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Cormac McAnallen – In Ómós

By Rory Cox Sat 2nd Mar

Cormac McAnallen – In Ómós
Cormac McAnallen – In Ómós

Twenty years ago on 2nd March 2004, the GAA world was rocked by the sudden and tragic death of Eglish and Tír Eoghain footballer the late Cormac McAnallen. Born on 11th February 1980, the Eglish St Patrick’s clubman had amassed such a huge number of honours in his short stay on this earth, you can only wonder what more he could and would have achieved had he not been taken from us at such a young age?

Bhain bás tobann, tragóideach Chormaic Mhic an Ailín, peileadóir na hEaglaise agus Thír Eoghain, croitheadh as pobal CLG. Chruinnigh Cormac, a rugadh ar 11 Feabhra 1980, an oiread sin onóracha taobh istigh d’am gairid ar an domhan seo agus tá a fhios ag Dia cad é eile arbh fhéidir leis a bhaint amach munar tharla an tragóid uafásach.

Cormac played his final game with the Red Hand’s against Dún na nGall at Páirc MacCumhaill Ballybofey on Sunday 22nd February 2004 when he captained the team to win their sixth Dr McKenna Cup title. Many felt that even at the young age of 24 that Cormac was the perfect leader to replace the legendary Peter Canavan as captain of the side and that he would go on to replicate Peter by climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand at Croke Park and accept a second Sam Maguire Cup for Tír Eoghain but sadly that wasn’t to be the case.

On their way to the 2004 Dr McKenna Cup final, Tír Eoghain had defeated Doire at An Ómaigh, Antrim at Belfast and UUJ in what was the first official Ulster fixture involving a County team played under floodlights with the game taking place at Páirc Colmcille Carrickmore. The clash against the Tír Chonaill men on Sunday 22nd February in the decider saw Tír Eoghain win comfortably on a score line of 1-22 to 0-7. Joe McQuillan (Cavan) was the referee and the Tír Eoghain side that day included the likes of Gavin Devlin, Ryan McMenamin, Brian Dooher, Sean Cavanagh, Brian McGuigan, Enda McGinley, Conor Gormley and Philip Jordan. Dún na nGall also had a strong side back then with Barry Monaghan as their captain, Kevin Cassidy, John Gildea, Christy Toye, Michael Hegarty, Brian Roper, Colm McFadden, and Brendan Devenney were amongst their ranks.

Following the game, I can vividly recall the late Cormac raising aloft the Dr McKenna Cup under the press box in Ballybofey and thinking to myself it won’t be too long before he will be lifting the Sam Maguire Cup for Tír Eoghain as the team captain, but the man above had other plans and ideas! 

The Dr McKenna Cup was the first piece of silverware that Cormac had lifted in his role as captain of the Tír Eoghain Senior team, but he had already lifted many other titles at Minor and Under 21 levels as captain of the Red Hand’s. Twenty years ago, in 1998, Cormac led Tír Eoghain Minors to an All-Ireland title defeating Laois in the decider and followed this up in 2000 and once again in 2001 by defeating Limerick and Maigh Eo respectively in respective Under 21 deciders. 

His leadership qualities were very evident from a young age, and it was no surprise that he won so many honours at Schools, College, Club, County, Provincial and National levels. Many players have played gone through their entire careers and not achieved even a quarter of what the legend that is Cormac McAnallen had achieved before he so suddenly departed this earth less than a month after celebrating his 24th birthday!

Later the same night after winning the Dr McKenna Cup when most players would have been out celebrating their success, I attended St Joseph’s Hall in An Ómaigh for what I believe was a Tír Eoghain Scór Sinsear semi-final and I bumped into Cormac who was there to represent his club Eglish in Tráth na gCeist (Quiz).

 I can remember congratulating him on captaining the team to the title earlier that day and as always, he was very modest about such preferring to concentrate on making sure that he had done his homework for the quiz questions ahead. I believe that the Eglish quiz team progressed to the final that was later held in St Patrick’s Hall Strabane on 21st March but if memory serves me correct, they withdrew as a mark of respect to Cormac.

Defeating Dún na nGall in the Dr McKenna Cup final would have been that bit special for Cormac as his grandfather Charlie O’Neill hailed from Letterbarra just a few miles outside Dún na nGall Town, A brother of Charlie’s, Joe won a Tír Eoghain Senior Football Championship medal with Strabane Lámh Dhearg back in 1945. He was working in the area at that time, and it was also at a time when the parishes of Strabane and Lifford were all one known as Clonleigh and Camus right up until 1974.

As a Strabane Sigersons clubman, I have great memories of Cormac attending our clubs Easter and Summer Coaching Camps, I recall him coming to the club back in 1998 with the Tom Markham Cup after Tír Eoghain Minors won the All-Ireland Minor title and when Queen’s University Belfast won the Sigerson Cup back in 2000 it was Cormac who brought the famous piece of silverware back to its spiritual home where Dr George Sigerson was born. Since his death the club has presented the annual Cormac McAnallen Cups to the best boy and girl at our annual Easter Camp, a tradition that hopefully will continue for many years to come. 

An interesting footnote about Cormac that isn’t so widely known is the fact that he won a Dublin Senior Championship title with UCD in 2002 whilst studying in the capital. He never got to win a Tír Eoghain Senior Championship title but it must be one of the very few titles that he missed out on during his short yet rewarding career that saw him go from winning Scór na nÓg Tráth na gCeist titles with his club Eglish in 1992 through to winning Young Footballer of the Year in 2001, named as full back on the All-Star team of 2003 to that final piece of silverware that he proudly accepted as team captain on 22nd February 2004, the Dr McKenna Cup. 

The name of Cormac McAnallen proudly lives on via the Cormac Trust which has done amazing work over the years since his death, there’s a club in Sydney Australia named in his honour, the trophy that Ireland and Australia compete for in the International Test series is the Cormac McAnallen Cup and I’ve no doubt there are many other trophies, awards and the likes honouring and commemorating his proud memory. However, if you want a full picture of the late great Cormac McAnallen then I’d suggest that you go out and purchase a copy of the book penned and published by his brother Dónal titled “The Pursuit of Perfection; The life, death and legacy of Cormac McAnallen”.

Is omós beag é seo i gcuimhne Chormaic ar a chomóradh 20 bliain. Laoch ar son Thír Eoghain a bhí ann agus is go deo na ndeor a bheas sé i gcónaí inár gcuimhne is inár gcroí.

This is just a small tribute to the memory of Cormac on his 20th anniversary, a real legend in Tír Eoghain and indeed throughout the land. Many tributes were paid to him in the days following his death and one that stood out for me was from the Ard Stiúrthóir of the G.A.A. back then Liam Mulvihill when he said “Cormac left an endearing impression on anybody who had the privilege of meeting him. In a short life he left a giant imprint in the sands that are the chronicle of our games and association”. 

Cormac McAnallen – Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Article written by Aodhán Harkin, originally published in ‘Red Hand View’ on Saturday 24th February.

By Rory Cox Sat 2nd Mar

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