Aghyaran may have been relegated from senior football this season but it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the St.Davogs club in 2010 as they managed to annex county titles at minor and U21 level. Here one of Aghyaran’s favourite sons, Ciaran McGarvey, reflects on his glittering playing career.
Q: How would you like to be remembered by your County’s supporters?
A: It would be the same as most other players, that I gave my best, I gave one hundred percent all the time, throughout my County career.
Q: When you look back, which three moments in their club and county career made it all worthwhile?
A: Winning the 1981 Intermediate championship with Aghyaran, that was very special. We beat Coalisland in the final and it was the club’s first championship win at senior level and it came on our 25th anniversary.
Putting on a Tyrone jersey for the first time, for the minors against Derry in the 1975 league
The All Ireland final in 1986, although that of course has bad memories as well. It was still a rare and special occasion all the same as it was the first time that Tyrone had competed in one.
Q: How did your County minor career go?
A: We won the Ulster championship in 1975, beating Cavan in the final. We then beat Kildare in the All Ireland semi final before losing out to Kerry in the decider. Winning that Ulster title was a very special moment in my career, my youth days were great days, and I got great enjoyment from them. That was a good Tyrone minor side and guys like Aidan Skelton, Kevin McCabe, Damian O’Hagan and Sean Donnelly all graduated onto the senior side of course.
Q: Did you enjoy any success at U-21 level?
A: Unfortunately not. I played from 1976 to 1978 but we just didn’t click. We should have done better as the team was there to do something but the best that we could manage was an Ulster semi final appearance.
Q: When did you make your senior debut for Tyrone?
A: It was in 1975, six days after the minor All Ireland final. We played Armagh in a challenge match and I played at centre half back, marking a certain Joe Kernan. It was a real baptism of fire and a huge step up for me. I remember going to the match, this shy lad going into a dressing room full of star players but in fairness they all made me more than welcome which was a great help in getting settled in. I became part of the National league panel that year and made my competitive debut against Mayo when I was only eighteen.
Q: When did you make your senior championship debut?
A: I came on against Derry as a substitute at wing half forward in 1976; they went on to retain their Ulster title. Twelve months later I made my first championship start at senior level, also against Derry and also at wing half forward. Derry beat us again that day and made it through to the final but Armagh denied them a three in a row of Ulster championships.
Q: Who were the established names on the Tyrone senior panel when you first joined it?
A: There was a host of good players, guys like Aidan McMahon, Liam Turbitt, Mickey Hughes, Patsy Hetherington, Pat King, Frank McGuigan, Peter Mulgrew and Sean Coyle.
Q: When did you play in your first Ulster senior final?
A: That was in 1980 when I lined out at corner back against Armagh. They beat us 4-10 to 4-7 despite the fact that we got off to a great start with a Patsy Kerlin goal. That was a game that perhaps we should have won although they were a good side, many of whom had played in the All Ireland final three years earlier. It was a great experience for me as it was the first time that I had played in front of a crowd of about 30,000 although to be honest once you get out onto the field it didn’t matter if there were only two people there. We beat Antrim, Donegal and Cavan to get that far.
Q: Going into 1984, did it seem any different from previous years?
A: In 1982 and 1983 we had fancied our chances but didn’t deliver. In 1982 we beat a good Down side in the Marshes but then lost out to Fermanagh in the Ulster semi final when we perhaps were guilty of underestimating them. The next year we lost out to Cavan by a single point at Breffni Park again. In 1984 we made a pact that we weren’t going to lose any more tight games like that. We had perhaps underachieved since reaching the Ulster final of 1980 but to win your first Anglo Celt Cup, and to do it in centenary year was absolutely brilliant. We beat Derry comfortably at Ballinascreen in the first round before getting past Down in a dogged encounter at Casement Park. I suppose revenge was in our mind after 1980 and what Frank McGuigan did that day has been well documented; I had never seen anything like it before. It was a game that we never looked like losing and they got a late Gerard Houlihan goal. It had been eleven years since Tyrone had won the Ulster senior championship and that was too big a gap for a County of our size.
Q: What about the All Ireland semi final against Dublin that year?
A: It was all new ground for us but we worked and trained hard although on the day we just didn’t do ourselves justice. Patsy Kerlin was brought down in the box early on but we didn’t get a penalty while Dublin had five or six points on the board before we managed a score. The experience we gained that day stood to us in the future, we realized that Croke Park had just two sets of posts the same as every other field in the Country.
1986 was of course the year of Tyrone’s breakthrough, but it could have easily been over before it had even started.
That’s right. Prior to that game against Derry we talked about no matter what the setback was we would keep going. They took the lead late on but Aidan Skelton had already placed the ball for the kick out before we knew where we were. Noel McGinn then of course got the goal and that turned our season on its head. It showed the tremendous character that was in that side as we never knew when we were beaten. There was great enthusiasm in the changing rooms after that game and we knew that we weren’t going to be easily beaten. We trained the next night after that game and that took us down to earth again. We faced Cavan in the semi final at Irvinestown and we recorded a comfortable win. We were in great shape at that time and well ahead of a lot of sides, Art had taken things to a new level.
Q: What about the Ulster final with Down?
A: It was a close game and that was always going to be the case against a side with their tradition. We may have got a fortuitous goal from Plunkett Donaghy that day but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we played well that day. We were four ahead at halftime and we said at the break that for every score that they got we would match that and that’s what we did as we emerged four point winners. It was great to win another Ulster championship title but we were already looking ahead as we knew that we had a good chance as we faced the Connaught champions in the semi final.
Q: Was there a big difference in your approach from two years previously?
A: There is no doubt that we were more streetwise when we got to the 1986 All Ireland semi final. We went to Croke Park full of confidence that day knowing that we were good enough to beat Galway. It was a very tough game but we held our nerve and the late penalty from Kevin McCabe saw us through. There were great scenes at the final whistle, we had broken the hoodoo and had made it through to the final. I remember my father talking about how close Tyrone had come to making the final in 1956 and 1957 and it was great to finally get there after 1973 and 1984 as well.
Q: What about the build up to that final?
A: In hindsight, it was crazy at times. There were a lot of functions to attend and we didn’t really know what to do. We spoke about it many times afterwards and the feeling is that we took our eye off the ball slightly. From a training point of view there was no let up, we trained for close to thirty nights in a row once. There was no stone left unturned as regards our physical and mental approach, Art brought in different characters to help us. It was a wonderful time for Tyrone football.
Q: What about the final itself?
A: We had prepared for every conceivable thing, except being ahead by so much. We didn’t know how to handle a lead like that, how to protect it. Injuries contributed a lot to our defeat that day. Eugene McKenna getting injured and having to go off was a huge blow for us as was John Lynch having to go off. He had been playing very well and had kept a tight watch on Mikey Sheehy. People always say that it would have been different if the penalty had gone in, that could be right although we missed a number of chances after that as well. Wee things on the day all went against us. The two goals that they got came about when we had possession and lost it. It was very disappointing although for the first fifty odd minutes it was great. I have never watched a video of that final and I probably never will. We were a good side that went there to win the All Ireland but just came up short against a great Kerry side.
Q: Was it difficult to pick things up for the following year?
A: If anything we trained even harder in 1987. We went to the States on a trip that Easter and when we came home we prepared for the Antrim game. We were now up there to be shot at and it took us two games to get past them and the writing was probably on the wall. We played Armagh at Irvinestown and they caught us badly that day. After that there were changes made in the panel as well as at management level. In 1988 we got to the Ulster final but lost out to Monaghan. They got away with a lot that day but it was a game that we threw away.
Q: What about the 1989 Ulster campaign?
A: We played Armagh in Omagh in the first round and were losing by eight points. That was the day of the famous tunnel incident and there is no doubt that helped us. It revved us up and there were a few harsh things said at half time. There was a battle on and we turned things around brilliantly that day and showed that the will to win and strength was there. That put us through to an Ulster semi final meeting with Down at Castleblayney. John Lynch was harshly sent off that day early on and we always felt that he was a marked man; they were going to get him suspended one way or the other. They then got a goal and were really putting it up to us. It was a hard, physical day. I was sore after it but that’s what you had to do in championship football, put your body on the line. That was a good Down side, many of whom went on to win All Irelands. That was the fourth time that we had met them in the championship in the eighties and we won each time despite the fact that they went into each game as favorites. We always felt that we had the measure of them. The final against Donegal was the hottest day that I ever played football. It was a very tough game and we required a late Stephen Conway free to force a replay. Before the replay we watched a video of the first game almost every night and pinpointed the weakness on their side and we exposed them. On the second day we got two early goals to kill the game off. They were an up and coming side who of course went on to win the All Ireland three years later.
