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Legacy of Cormac McAnallen

By Colm Keys

Ten years on Cormac McAnallen's legacy shines through in so many ways. If there is comfort for the family of the former Tyrone captain, who died 10 years ago this Sunday, it is in the testimony of Seaghan Kearney, Shane McAnarney and their likes.

In 2010 Kearney, now a member of Jim Gavin's Dublin backroom team as a statistician, was playing an indoor match one Monday evening in St Oliver Plunketts clubhouse when he collapsed and hit his head off the floor on impact. He had suffered sudden cardiac arrest and the window of survival for him instantly began to close. He had just minutes to live.

Fortunately those around him reacted quickly and Terry O'Brien, a club volunteer with a background in the fire service, was able to bring him round with the use of defibrillator stored in the clubhouse but which had limited battery supply left.

By Seaghan's own admission, O'Brien's experience saved him with only slight memory loss as a side effect.

In recovery, the young Dubliner felt compelled to travel and meet Bridget McAnallen, Cormac's mother, who has done so much to raise awareness of sudden adult death syndrome. He is now patron of the Cormac Trust, the charity set up in the years after his death. Almost two years ago Seaghan got married; Terry O'Brien was one of his groomsmen.

The defibrillator had been installed in the St Oliver Plunkett's clubhouse, courtesy of local pharmacist David King who donated it.

Would such an act of generosity, and ultimately necessity, have happened were it not for the events of the early morning on March 2, 2004 when the richly talented All-Ireland senior medal winner of just over five months was discovered dead in his bed by his family?

Shane McAnarney can also throw a nod in the direction of the Eglish countryside in south Tyrone for the screening that led to his double bypass last September.

As much the same Dublin team that the former Meath captain had faced in a Leinster final 14 months earlier were winning their second All-Ireland title in three years last September, Shane was hooked up to machines in the nearby Mater Hospital just two days on from the cardiac surgery that may well have saved his life.

As part of testing routinely available to all inter-county squads through a Gaelic Players Association roll out, tests had shown that he had two blocked arteries and may even have suffered a mild heart attack at one stage, such was the nature of the damage detected.

McAnarney admits thinking instantly of Cormac McAnallen when the diagnosis was revealed to him last summer. Perhaps the GPA and GAA would have got together anyway to facilitate screening if the fateful events on that night in Eglish had not occurred. But there was action in the years after Cormac's death.

McAnarney is well on the way to a full recovery and has taken up coaching duties with a club in the county this season. He has been invited to record a short message and attend a dinner hosted by the Cormac Trust which will commemorate the anniversary and give thanks all those who have helped in raising the awareness of sudden adult death syndrome (SADS), the generic term for a number of cardiac related diseases that can claim the lives of adults under 40.

The appreciation will be two-way as the Cormac Trust has helped to install defribillators in every club in Tyrone and has reached into Armagh and Fermanagh, not just GAA clubs but sports clubs too. The donation of defibrillators, such as that which saved Seaghan Kearney's life, have been common place over the last decade.

The GAA has played its part too offering subsidised defibrillators which as many as 1,500 units have taken up at costs ranging from £700.

In the decade that has passed and the message that has been transmitted since that has surely saved many lives, it is easy to forget the legacy that Cormac McAnallen left as a footballer.

He was 24 when he died and had just taken over as Tyrone captain from Peter Canavan. The McKenna Cup, which he lifted just a few days earlier, is now in possession of the McAnallen family.

The shock of his passing prompted solidarity from across the religious and sporting divide in Northern Ireland.

Supporters of Linfield sent messages of sympathy through a local broadcaster, members of Dungannon Swifts arrived at the house in The Brantry, hockey and rugby clubs came through the winding roads too and paid their respects, the then Irish FA president Jim Boyce attended the funeral.

Several Gaelic football teams lined the route from the church to the graveyard, most poignantly the Armagh football team that had lost the previous September's All-Ireland final.

To illustrate how his death had touched the community, a letter arrived to the McAnallen household from the headquarters of the Royal Black Perceptory. It had struck quite a chord.

Could he still have been playing now? At the age of 34 could he still be lining out against Kildare in the league match in Newbridge on Sunday?

His former colleague Ryan McMenamin has no doubt that he could have stood the test of time better than most. "He did everything that had to be done at 100%. He was probably ahead of the game as an amateur. He lived his life as a professional," recalled McMenamin.

With just a handful of survivors from that 2003 side, current captain Sean Cavanagh among them, McMenamin admits that while the squad will be aware of the date and conscious of the need to represent well on Sunday it may not be that emotional for them.

"It won't be something that Mickey will focus on too much. This is a new team. It will mean most for Sean especially. They would have trained together quite a bit, they would have travelled together to training at times coming from the same part of the county."

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