It was with great sadness that I learn today of the passing of the truly remarkable Art McRory. Coming as it did so soon after the death of his late wife Helen, and just before the reopening of his spiritual home O’Neill Park in Dungannon, this morning’s news is doubly poignant.
Those of us fortunate enough to play, train and work under Art know that today we have lost a lot more than just a mentor or a coach. Art was a huge man in many ways and his contribution to the growth and development of Tyrone GAA can never be understated. I’ve never known a single player that played for him that didn’t have anything else but praise for him and the way he treated all who came in contact with him.
He came to prominence firstly as a player in the sixties but it was as a coach of successful youth teams where he really cut his teeth. At that time Tyrone were not known for causing too many waves in underage or senior county football. We had not won a minor title in decades and the last senior title had been won back in 1956. Those were barren years but things were about to change and Big Art was the catalyst for most of it.
He began from the bottom up and put in place solid foundations from vocational schools and minor sides that soon saw us claim Ulster and All Ireland titles in the early seventies. He continued to work at coaching players the basics using what is now referred to as transferable skills from other sports such as basketball and athletics to help players improve.
In 1980 he coached the senior and Under 21 squads winning an Ulster Under 21 title but coming up short in a high scoring Ulster final clash with Armagh. But the flame had been lit and success in the National League and McKenna Cup along with more thorough preparation throughout the winters eventually paid off.
Ulster Championship success in 84, 86 and 89 along with a first ever appearance in the Senior All Ireland Final in 1986, allied to extended runs in Division One of the National League, meant Tyrone were rated as the top team in Ulster during that decade. That was all down to Art and his approach to preparing his players.
Art was extremely well thought of among his fellow managers and coaches. He was part of a highly successful Ulster management team with his great friend Donegal legend Brian McEniff winning numerous Railway Cup titles back when the inter provincials really did mean something.
Although a very humble being who did not always enjoy dealing with the press he was a hugely proud Tyrone man who would have done anything for his county or his club.
He was truly a Clarkes and Tyrone legend. He may not have forged a great playing career on the field of battle but what he has done for Tyrone in terms of coaching and developing players, managers and future coaches is immeasurable.
On behalf of the TTM team and our followers and friends I think I speak for us all when I say, thank you Art, you’ve left an indelible mark on the history of our games and the association in our part of the world.
We will miss you with equal amounts of sadness and fondness when we recall your name.