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Proud Tally hails St Mary's victory as one of the greatest

By Declan Bogue

St Mary's manager Paddy Tally has described Saturday's incredible, unlikely and unforeseen raid on the Sigerson Cup as "one of the greatest ever stories in Gaelic games".

Wins like the 0-13 to 2-06 triumph over UCD are not supposed to happen and prompted Tally's old management colleague Brian McIver to compare the victories over UCC and the holders to Leicester City's Premier League title in 2016.

Widely admired as a coach, Tally was Tyrone's trainer in 2003 when they won their first All-Ireland. He was training Down when they reached the 2010 All-Ireland final and also hooked up with McIver in Derry for a few years. He was also a sub on the Tyrone team that reached the 1995 All-Ireland decider.

This Sigerson triumph has to rate as his sweetest, coming as it does with him as boss - a role he has performed since going in as lecturer in 2004 - and one that will surely result in his name being linked with counties from now on as a manager.

"I said to the players after the match, 'You have to understand what you have actually done, what you have achieved. What you achieved here is one of the greatest ever stories in Gaelic games. In terms of team sports, it might be one of the greatest stories ever written'.

"There is no other way to describe it."

Saturday's win was only St Mary's second after their 1989 triumph.

There has always been an element of an arms race to Sigerson football, with former managers admitting how some universities aggressively recruit players.

Given St Mary's is a teacher training college with a fraction of the enrolment of other seats of learning (they have fewer than 300 male students), any hopes of a Sigerson Cup would have seemed remote. It led Tally to state: "Every year it seemed like it was getting further away."

There is a great belief in Gaelic games, however, that being small can be a team's greatest advantage. For Tally, that meant the 'cosy' St Mary's campus allowed him to interact more often with players. Although The Ranch have a number of outstanding and high-profile players such as All Star Kevin McKernan and a host of Ulster-winning Tyrone players, they have cultivated a culture of their own.

"You can't really put your finger on what happens in St Mary's. It's unique," said Tally.

"The only thing it is akin to is your club team. And in those four years you probably spend more time with the St Mary's lads. You are living with each other, you are spending 10, 11 hours together, so it's an intense friendship. And when they go onto the field, there is a bond that you refuse to lie down."

Over the last number of years, a few pointers showed Tally the potential was there for a raid. A Freshers' final loss to DIT and a semi-final defeat to UCD, both by narrow margins, convinced him. When they sat down for a team meeting in October before the fixtures were made, they targeted reaching the Sigerson weekend.

"All of a sudden we had this bunch of players that I knew were strong and were good. We just had to make sure we got the rest of it right," he said.

"As the competition went on, the day they beat DCU they realised they could go and win the thing.

"That was the day that we knew we were good enough to win the Sigerson Cup."

And they won it the hard way, by overcoming two-goal hammer blows in Friday's semi-final against University College Cork before shipping another two majors early on in the final.

Before the decider, the panel went along to the shrine in Knock, returning afterwards. The celebrations then called in at Enniskillen to Blake's of The Hollow - proprietor Pat Blake was a former Rancher.

The last captain of a winning St Mary's team was John Reihill of Enniskillen and he joined the party, wearing his old '89 jersey.

After that, it was back to the Tally family pub in Galbally where a number of ex-Ranchers from Tyrone such as Danny McBride, Brian Gormley and Sean Quinn made turned out.

Underpinning this fantastic achievement is a blue-collar approach, adds Tally.

"In St Mary's, we have very strong values when it comes to football. Every player is the same," he said.

"You can come from a Division Three team or play reserve football, but you are the very same as Kevin McKernan, an All Star. Kevin has to pay for his shorts and socks, so you will pay for your shorts and socks.

"There are no bursaries, no scholarships. All they do is they get the opportunity to play football and the experience of that.

"We do our best for them in a sporting and academic sense, but they get nothing out of it only the joy of playing. And you know what? It's enough."

Meanwhile, Neil Gallagher is the latest Donegal All-Ireland winner to retire, a persistent back injury forcing his hand.

His manager Rory Gallagher confirmed the news at a press conference in Ballybofey. He said: "He wanted to give it a go. He came back and played a bit with the club and had the back rescanned. It's a sad day for us all. He is very disappointed and we are very disappointed for him. I had great faith in him."

Gallagher captained Donegal to the 2007 National League and won the 2012 All-Ireland, to go alongside two All Stars.

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