Belfast Telegraph

Declan Bogue: Why Tyrone's footballing public never ceases to amaze me

Fan power: One of Tyrone’s younger supporters, Tom Bogue, with Niall Morgan (left) and DD Mulgrew
Fan power: One of Tyrone’s younger supporters, Tom Bogue, with Niall Morgan (left) and DD Mulgrew
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Do you know something? The footballing public of Tyrone never fail to amaze me. On Monday evening I found myself as a guest of the Gaelic Weekly show who were presenting a pre All-Ireland final chat night in The Spirit Store in Trillick.

Beside me were two highly-decorated Tyrone soldiers in Conor Gormley and Davy Harte, Celtic crosses jangling in their pockets. I hijacked host Rory Rafferty's flow to turn a question about the Dublin kickouts onto men who have been there and done it.

I quizzed them on the areas Stephen Cluxton likes to hit, how he rarely chances a delivery into his right corner, leaving him kicking across his body, and how his last preferred option was to blast it long to Brian Fenton.

It was nerdy stuff. Real anorak material.

But here's the thing. There was no murmur among those gathered. No crisp packet crinkling. Nobody ordering up more stout. They were fully into it.

It's been a recurring phenomenon since this Fermanagh man moved to Omagh in the summer of 2010.

As luck would have it, myself and herself shared an apartment just around the corner from Healy Park. The odd evening would be spent nipping across to catch some of their club Championship games that were never less than the full-blooded, straight knockout variety.

Five summers later we made the move to her hometown of Aughnacloy. Over the years, Tyrone GAA grew over me like vines. Occasionally, when injury and schedules allowed, the local club Aghaloo O'Neills just about tolerated their new clumsy acquisition in an occasional and inglorious reserve jersey.

A couple of years ago, a few aficionados gathered up and formed a hurling and camogie club, Cuchulainn An Ghleanna for the Clogher Valley.

I'm now chairman and help out coaching the Under-12s. You could say I'm in the bubble now.

Our two children will probably never have the same interest in Fermanagh GAA that I do. They will never be pedigree-bred Tyronies either, but last Saturday I brought my son Tom down to meet the Tyrone players at their meet-and-greet at St Ciaran's College, Ballygawley.

Wearing his Tyrone top bought by his uncle (there are limits), he was delighted to pose with the All-Ireland finalists and have his 'Cup Champions' ball signed.

I'm resigned to the old saying: "You cannot live in Rome and fight with the Pope".

And yet it always strikes me how there is a level of opposition towards Tyrone from other quarters.

Another GAA writer once put it to me that they suffer from being "the Tipperary of the north".

Tipp borders eight counties. Tyrone has six (if you count Antrim, which is a hotly-disputed border for eel fishing in Lough Neagh). There is ample opportunity for local rivalries.

And it's not just those outside the county they have to worry about. Some of the more colourful opinions offered about their county football team come from within, as witnessed by the difficulties Mickey Harte has faced from time-to-time in retaining his role as manager of the county side.

At the recent press event, Harte acknowledged that he is not everyone's cup of tea. People can disagree with him on social and religious issues, and nobody stays in a job that long without ruffling feathers.

This is, after all, the man who picketed the Tyrone county board convention for several years, seeking affiliation for Glencull after the split in his club St Ciaran's, Ballygawley, of which he was a central figure.

With 'The Holm' as their spiritual home, he was a force of nature throughout the '80s.

"I carpet-bombed the local press with club notes," he noted in his 2009 autobiography. "If a fly stirred over The Holm, it got reported."

Harte's great gift was that he doesn't give a hoot what others think of him.

He is the ultimate example of what George Bernard Shaw said, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Or, as Mark Harte, Mickey's son said: "The type of personality he has, he doesn't let things go that easy."

Harte has adapted the world of Gaelic football to Tyrone's needs. Before he took over as manager in 2002, they had won nine Ulster Championships.

They have won six since.

They never won an All-Ireland, now they have three.

And while the other counties that won Sam Maguire before Tyrone have floundered in the last 16 years - Derry now in Division Four and Down spending a bit of time in the third tier along with Armagh - Tyrone have consistently dined on finest white linen.

There's an argument to be made that nobody has transformed a county's fortunes quite like him. They don't know how lucky they are.

Belfast Telegraph


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