#FlashbackFriday – Tyrone GAA Legend Kevin McCabe on “Why they were All-Stars… Tyrone 1980-2005”
Back in this month, 10 years ago (2007), Tyrone GAA Legend, Kevin McCabe was asked to take a look at the 18 Tyrone men who had received a highly prestigious GAA All Star football award.
Of course since 2007 there have been a further five Tyrone GAA players who have picked up all star accolades, bringing Tyrone’s total to 23. The most recent additions were Matthew Donnelly and Peter Harte in 2016 with Justin McMahon (2008), David Harte (2008) and Enda McGinley (2008) the other three.
Tyrone’s eighteen All-Star award winners, who collected 31 different awards between them over a 25-year period, were honoured back in 2007 and a special portrait of that team of 18 was produced – as below. There is no doubt it is an impressive looking line up! Keep an eye out as we will be adding the latest five players to that portrait and putting up here for a competition very soon…
TYRONE’S ALL-STARS 1980 – 2005
Kevin McCabe, was actually the founder member of that elite group of players and spoke about each of the men who were selected on subsequent All-Star teams after he had historically paved the way as the county’s first recipient of an award back in 1980…
Why they were All-Stars… By Kevin McCabe
Frank McGuigan (All-Star 1984)
‘The King’ stands ahead of the pack, in that he’s the most naturally gifted footballer I’ve ever seen. There was nothing manufactured about McGuigan. He had it all.
McGuigan could have played in any position on the field, including goalkeeper. In fact, there were games when he did cover every position – apart from goalkeeper!
His size and strength helped to set him apart. I played with and against McGuigan, and as well as his amazing ability, he had every trick in the book.
I remember playing Ardboe in the championship at Coalisland – in direct opposition to the man himself. I’d set myself and was about to rise for the ball, when McGuigan just shoved his arse into my side. McGuigan collected the ball and away he went, no doubt smirking as he went on his way.
Once McGuigan got the ball it was his to keep. Art McRory is reported to have said that you couldn’t give a bad ball into McGuigan, and to an extent, that was true.
But that notion might have been our downfall when we met Dublin in the 1984 All-Ireland semi-final. We rained high balls in the direction of McGuigan, and the Dublin defence simply concentrated on starving him of possession. He was fouled throughout that game, and the crowd were deprived of seeing the ‘Master’ at work.
“McGuigan was the Georgie Best of gaelic football.”
My big regret is that he spent the prime of his life in America. I know he wouldn’t change a minute of his time, but Tyrone and gaelic football generally didn’t see McGuigan in his best years.
I won 3 New York championships playing alongside him. I only went out there for the long weekends. He was a looked upon as a god in New York, and rightly so.
McGuigan took everything that was thrown at him and managed to concentrate on playing football – most of the time!
I’ve discovered over the last few years that he’s not quite as mild-mannered looking on from the sidelines. But maybe that’s true of most past masters…
Frank has been sent off more times as a manager than he ever was during his playing career. But that shouldn’t diminish in any way the high regard in which he’s held.
McGuigan was and is ‘the King’.
Eugene McKenna (All-Star 1984, 1986, 1989)
Eugene’s contribution to Tyrone football, both on and off the field of play, is immeasurable. Had Eugene McKenna not been part of Tyrone’s history, I doubt very much if we’d be where we are today. Indeed, the contribution of the McKennas of Augher has been immense.
McKenna was a natural leader. Eugene could go toe to toe with the best in the land. His fielding and distribution was of the highest order, and like many of the top midfielders, he managed to break forward to convert many crucial scores.
“His unique ability to hang in the air gave him an edge over most of his contemporaries. A teak tough competitor, McKenna’s importance to Tyrone was best exemplified in the 1986 All-Ireland final. Ultimately, it was McKenna’s departure from the field that heralded the Kerry revival. That’s how important he was to Tyrone.”
McKenna’s name deserves to be right there with the best. Since he first arrived on the inter-county stage, he has made a massive contribution. I played for many years alongside him in the county team, and against him on the club stage. His three All Star awards were indeed merited, and are proof of a high level of performance over an extended period.
