Life in the Rebel County left a lasting impression on Ben

By Niall Gartland

OMAGH footballer Ben Groogan will hope to see a few pals from the opposite end of the country when he heads to Tullamore on Saturday for Tyrone’s All-Ireland SFC round robin clash against Cork.

It was only the other year that he was playing ball for Cork club St Finbarr’s – a club that holds the distinction of being the only one in Ireland that have won All-Ireland SFC champions in both hurling and football.

Groogan, who was a talented underage footballer for Tyrone, moved to the outskirts of Cork City in the third year of his Biomedical Engineering studies, completing a placement and linking up with St Finbarrs during a fruitful period for the club.

He was part of the St Finbarr’s set up that brought eventual champions Kilcoo to extra-time in a topsy-turvy All-Ireland semi-final clash in early 2022.

Injury curtailed his own involvement, but he was prominent in the club’s league campaign later that year, regularly getting his name on the scoresheet before transferring back to his native St Enda’s.

It was a hugely enjoyable time for Ben on a personal level, and he wasn’t the only local lad on the St Finbarr’s set-up as his Ulster University classmates Errigal Ciaran’s Packie O’Neill, Down’s Conor McCrickard and Antrim’s Caolan O’Connor also made the move.

He doesn’t rule out a return to the club as the area is a hotbed for biomedical engineering while jobs at home are much thinner on the ground.

“I loved it, it was like hitting a refresh button in football terms. At home I play defence but at St Finbarr’s I played corner-forward.

“The training was very skills-based and it was very intense as well, they had the likes of Ian Maguire, Steven Sherlock, Michael Shields who’s an All-Ireland winner. The standard was very high.”

Cork has often been characterised as being home to independently minded people, even to the point of perceived arrogance.

Groogan says it’s an unfair characterisation and that they’re generally fairly laid-back sorts.

“They’re a totally different people, they’re not as highly strung as up here. They’re very calm, relaxed and everything gets done when it needs to be done. You don’t get much hassle out of them, they’re good craic. They’re just good people to be around.

“They are a very proud people, they’re proud of their history and heritage but they’re good craic. We’d a good laugh in the changing room. On the pitch the northern lads were flying into tackles but they’re well able to stick up for themselves as well.”

By the time he transferred back to Omagh, Groogan was a mainstay on the starting line-up, a testament to his own ability as much as anything else.

“I missed the All-Ireland semi-final due to injury, I broke my ribs a week beforehand. That left me out for eight weeks.

“When I got fit again, I played a full league campaign and transferred back to Omagh probably two days before the start of our championship campaign.

“I was playing good football, some of my best in a right while, so I probably would’ve started in the championship.”

While Cork’s victory against Donegal nearly a fortnight ago came as something of a surprise, they have a host of talented young footballers in their ranks, winning an All-Ireland Minor and u-20 double in 2019.

Groogan said: “Cork football is really competitive and the county team has been a sleeping giant. It’s taken time for their young lads to establish themselves but now they’re really making an impact.

“On the club scene it’s similar enough to Tyrone in that anybody can beat anybody. The big teams are St Finbarr’s, Castlehaven and Nemo Rangers but I was looking at a few results lately and they’ve been overturned at times.

“It’s possibly a bit more attacking down there but at the same time it’s not all total football and you have teams that do bring 15 men behind the ball. There’s a nice mix, you have teams that feel they have to shut up shop but you have others that like to go out and play man-to-man.”

If Groogan does return to Cork in the near future, it’s a safe bet that he’ll rejoin St Finbarr’s. It’s a big club with a big history, but they welcomed Groogan with open arms and that’s something that’s massively appreciated.

“The players were so good to me. I came down from Tyrone with no connections at all, but they were incredibly welcoming. The first week I went down I got Covid, and the manager and chairman both texted me and brought me a load of groceries, and that was just the first week. It’s a special club and it really left a lasting impression on me.”

l Omagh St Enda’s are running a fundraiser to help alleviate the stress on players when they are seriously injured, you can donate here:

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW