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Declan Bogue

My inspirational quartet that make up Ulster GAA's Mount Rushmore

Declan Bogue


 

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Rock solid: Brian McEniff, Peter Canavan, Maurice Hayes and Hughie O’Reilly on Ulster’s GAA Mount Rushmore

Rock solid: Brian McEniff, Peter Canavan, Maurice Hayes and Hughie O’Reilly on Ulster’s GAA Mount Rushmore

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Rock solid: Brian McEniff, Peter Canavan, Maurice Hayes and Hughie O’Reilly on Ulster’s GAA Mount Rushmore

The time has come to throw it out there, put the neck on the line, the head above the parapet, and make a few big calls.

 

It's not easy for your struggling artisan sports writers out there when they come to compile lists. Why, only the winter past I was watching an under-age game when somebody verbally accosted me over a list of best players from a particular county. Sure, I pointed out that it wasn't me, but that only made things worse.

So, in the spirit of such bravery, I hereby present the four heads of the Ulster Gaelic football Mount Rushmore. These are the men who have shaped the game most in the northern province.

BRIAN McENIFF: St Joseph's, Bundoran, Donegal, Ulster, Ireland International Rules

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Good times: Brian McEniff with his Ulster players after beating Leinster in the Railway Cup back in 2004

Good times: Brian McEniff with his Ulster players after beating Leinster in the Railway Cup back in 2004

INPHO

Good times: Brian McEniff with his Ulster players after beating Leinster in the Railway Cup back in 2004

 

The scope of his achievements throughout Gaelic games can go under-appreciated. As a manager, he won a solitary All-Ireland, putting him on a level footing with figures such as Eamonn Coleman and Joe Kernan, and behind the likes of Mickey Harte, Barney Carr and Pete McGrath.

But McEniff's body of work rolls out forever.

Prior to Jim McGuinness winning the Ulster title in 2011, McEniff was a central figure in every Donegal Ulster victory. As a player in 1972, he won an All-Star. Two years later, he won another as player-manager.

The year after that, 1975, his services were not retained and so he helped out Sligo to only their second Connacht Championship.

His relationship with the county board was often troubled but he returned for his first spell as sole manager and won the Ulster title in 1983. After another period away, he came back and won Ulster again in 1990 and 1992 and followed that up with an All-Ireland title.

It was his final time in charge that distinguishes him from nearly anyone in the Association. As county chairman, he could not source a manager at the end of 2002 and so he took the role on himself for a few years, reaching the latter stages of the All-Ireland Championship.

During this time he managed the Ulster Railway Cup team for a quarter of a century, winning the Championship 12 times. He managed Ireland in 2000 and 2001 against Australia in the International Rules series, winning in the latter of those years.

And, in 2010, he helped Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick when they were cruelly robbed of a Leinster title.

PETER CANAVAN: Glencull, Errigal Ciaran, Tyrone, Ulster, Ireland International Rules

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Breaking mould: Peter Canavan celebrates Tyrone success in 2005

Breaking mould: Peter Canavan celebrates Tyrone success in 2005

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Breaking mould: Peter Canavan celebrates Tyrone success in 2005

 

The nuance here is that as much as Canavan was headed for the unwanted tag as 'best ever not to win an All-Ireland' before Mickey Harte took over, equally the first two All-Irelands in 2003 and 2005 could not have happened without the genius from Ballymacilroy townland.

In 1990, he was in the team that lost the Under-21 All-Ireland final to Kerry, but captained the side to the next two triumphs. In 1995, he played a season in which Tyrone reached the All-Ireland final at a level beyond any other peer in the game. It is difficult to imagine any player shaping a Championship like it since, despite the loss in the decider to Dublin.

In 2003, with the new breed of Tyrone player coming on board and Canavan 33 by this stage, he had evolved his game and became a phenomenal playmaker while still posting massive scoring tallies.

In that year's Ulster final, they were nine points adrift of Down when Canavan was awarded a penalty that he dispatched. He refused to be beaten a week after his father Sean's death and Tyrone clung on for a draw despite Canavan suffering bouts of asthma in the game.

As he said himself, if they had lost that game, there were no guarantees of the success that was to follow.

In 2005 in the All-Ireland semi-final against Armagh, despite all the cockiness of Owen Mulligan, he was still delighted to see Canavan step up to hit the tricky match-winning free. And in the final, he produced a sublime finish to roll the ball into the corner beyond Kerry goalkeeper Diarmuid Murphy to give them a vital goal.

The structures around him needed to improve, but he was the ultimate driver of establishing Tyrone among the elite.

MAURICE HAYES: Kileclief, Down

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Maurice Hayes at his Downpatrick home

Maurice Hayes at his Downpatrick home

Maurice Hayes at his Downpatrick home

 

No team from Northern Ireland had won an All-Ireland before Hayes rolled out his vision in 1958 that, within three years, Down would be the first.

Thereafter - although he would share out any credit going - the Down players of the time would readily share their admiration of his genius as they swept their way to All-Ireland titles in 1960 and 1961, making it a hat-trick in 1968.

Think about that - how many players have you heard attributing anything of a team's success to an administrator?

Hayes was the first to think in terms of player welfare. He got players medical assistance, secured them employment, tempted Paddy Doherty back from professional soccer and likewise PJ McElroy from his work overseas.

"I wouldn't have my All-Ireland medals but for Maurice," said McElroy.

Colm McAlarney went further.

"Maurice Hayes was a wonderful man and an absolute genius and if you speak to any one of the 1960-61 trailblazers, I guarantee that if you asked them what the reason was that you made the breakthrough, they'd say him," he said.

"There was a huge mental thing to make that breakthrough. There probably were Down teams that were skilful enough, that had good enough players to do it, but there was just that mental block.

"They'll tell you Hayes was the man to break that mental block."

Sean O'Neill was on the team of the century, and along with James McCartan senior, played in no fewer than 15 Ulster finals, and he credits Down football's rise to Dr Hayes. We happily defer.

HUGHIE O'REILLY: Cootehill and Cavan

When Hughie O'Reilly won an All-Ireland Junior title at midfield for Cavan in 1927, they weren't even the first Ulster team to achieve that - Armagh had done so a year before.

But that was the precursor to Cavan moving into the senior ranks and O'Reilly played on the triumphant 1933 and '35 senior teams. He then trained the other successful All-Ireland-winning teams of 1947, '48 and 1952.

He was something of an Ulster counterpart to Kerry's Dick Fitzgerald, who produced a booklet 'How to Play Gaelic Football' in 1914. O'Reilly drew up his list of 25 playing rules for players.

After the fifth senior All-Ireland title for Cavan - the sixth title he had been involved in - he shaped his native Cootehill into a force and they won three consecutive senior Championships from 1953.

He was also a fine hurler having represented his county, and also served as Cavan's representative on the GAA's Central Council.

Belfast Telegraph