As well as his many other qualities, Eugene has a great wit. That’s something that the general public will not have been exposed to. Himself and Big Art might have made it on the circuit as a double act and anyone who spent time under their charge will vouch for that fact!
Damian O’Hagan (All-Star 1986)
My great mate Damian was an exceptional talent. He should have played for the O’Rahillys, as his father John Joe had done before him. But there’s probably a story in that for another day!
We often talk about how things might have turned out if he’d played for us, but he chose to go with the Fianna, and I suppose, things worked out all right for him in the end.
“Damian played minor football with Tyrone for four years, which is some going.”
He would have got a few ‘slaps’ in his time, and I’d say that he deserved most of them. It’s a widely held belief that O’Hagan was the top dog when it came to slanging matches with the opposition, but he couldn’t clerk to Noel McGinn in that department. McGinn was the worst I ever came across – bar none!
Referees weren’t spared either, and O’Hagan wasn’t afraid to let go with both barrels.
One of Damian’s qualities was his ability to find space. He didn’t have the speed of a McGuigan or a Canavan, but once he got the space, he was as accurate as anyone – with either left or right foot. Damian spent a while in Cork, but he didn’t miss out on too much with the Tyrone team, to the best of my memory.
He was a fine player – but he might have been even better if he’d sided with the O’Rahillys.
We have maintained a great friendship over the years – and we have some terrific shared experiences to look back on.
John Lynch (All-Star 1986)…
“I’d say it was John’s mild manner and temperament that set him apart from the rest.”
Seriously though, John was a ‘wicked wee player,’ and that, allied with his undoubted talent made him the player he was. He had speed to burn and always seemed to be out in front. Up until he was taken off in the 1986 All-Ireland final, he’d managed to keep the legendary Mikey Sheehy scoreless. He was a terrific asset to Tyrone. His tenacity and his competitive spirit gave him an edge over most of his competitors.
Eugene McKenna used to tell of the first time he came across John Lynch. He reckoned their first encounter was in the waiting room in the South-Tyrone Hospital.
“McKenna got a kick on the leg, while Lynch had been kicked in the head – Eugene tells that his leg got better, while Lynch didn’t recover from his injury, thus accounting for his suspect temperament.”
John was one of the fastest, fittest men in the Tyrone panel at that time. He was incredibly fast, but I always likely to remind him that he wasn’t quite able to catch up with me!
Tyrone have been blessed with some great defenders down through the years, and ‘Tar’ was one of the best, without question.
Plunkett Donaghy (All-Star 1986)…
The ‘Blonde Bombshell’, alongside Harry McClure, constituted the best midfield combination that I’ve seen to represent Tyrone. The commentators used to have a nightmare – they were constantly confusing the Tyrone trio of Plunkett, John Lynch and Sean McNally, even though there was a significant height difference between Plunkett and the other pair. Plunkett often got the plaudits for the good work of both Lynch and McNally – although he definitely did enough in his own right to warrant his All-Star award.
“Plunkett had a terrific engine. He could run all day, and he was comfortable on the ball. The Moy man had an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time and he rarely conceded possession.”
He had the necessary vision and could execute the kick pass with great accuracy. When he got into forward positions, he wasn’t afraid to have a go at the target.
He wasn’t the tallest of midfielders, but he could compete with the best. A great, great footballer and it was a privilege to have played alongside him.
Fay Devlin (All-Star 1995)…
I’ve played against him and played alongside him, and either way, you’d come off the field knowing he was there. When playing against him, you’d have the marks to prove that you encroached on his territory.
“I’d compare Fay to Raymond Munroe of Carrickmore. Neither would hit you a ‘dirty chop,’ but you were still well advised not to allow your elbows to stray too far from your rib cage when approaching either defender.”
Fay was a terrific defender. When in possession, he rarely made a mistake. His tackling and his distribution were probably the key elements in his game. Tyrone have been blessed with some great defenders down through the years, and Fay was one of the best. He certainly warranted his All-Star award in 1995.
