On the 2nd of March 2004 not just the GAA community but the whole Island of Ireland was grieving the tragic loss of Tyrone football captain Cormac McAnallen. This is his story.
In 1997 Tyrone and Cormac met Armagh in the Ulster Minor Football Championship. Paul McGirr was on the Tyrone team that day. Paul started the game with a quick point and ten minutes in contested a ball with the Armagh goalkeeper and flicked the ball to the net.
18 year old Paul McGirr did not get up to celebrate the goal. Two hours later Paul died in his Tyrone gear. He had ruptured his liver and one of the main arteries had torn away making bleeding impossible to control. Mickey Harte helped carry Paul off the field.
Tyrone won the Ulster Minor football championship that year but the team burdened by the tragic loss of their teammate and friend lost out in the All Ireland final to Laois. They were extremely disheartened by the loss in the dressing room after.
The following year led by Cormac Mc Anallen as Captain and united by the loss of Paul, Tyrone regained the Ulster Championship and finally defeated Laois in the All Ireland final. Cormac was immense that day and dedicated the victory to Paul McGirr.
The same year Cormac’s strength and inspiration was recognized and he was named Personality of the Year by the Ulster GAA writers association.
Cormac won two Minor club championships with his club Eglish St Patricks in 1996 and 1997 and won an Intermediate club Championship in 1997.
In 1999 he was part of the the Queens University team which won the Ryan Cup and then one year later in 2000 helped them to win the Sigerson.
However Cormac is best remembered as an influential Captain and leader and once again came to the fore nationwide in 2000 and 2001 when he captained the Tyrone u21 team to back to back Ulster and All Ireland titles.
As Captain of UCD in 2001 and 2002 the College won two Dublin senior football titles.
In 2001 Cormac won his first Ulster Senior Championship and was named young footballer of the year at the All Stars. Two consecutive National League titles would follow in 2002 and 2003.
Up until 2003 Cormac had been a midfielder but for the 2003 Championship he switched to fullback and it was in the no. 3 shirt that he won his crowning glory. In September 2003 Cormac and Tyrone won the first ever All Ireland title in the counties history. An All star was to follow.
That team was managed by Mickey Harte who is still the current manager of the Tyrone Senior footballers. He had managed Cormac all the way up along from Minor to Senior and the two shared a special bond.
Comac represented his province twice and won the Railway Cup with Ulster in 2003. He lined out for his country in the international rules series three times against Australia in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
His last act was to captain Tyrone to win the McKenna Cup in 2004 just over a week before he died. Cormac died in his bed of a rare viral heart infection. He was just 24 years old.
Tributes poured in for him, from Prisident Mary McAleese, Arch Bishop Sean Brady, President of the GAA Sean Kelly, Mickey Heart, Peter Canavan and Margaret Martin, Principal of the school he taught in to name just a few.
Teammate and singer-songwriter Mickey Coleman wrote the song Bantry Boy as a tribute to his lost friend.
In 2005 the International Rules series was renamed The Cormac McAnallen Cup.
But in death, only Cormac could still be one of the most influencial figures in Irish Sport. His family set up The Cormac Trust in his memory which aims to raise awareness of sudden cardiac death and promote screenings. It also gives defibrillators to local clubs and trains people in CPR.
Since Cormac’s death there has been changes in the attitudes toward sudden cardiac death in Ireland and now most Clubs have a defibrillator.
In 2005 Tyrone regained the All Ireland title and as the hundreds of emotional fans poured out on the field Mickey Harte made an emotional interview with RTE where he stated that Cormac wanted more than one All Ireland with Tyrone.
As the pitch was covered with Tyrones supporters Brian Dooher made some lasting words up in the Hogan before collecting the cup ” with this bunch of players he didn’t only want to win one All Ireland, Well Cormac you now have two, because you are and always will be a big part 0f this Tyrone team”.
No Tyrone player wore Cormac’s no.3 Jersey on that day and they hadn’t wore it in the previous games either.
Nine years on Cormac’s loss is still felt, we miss you Cormac and you gave us some great memories.