Q: Were you confident going into the All Ireland semi final that year against Mayo?
A: We knew that we had a great chance that they were there for the taking. Perhaps we didn’t prepare as well as we could have. The Connaught final between Mayo and Roscommon had been a poor game and we probably went into that All Ireland semi final a bit complacent. We took our eye off the ball but still it was a game that we should have won, especially after Eugene McKenna got the goal.
Q: When did you play your last game for Tyrone?
A: It was the following year in the quarter final of the National league against Meath. I played full forward that day with Mick Lyons marking me. I tore stomach muscles that day and it kept me on the sidelines for nine months.
Q: Have you any regrets from your career?
A: More so disappointments. That Tyrone team could and should have won an All Ireland. The National league title in 1985 was another one that slipped from our grasp. There is no doubt that we should have won more. I feel that the 1989 panel was the strongest panel of the lot in my time being involved and we should have at least reached the All Ireland final that year. From a personal point of view, not winning an All Star award in 1986 hurt. A lot of people knew what happened that year and I felt it was sad that sponsors could have the power to dictate over football matters.
Q: As a former Tyrone star, what did winning the All Ireland in 2003 mean to you?
A: In the early seventies I was a Tyrone supporter, I played County football for sixteen years, and after that I’m a Tyrone supporter again. It was better than I ever imagined it could be. The joy that it brought to your family, friends and all Tyrone people, you had to be there to see it. My only regret is that my Father didn’t live to see the day, he died in 1998. It would have meant something to him as he had followed Tyrone for fifty or sixty years. It was great to be there to see that outstanding footballer lift the Sam Maguire.
Q: What about your club career?
A: The first thing that I won with Aghyaran was the North Tyrone U-16 championship, that was a special moment in my career. I first started playing for the seniors in 1973 and in 1978 we won the Intermediate league title. In 1981 we won the Intermediate championship title when we beat Coalisland in the final and two years later we reached the decider again only to lose out to Clonoe after a replay. I played in two other Intermediate championship finals, beating Fintona in 1987 under Tommy Moss and losing to Brackaville in 2000. Charlie Gallen turned the club around and another man who did a lot for the club was Owen Devine. He put in a tremendous amount of work at underage level and drove the team bus as well. Donal Reid took over as club manager in 1999 and did a great job for our club. I have been friends with Donal for a number of years, as we don’t live far from each other, and we actually played against each other in the 1989 Ulster final. When my father died in 1998, Donal helped keep me going and got me back out again and playing football.
Q:If you had the chance to go back and relive one special moment, and also go back and change one moment that haunts you, what would those be?
A: It’s difficult to pick out one special moment to relive, probably any of the three Ulster championship wins. As regards the moment that haunts me, I would love to go back to the 1986 All Ireland final and defend our lead in the last twenty minutes.
Q: What was it like to play under Art McRory?
A: He is a great man and I owe my County career to him and that is something that I have always told him, it was Art who gave me my opportunity on the County side and I will always be grateful to him for that. It was a great experience playing for him, he was a great influential figure. A great man, great individual, a great manager and trainer. I have the highest respect for him and it was sad that he never got to win the Holy Grail.
Q: Who were the best players that you ever played against and why?
A: The late Ambrose Rodgers was a great footballer. We had some great physical battles with each other, we were both around the same build, and we had a great respect for each other. Matt Connor was the best player that I ever played against, the complete footballer. Eoin Liston was another exceptional player that I marked during my career.
Q: Best players played with and why?
A: Frank McGuigan, the most naturally gifted player that I have ever seen. He had everything, talent, strength, and the six months that I marked him during training in 1984 was a great experience for me. There were a lot of great players on that Tyrone side. Guys like Aidan Skelton, John Lynch and Noel McGinn, that was our car load going to training. All good characters and footballers.