Finbarr McConnell (All-Star 1996)…
He’s probably one of the best keepers we’ve seen in Tyrone. Aidan Skelton was like a cat in goals, but he didn’t have the booming kick-out that McConnell had. Finbar was a massive presence between the posts, and he exuded confidence. To have such an imposing figure in goal gave the defenders in front of him great confidence.
As well as that, Finbarr was surprisingly agile for someone of his physique. He was a terrific stopper.
It didn’t matter who was bearing down on goal, Finbar wasn’t intimidated. If anything, he often ‘bullied’ the forward into making the error.
“He’d have to go down as one of the best goalkeepers in Tyrone’s history.”
Peter Canavan (All-Star 1994, 1995, 1996, 2002, 2003, 2005)…
Where do you start on this man?
Peter did amazing things, right from the start of his career. He constantly did things that left defenders and spectators alike in total bewilderment. For instance, in his last competitive game in a Tyrone shirt, the two scores he converted against Kerry were just different class. “Cometh the hour – cometh the man!” – and never was that more true than in 2005. I’d expect his goal to be shown for many years to come, but that incredible point in the second half, when Kerry looked as though they were in the ascendancy, rocked the men from the Kingdom back on their heels. That score, from an impossible angle, swung the pendulum back in our favour at a very important stage of the game.
Who else would come up with those scores? You could go right back to his under-21 days and find that he was doing the same thing, albeit on a lesser stage.
I don’t think we’ve ever seen a more accurate forward, with both left and right and he’s the one player that you’d willingly part with good money to go and see.
How many times has he left you scratching your head, wondering: “How in under Jesus did he do that?”
One score that stands out in my memory came one day in Omagh. Canavan was heading towards the corner. He cut inside, evaded a few tackles, and moved further infield. He lost his balance and as he was falling, he swung with his left foot and sent the ball sailing over the bar.
In last year’s county final replay, he scored a point from distance, just in front of the stand. It was as pure a strike as I’ve ever seen.
Peter will point frees from anywhere – that’s taken as read. But it is the quality of the scores converted from open play that sets him apart from all the rest.
Over the years, Peter didn’t do ordinary scores. His contribution to the Tyrone cause cannot be measured.
We could all have bought houses in Dublin a few years back, had we known in advance that we’d be visiting Dublin as often. It would have been cheaper than paying for hotels. We’ve Peter to thank for most of those expenses!
Stephen O’Neill (All-Star 2001, 2005)…
(Stephen added a further all star award in 2009)
A talent I’m looking forward to watching in the future. Stephen knocks over points with both left and right, that he has no business even taking on.
“How many times has he knocked over unbelievable scores, with his right foot from the right side and with his left foot from the left side? Ordinary mortals wouldn’t even try such things.”
He moves quickly onto the ball – and he’s very strong on the ball. He can waltz past defenders with ease. The likes of Frank McGuigan, Peter Canavan and Stephen O’Neill just couldn’t be marked, within the rules.
He can move at speed and score on the run, which is a gift that not too many players have. He’s crucial to Tyrone’s hopes of success in the future. Boys like Stevie and Peter are given special attention, and they still manage to produce the goods.
Cormac McAnallen (All-Star 2003)…
“To have only been with us for such a short time, Cormac has left us with a truly amazing legacy, in more ways than one. Cormac was the perfect role model in every way imaginable.”
“His switch to full back was pivotal in bringing Tyrone to their first All-Ireland in 2003.”
Cormac had everything that you’d look for in a full back. He had the size, the fielding ability and the temperament. He was a terrific reader of the game, and he never got flustered. Like my contemporary Ciaran McGarvey, Cormac would have gone on to make the full back position his own for all long as he chose. His death was a massive blow to his family, to his club Eglish and to Tyrone football generally.
Cormac shares the distinction of having led Tyrone to two All-Ireland under-21 titles with Peter Canavan.
