era for the county.
“There have been many emotions in recent days as we think about Fergal and his family and, of course, his involvement as a coach not only with Tyrone but also with my own club of Omagh, St Enda’s,” said the two-time All-Ireland winner.
“Fergal was determined to try and win his cancer battle and fought hard. He was just a great man in everything that he did in his coaching, the way that he spoke with people, gave advice and had time for everyone. He was so easy to get on with and always had a smile on his face.
“It has been highlighted before how he came in after Paddy Tally as trainer to the Tyrone team. Fergal was coming into this group, but Tony Donnelly especially and Mickey Harte knew what he was capable of and Fergal completely justified the decision to get him involved.
“His planning was meticulous, the delivery and learning in the training sessions was all done with a purpose. He always had plenty of new ideas, kept everything fresh, challenged the group and had a huge impact in the development of the Tyrone seniors.
“For me personally, I can think of the times when Fergal took the ‘fat’ club as it was labelled and took lads who needed to catch up on their fitness or were coming back from injuries. He took that time to help them develop their conditioning and skills again.”
Fergal McCann was involved with the county set-up from 2005 until he stepped down alongside Tony Donnelly in 2014.
Throughout that time, the county enjoyed an unprecedented era of success, and at no time was his role more evident than during the challenges posed by the All-Ireland years in 2005 and 2008.
“When called upon, players were able to play their role, and that was especially important during those two years when so many of the games had a quite quick turnaround week after week,” added McMahon.
“It is testament to Fergal’s efforts that nearly everyone who was available was fit to play. That goes back to his meticulous planning and preparation to help the quality within the squad to fulfil that potential. He really did a fantastic job.
“That same attention to detail was again in evidence in recent years when he was involved with a number of different clubs. I can speak for Omagh and say that with Fergal you got passion, the ability to maximise every bit of breath and energy to ensure that players gave everything in the development of the team.
“This was done within the training sessions and the games that he arranged and the planning and execution of league and championship matches. Fergal also had the ability to read a game and give feedback and, even though he liked to take a back seat, his opinion was always valued and taken on board. He was everything that you would want in a coach and I will certainly take a lot of learning from him in the future.”
Augher chairman Gerard McQuaid said Mr McCann was a ‘great clubman’ whose commitment to the GAA had lasted throughout his life.
“He was a great family man and a great Augher and Tyrone Gael and the fact that one of his last requests was that his remains be taken past Fr Hackett Park speaks volumes about the measure of the man.
“You couldn’t really put into words how much of a loss he is to the GAA community, but most importantly to his young family. His death is a serious loss for them and it’s a very sad time for our club and community.”
Tyrone county chairman Michael Kerr said a ‘giant’ of the GAA in the county had gone to his eternal reward.
“For one so young to have achieved so much is testament to a great Gael,” he said. “Fergal ws a true gentleman in life even in the white-hot heat of championship battles.
“A very private person, the manner in which he bore his illness over the last 12 months marks the magnitude of the man.
“His legacy is not alone two All-Ireland winning teams, but the influence he had on all those who had the privilege to be coached and managed by him in clubs and schools.”