| 5.3°C Belfast

McCann clan plan more success after Killyclougher's win


Catching them young: Schools angling champions, Erne Integrated, receive their prizes from Sharon McAleer, vice chair of Mid Ulster District Council

Catching them young: Schools angling champions, Erne Integrated, receive their prizes from Sharon McAleer, vice chair of Mid Ulster District Council

Catching them young: Schools angling champions, Erne Integrated, receive their prizes from Sharon McAleer, vice chair of Mid Ulster District Council

If Barney McCann hadn't moved his family the dozen miles from the wild, scraggy hills around Altamuskin to the edge of Omagh, then his grandson Tiernan McCann could have been a clubmate of Peter Harte. At half-time in Killyclogher's first ever Tyrone Championship win, over Errigal Ciaran in 2003, the two half-backs lined up against each other for the Cúl camp game.

Thirteen years later, Tiernan would play a crucial part in delivering their second with a resounding win over Coalisland.

After the game, Tiernan and his brother Conall stood at the foot of the Healy Park stand, each with an arm of their father Terry wrapped around them. Glassy-eyed and emotional.

What does the blue of Killyclogher mean to the McCanns?

Put it like this. After the 2014 league final, Terry suffered a heart attack. That was him finished with watching his sons play for Killyclogher. His anxiety levels and blood pressure couldn't hack it.

Still, he had no problem watching his sons play in the white and red of Tyrone. Championship, league, no games were off limits.

But Killyclogher? No way.

Since the scare, he has been at just two St Mary's games; the drawn county final, and last Friday's replay. No wonder there were tears bubbling.

"It's really emotional," says Tiernan now.

"The McCanns would be emotional. I would try and bottle it up a bit more, but Granda, Da would be very emotional about things. That's just the way they are. The other night, it was just relief.

"Conall was beside me. He is my brother and my best friend and it's indescribable to say how it felt, because it felt like a relief."

It's often said that the relief of winning is nowhere as keen as the pain of defeat, and McCann is well able to make that distinction after Trillick's Lee Brennan snatched a late point to take the championship away from them in last year's decider.

The 25-year-old pharmacist examines their motivations.

"I think the fear of failure was driving me on, rather than the chance of winning something. I just didn't want to feel like we felt last year. For months and months it was a really bad feeling. You always wonder if there is another chance to get back there again to win one," he says.

"After the drawn game, we knew we had to throw the shackles off. I have never seen us deliver such a complete performance. It's great to be able to do that in the showpiece."

With the clock running down and Killyclogher on their way to the third biggest winning margin in Tyrone Championship finals, they were able to drink it all in. They sent on Niall McFadden, who had ruptured his cruciate in the drawn final, and Dermot Carlin who continues to be plagued with injury. Sentimental touches. Nice to be able to do it.

It couldn't have been any more different from McCann's other highlight of the year - winning the Ulster title in a sun-baked Clones, Sean Cavanagh, Peter Harte and Kieran McGeary long-distance points coming like comets from the sky to snatch the game at the death from Donegal.

And in other ways, on a much more personal level, it couldn't have felt any more different than McCann's lowest point as a footballer, dealing with the fall-out after he took a dive in the 2015 All-Ireland quarter-final against Monaghan, prompting a red card for Darren Hughes.

At the time, a serious anti-Tyrone feeling was brewing, led by columnists and pundits. Momentum had been gathering following the ridiculous scenes after the under-21 final when a Tipperary official barred members of the Tyrone management team entry into their dressing room, and continued through accusations of sledging in the Ulster Minor Championship.

Critics required a target for their ire. McCann provided them with it.

But the abuse snowballed and online it became extremely nasty.

"It wasn't pleasant at the time and it is not something I am proud of," he says now, with the benefit of experience and having restored his reputation as a serious footballer.

"I can see how a negative can sometimes turn into a positive so it has made me thick-skinned and given me another side of mental strength," he continues.

"There was a lot of negative publicity and people were saying terrible things about me. I just channel that now to make me work harder and prove the critics wrong.

"I think nowadays with Twitter and social media, one person could say something and it has this rippling effect where people get on the bandwagon. They allow themselves to be so easily persuaded by one expert's opinion or view on something.

"Whereas if you think about it, there is always another side to it."

One pundit suggested at the time that there was a "bad smell" around that Tyrone team. Even this summer, another pundit suggested that "Tiernan had joined a squad where the culture was toxic. Feigning and diving was simply part of the fabric of the group".

At the time, Tiernan's father Terry and mother Diane were on holiday in Portugal. Home alone, it was Mickey Harte that called down to visit him the following day.

"He didn't have to do that," recalls McCann now, grateful for the gesture.

He continues: "It was a Sunday evening and he could have been with his grandchildren or doing whatever he does on a Sunday evening but he made it his business to come and see how I was as he heard I wasn't doing too well."

But he's doing well now.

Killyclogher's win last weekend made it seven different winners of the Tyrone Championship in the last seven years.

It's the sort of thing that creates a ready-made excuse for these O'Neill County representatives, before they play tomorrow's quarter-final against Cargin.

"That's incentive enough to go and try to debunk that theory," he answers.

"With the performance we turned in, if we can hit those levels again…"

If that happens, they would be unstoppable.

And maybe Terry can sit back and enjoy.

Belfast Telegraph