The fact that he was chosen to succeed Canavan as Tyrone captain in 2004 was an indication of the regard in which he was held. Cormac had his career in front of him, and it’s a great sadness that we didn’t see him realise his immense potential. But we have some great memories of what he did achieve in the game.
I have no doubt that he’d have gone on to become a multiple All-Star winner, but that wasn’t to be.
Brian Dooher (All-Star 2003, 2005)…
(Brian added a further all star award in 2008)
How do you set out to mark Brian Dooher? He doesn’t play any position. He covers every blade of grass on the pitch. Alongside Brian McGuigan, he links the play between forward and defence and where he gets his boundless energy from is a mystery.
“Dooher is one of a kind and he would make your head light watching him. Brian knocks over his share of crucial points and I doubt if there’s a defender in the land who could stay with him for a full 70 minutes of championship football.”
Without question, Brian was a key element in Tyrone’s successes of 2003 and 2005.
Brian had being doing the hard graft in the Tyrone colours for quite a few years without getting the recognition he deserved. At least now, people generally are beginning to acknowledge the calibre of the man, as a player and as a leader.
Brian McGuigan (All-Star 2003)…
A playmaker extraordinaire. Like his father, scoring seems to come easy to him, with either foot. He obviously takes his natural ability from his father, even though he’s a very different type of player. He’s probably more like Eugene McKenna in how he approaches a game than his father.
“Brian’s performance in the 2005 All-Ireland was of the very highest order. He finished the game with four points, and he had a massive influence on almost everything in attack.”
The thing about McGuigan is that as well as all his excellence on the ball, he also goes through a power of unseen work. He’s the sort of player that every manager would dream of having in his team. ‘The Wee Genius’ is a lot stronger than people think. Brian gives and takes his share of hits, and gets on with the game. He’s got that wee bit of wickedness within him – and that’s an essential ingredient at the very top level of the game.
His injury early last year was a huge blow. Here’s hoping that he gets back in full swing, sooner rather than later.
Philip Jordan (All-Star 2003, 2005)…
(Philip added further all star awards in 2008 and 2010)
Philip is a forward’s nightmare. He’s an attacking half-back and like Dooher, he has a terrific engine. One minute, he’s tackling ferociously, and the next he’s haring off into attack. A great spoiler who can turn defence into attack in an instant.
He has come up with some crucial scores over the past few years in the Tyrone colours. How many goals has he scored? Philip has never been afraid to take on responsibility.
Like a few of the other players who’ve gone on to collect All Stars, there’s a lot more to Philip than meets the eye.
To my mind, one of the key reasons for Tyrone’s recent successes is that all defenders are able to attack, just as all attackers are willing to tackle and defend when the need arises.
Again, a lot of Jordan’s best work goes unnoticed.
Conor Gormley (All-Star 2003, 2005)…
(Conor added further all star award in 2008)
Conor’s famous tackle in the 2003 All-Ireland final against Armagh was probably enough to earn him an All-Star. That was possibly the defining moment in that game. That epitomised one of Conor’s key qualities – his ability to tackle without fouling.
He’s another all-rounder who could play in any position. He’s a typical Carrickmore man, in the mould of a Raymond Munroe. I’d say Munroe passed on a few of his tricks. His crunching tackle on Declan O’Sullivan in the 2005 All-Ireland final must have given those around him a tremendous lift. Conor makes tackles like that all the time for both club and county.
He’s as hard as nails and I’d say coming off the field after an hour’s football marking Gormley, you’d know about it. Carmen have produced some tremendous footballers over the years, and Conor is carrying on a proud tradition.
He’s very comfortable and controlled on the ball, and always seems to choose the right option. As with Dooher and McGuigan, I hope he’s restored to his very best form for the county in the near future, following his long-term injury.
Sean Cavanagh (All-Star 2003, 2004, 2005)…
(Seán added further all star awards in 2008 and 2013)
The finest compliment I can pay to Sean is that he reminds me of Colm McAlarney.
Down’s answer to ‘Arkle’ was an exceptional player. He galloped up and down the field from the first whistle to the last and that’s the sort of industry that typifies Cavanagh’s game as well. Sean’s ability to work scoring positions for himself is phenomenal.
