| 3.6°C Belfast

How St Malachy's saved Tyrone's day as Kerry arrived in Edendork

 

Close

Brothers in arms: Tyrone players ahead of their clash against Kerry which was moved to Edendork

Brothers in arms: Tyrone players ahead of their clash against Kerry which was moved to Edendork

©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Brothers in arms: Tyrone players ahead of their clash against Kerry which was moved to Edendork

The quaint name of 'Edendork' was on the minds of the GAA public on Sunday morning when it was announced that the Tyrone-Kerry Allianz League Division One game would have to be moved from Omagh.

TG4 already had their trucks and equipment ready to broadcast the clash when the pitch failed an inspection. Contingency plans by this stage in the east of the county were already in full swing and with the first arrivals at Arthur Mallon Park landing at 7am, the biggest day in the St Malachy's club's history was beginning.

Just over 11 years ago in November 2008 came their darkest day. In the early hours of a Saturday morning, a group made their way into the grounds and burned out the clubhouse.

A game was due to be played that very morning against Pomeroy. Club volunteers responded by clearing all the debris and the match went ahead.

Later that evening, a caller claiming to represent the Orange Volunteers, a group thought to comprise former UVF militants, contacted the UTV newsroom in Belfast to claim responsibility.

The caller said the blaze was in retaliation for an arson attack which destroyed Ballinderry Orange Hall in Co Tyrone the previous Sunday and an attack on Ballywillwill Orange Hall in Co Down at the end of September.

Politicians from all backgrounds condemned the mindlessness of the acts, but there was little consolation for the club. They couldn't even claim off the Northern Ireland Office due to a stringent set of circumstances relating to such offences.

Close

The remains of St Malachy’s old clubhouse after a 2008 arson attack

The remains of St Malachy’s old clubhouse after a 2008 arson attack

SPORTSFILE

The remains of St Malachy’s old clubhouse after a 2008 arson attack
 

Vice-chairman Dara Cullen recalled: "(It was) completely destroyed, down to the ground.

"There were some schools that gave us a couple of temporary classrooms, so we had a couple of them to use as changing rooms.

"For any club, their clubhouse means a lot to them. I mean, the men in this club actually physically built it (the original) themselves. There was no grant aid available at that time, so if we had have held on for a few years we might have got a grant, but when you had no facilities you just had to bite the bullet and go on a fundraising effort and borrow money from the bank, grab the bull by the horns and build this facility."

All in all, they raised an astonishing £700,000 to build the gleaming pavilion. They named it after Des Fox, a bookmaker who was into his second spell as chairman of Edendork when he was stopped and shot as he made his way to the Curragh, his killers making away with almost €20,000.

Fox was a revered figure and had great ambitions for the club, so the best way to honour him was to go big on the pavilion.

"That facility had been there for 20 years and there's no point in just matching what we had. We decided this was an opportunity to take our facilities to the next level, so that is what we did," explained Cullen.

"We spent maybe the next eight or nine years doing hard fundraising to get that facility paid off."

At their AGM in late 2017, they were able to announce that they were now debt-free.

Of all the clubs in Tyrone, they believe they have the most activity with 26 teams across football, ladies' football and camogie. They have also recently purchased another parcel of land to use as a training facility half a mile away from the ground.

For them, Sunday was an honour.

"It was fantastic for our club to be able to have the Kingdom here. It was unbelievable," said Cullen.

"We do get Championship double-headers now and again, so we have a core group of people who have a template of stuff to work on. We get on WhatsApp groups, your coaches and everybody pulls in."

The club brought down inter-county referee Sean Hurson to conduct a pitch inspection, before a torrential downpour that required another visit out onto the pitch with the drainage spikes.

"While all this was going on, we still had to line out the pitch and get the kitchen sorted out and all that kind of stuff," said Cullen.

In the end, the club had three clubmen playing for just the second time ever - goalkeeper Niall Morgan, midfielder Con Kilpatrick and man of the match Darren McCurry, who might never have as good a game again.

Morgan was superb in goals and made a point-blank stop to deny a certain Kerry goal as well as kicking four long-range frees.

McCurry was brought up in the house closest to the pitch, and he said afterwards when describing a stupendous sideline effort: "I pictured my (late) mum looking out the window, watching me kick it over."

Mick McGuckin, a long-standing club stalwart and former Derry footballer, added: "Everybody talks about the importance of practice, but he practiced and practiced.

"I had a younger brother who managed Edendork about 10 years ago now. Darren was only a child, but my brother couldn't believe the effort Darren put in when the senior team were doing their training and Darren was kicking the ball from one side of the pitch to the other side of the pitch, over and back, over and back.

"So I am glad to see the fruition of it all because Darren is a great lad. Forget about the football, he is just a great lad."

The game itself was a real throwback for the likes of McGuckin.

"I was talking to a man, Mark Conway, who said it brought him back to the old National League of about 30 or 40 years ago," he said.

"That was played at this time of the year, no sand-based pitches then. The pitches were bogging, it was always raining, a typical National League game."

Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.

Already have an account?

Belfast Telegraph