Brian McConnell: Father of Tyrone goalkeepers was big in stature, character and heart
BRIAN McConnell was a big man in every way - in stature, in character, in work ethic, and in heart.
Family and football were his two great passions and having reared a house full of six-footers, it was in the art of goalkeeping that they came together.
Brian himself played in goal for Fintona and Newtownstewart during his playing career and four of his sons would wear the number one jersey for Tyrone.
For a quarter of a century it was nearly always a McConnell between the sticks for the county senior team, with eldest son Finbar winning four Ulster championships and an All Star and Pascal, the youngest, there for all three of Tyrone's All-Ireland triumphs. Croke Park became the family's second home.
However, Brian was always equally proud of the careers and achievements of all eight of his children.
Happiness was simply being with them after a long day's work or spending time together in Bundoran and Killarney, where they enjoyed countless holidays over the last 30 years.
One of seven children himself, Brian was born in Fintona in 1941 and enjoyed football from a young age, keeping goals for the Fintona Pearses in the 1960s.
It was the hey-day of the showbands and he was just as useful with his feet, often taking centre stage at dance halls. It was at a dance in Castlederg that he met his wife, Douglas Bridge woman Rosaleen Tracey.
They settled in Newtownstewart, where Brian worked in Barney McNamee's hardware business before becoming a parcel delivery courier, a job which brought him around the countryside and into the homes of hundreds of people.
Reared in a hard-working family, he always had the same ethos himself and loved making new friends on the road.
Brian became the regular goalkeeper for Newtownstewart and in time saw all five of his sons wear the club colours.
As well as Finbar and Pascal's county success, Brian "junior" won an All-Ireland under-21 medal with Tyrone in 1992 and Declan kept goal for the county minors.
At club level there was only room for one 'keeper and so the boys played a variety of positions. Along with brother Shane, always an outfield player, all five won a Jim Devlin Cup final together.
The three girls, Tracey, Samantha and Rosemarie, also played camogie under their mother's guidance and Brian was just as enthusiastic about the various interests in their lives.
He was devastated when ill health forced him to retire early, but enjoyed having more time to follow the Tyrone team around the country, as well as weekends in his Bundoran holiday home. He was always young at heart and loved watching his grandchildren grow up.
Brian McConnell died of cancer aged 76 on September 7, having borne his illness without any complaint. He is survived by his wife Rosaleen, brother Alan, his eight children and 19 grandchildren.
His month's mind Mass will be celebrated at 6.30pm tonight at St Mary's Oratory, Main Street, Newtownstewart.