If you think back to that 2005 All-Ireland semi-final win over Armagh, it was Cavanagh who rallied the troops in the last few minutes. To be honest, some of us Tyrone folk may have given up the ghost at that stage. Armagh had taken the initiative and were beginning to look the most likely winners. But Cavanagh just decided that he wasn’t going to allow Tyrone to be beaten.
Armagh had built a reputation of being able to close out games, but that didn’t seem to bother Cavanagh. It looked for all the world that it was going to be Armagh’s day again. The great players turn on the style on the big days, and that was one of our biggest days.
It goes without saying that midfield is crucial in any game, and Cavanagh has served us well over the last number of years. I expect him to go on to add further to his already considerable reputation.
Owen Mulligan (All-Star 2005)…
Owen had a great year in 2003, but he really came of age in the latter stages of 2005. His goal against Dublin will be remembered forever, but what may be forgotten is that he made an even more telling contribution in the replay. Mulligan was doing things that you’d expect Canavan to do. He was even converting scores while falling over.
When Dublin looked like getting back into the contest, Mugsy came up with the big plays.
His form prior to the first Dublin game was in and out. But ‘that goal’ was pivotal to his own season, and it also ignited things for Tyrone. Dublin were possibly the better team on that day, and without Mulligan’s contribution, I’d say that Tyrone’s season could have ended there and then. To recover from a five-point deficit proved to all and sundry that the team had the necessary character to go all the way.
A confident Owen Mulligan is a massive asset to any team. He still has his best years in front of him and it’s likely that there’s a lot more to come from him.
With Peter now retired, and Tyrone starting to look like a team to be reckoned with, Owen will have even greater weight placed on his shoulders as we seek a third All-Ireland.
Ryan McMenamin (All-Star 2005)…
“Ricey” is like John Lynch. He is of similar temperament and doesn’t mind letting you know about it. He’s a corner back who can get up and score. There aren’t too many corner backs who have that on their CV. But first and foremost, he is a fantastic defender.
Ricey is comfortable on the ball, and isn’t afraid to take responsibility. The sight of “Ricey” going in at half-time of the first quarter-final against Dublin in 2005, encouraging those around him, proved that there’s much more to the man than meets the eye. I’d say ‘Ricey’ is a captain-in-waiting.
Ryan would fall into the same category as Lynch and O’Hagan, in that he wouldn’t be afraid to engage in ‘verbals.’
Without wishing to become repetitive, I’d have to say that none of the aforementioned would put a patch on the former Tyrone centre-half back, Noel McGinn.
One player who doesn’t feature on the list of Tyrone’s All-Stars is Aghyaran’s Ciaran McGarvey. He was a superb footballer.
What most people don’t know is that Ciaran had been given the full back berth in the 1986 All Star team, but the selectors realised that none of the Meath players had been included. So, at the stroke of a pen, Mick Lyons was honoured at Ciaran’s expense. There isn’t much comfort for Ciaran in that, but that is what happened!
I started out on the trail in 1975 at the same time as Ciaran at minor level. From the very outset, his presence gave those around him great assurance. McGarvey’s fielding ability was second to none. Allied to that, he was deceptively quick.
His performance against the ‘Bomber’ Liston in the 1986 All-Ireland final was sublime. If you were to ask the ‘Bomber’ about Ciaran McGarvey, he’d be lavish in his praise of the former Tyrone full back.
McGarvey made the position his own with Tyrone throughout the peak of his career. Several players would have pushed him along the way, but Ciaran was never ousted from the number 3 berth.
Outside of all his footballing ability, McGarvey was and remains a great fella.
“The other travesty that rankles with me, in relation to the All Star awards, is the fact that Brian McGuigan didn’t feature on the 2005 All Star selection. The fact that he had ‘been there and done that’ in 2003 offered some consolation, but it doesn’t alter the fact that he was a ‘stand out’ candidate again following Tyrone’s second All-Ireland success.”