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Enda McGinley: Spirit of Tyrone gaels taken too early lives on in charity work

The Errigal Ciaran team who won the club’s first ever Tyrone minor football title in 1999. Team-mate Kevin McCartan lost his life in a car crash earlier that season

TWENTY years ago, I was lucky enough to be part of my club’s minor team which won its first ever championship title. In the final we overcame an Owen Mulligan-inspired Cookstown team.

Mugsy and I have obviously gone on to have many good times on the pitch together since but when we talk of that final, one memory has stuck with him more than any other.

As Cookstown captain, Mugsy was with the Cookstown management when they very graciously came into our dressing room after to wish us congratulations.

Rather than entering into a raucous scene of celebration, they came into a room where every member of the Errigal Ciaran team was sitting down, silent, many in tears.

As a club team, we had played together from U12 and being lucky enough to win titles at each grade and represent Tyrone in the Feile.

We were a very close group but earlier that season we had lost our team-mate, Kevin McCartan, in a car accident.

Kevin was a younger member of the team being 16, but he was a key player and looked to have a big future ahead of him.

He was a hugely popular team-mate and had that perfect balance between skill and ability on one side and a fairly ruthless, competitive and fearless streak on the other.

As captain, I had led our minor team into the wake house and presented Kevin’s jersey to his father, Stephen.

At Kevin’s coffin, Stephen told me how much he loved being part of that team and how much Kevin had hoped we would claim the club’s first minor title that year. Fast forward several months and unknown to the Cookstown management, they had come into the changing room just after Stephen had come into the room. The emotion hit home. Mugsy recalls how he said to the Cookstown lads when he went back into their dressing room, that while they were upset having lost the final, Errigal, and especially Kevin’s family, had lost a lot more.

I have a poor memory for many things, yet the memories of that day are etched in my mind. Recently the much-aged remnants of that minor team have linked up with the Spirit of Paul McGirr Foundation to initiate a project in the Chainda district on the outskirts of Lusaka, Zambia this summer in memory and honour of Kevin.

Paul McGirr is a name, of course, synonymous with Tyrone football and his tragic passing was a seminal moment in the ensuing glory years Tyrone experienced.

Paul, himself, played his early football with Errigal Ciaran, while his brother Mickey was a leading light on Errigal’s breakthrough team in the 1990s.

Mickey and the McGirr family, established the Spirit of Paul McGirr Foundation in 2007 on the 10th anniversary of his death while playing for Tyrone minors.

The foundation’s work is linked with the work of the SMA missionary priests and reflects the summers Paul, like Kevin, and many of the rest of us, spent in the SMA summer camp in Dromantine. Past projects include helping the establishment of a large community centre and building a school for special needs and pre-school orphans of the local district, where more than one in five children are orphaned and live in abject poverty.

 

Last year, the foundation took another major step with the building of a new primary school which opened in January, with an initial enrollment of 40 children, which will in time rise to 160.

The foundation is now taking on the massive challenge of building a secondary school for 1,000 pupils.

The minister for education is from the district and has thrown her weight behind the project, promising to fund the necessary teachers and materials to run the school when the foundation can build it.

The school will be non-denominational and called ‘The Tyrone School Zambia’.

The hope is that, while the Errigal Ciaran minor team has the job of cutting the ground and getting the building started, that other clubs from the county will come on board to fundraise and build the various stages.

Given what Paul McGirr gave and did for Tyrone, it’s a task I have no doubt the county, and further afield, will take pride in making sure it comes to completion.

Using these projects to act as training and employment for local Zambians demonstrates the long term and self-sufficient ethos of the foundation’s work and exemplifies all that is good about modern charity work.

The main SMA man in Chianda is Father Paddy Barry, who won several All-Ireland hurling titles with Cork.

Fr Barry once said: “People can build anything if they give the money. The hard part is making it work. The people travelling from Ireland bring energy and enthusiasm, they create a vibe and help bring life and spirit of hope to the community of Chainda in Lusaka.”

It is inspirational stuff and to that end several members of that Errigal Ciaran minor team and management are signed up to go out to Africa in July.

They will help commence the build of the secondary school where, once complete and with the blessing of Kevin’s parents, Maura and Stephen, there will be a Kevin McCartan wing.

The effort has now turned to the necessary fundraising to support their efforts.

Our ageless management team of Conor Quinn and Frankie Donnelly have revisited their past in trying to cajole a group of variably talented now 30-somethings, to perform a bit better. The hairlines and body shapes may have changed a bit but the bad manners remain.

For those who knew Kevin or Paul or didn’t but just want to help, there is a donations page set up at gofundme.com/amh98-friends-of-kevy.

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