GAA Football

Where are they now? Ex-Tyrone full-back Ciaran McGarvey takes a trip down memory lane

Ciaran McGarvey (back row, fourth from right) with the rest of his Tyrone team-mates

Age: 61

Club: St Davog’s, Aghyaran

Position: Full-back, though with the club I played full-forward or centre-forward, which I loved.

When did you play for Tyrone? 1975- 1991. I joined the senior panel at 18 so I was there a while.

What do you do nowadays?

I work for Adman Civil Projects – it’s all renewable work, and we’d do a lot of work for NIE too.

Are you still involved in Gaelic football?

I wouldn’t be as much now. I played on until I was nearly 45 and won my last club title, the league, when I was 42. I was involved in management for the next five years, next thing I knew my children had grown up around me. So I’ve taken a break since.

What do you remember about your first game for Tyrone?

It was against Mayo in the League. They had come to Dungannon an unbeaten side and with a big reputation. It was a good Tyrone team and we had the mercurial Frank McGuigan - I think he finished 2-6 that day against the number one full-back in the country at the time.

It was an experience – I probably walked in that morning looking for a corner to hide in but they were great guys. The likes of the late Pat King and Frank McGuigan made me very welcome.

The best bit of coaching I ever got was nine months marking Frank in training in 1984. It was the best education I ever got on a football field, night after night. A big man, both feet, fierce strong, but huge skills and ability.

It was a joy to watch him kick 11 points in that Ulster final in Clones in 1984. It’s something that will always live with me.

What’s your best memory from your playing days?

Winning that first Ulster in ’84 was a fantastic day. Tyrone had a bit of a barren spell going back 11 years and that was a huge moment.

I came in along with the likes of Kevin McCabe, Damien O’Hagan, Eugene McKenna and at that time there wasn’t really the profile of the game the way it is now. Things probably didn’t really change in Tyrone until Art McRory took over in 1980.

I couldn’t speak highly enough of that man, he was a huge influence on my career and I’ve a lot of time and respect for him. He shaped my life for me. He changed the whole scene in Tyrone, he made the players really respect the jersey.

With the club, winning our first ever championship at intermediate in 1981 was special, an unreal moment to do that with guys you had grown up with and guys who had built the club.

And then there’s the All-Ireland final in ’86, which was okay for 40 minutes…

I presume that's the worst?

Aye, the 1986 All-Ireland final. To this day I’ve still never watched it. I just couldn’t. It’s a sore memory because I was 29 at that stage and I knew there weren’t many years left to get back there. People can pat you on the back and say ‘it’s great to be there’ but, as players, you’re there to win.

We were going well in the final, and probably in the modern game we’d just have dropped 15 men behind the ball.

In ’83 we’d a marvellous side - the defeat to Cavan, beat by a point, was a tough one. I remember waking up the next morning and feeling as low as I ever did about football.

Biggest character you played with?

There was a guy on the panel in 1984, John Joe O’Neill from Moortown. He was a great character and a great laugh. His brother Paddy was actually on the team and John Joe always reckoned Art Mc Rory got it wrong – he just picked the wrong name!

But they were all great characters. We’d a great car-load of guys – Aidan Skelton, an absolute comedian of a character. Boys like Noel McGinn, John Lynch, we’re all still very close to this day.

Funny enough I was actually born and bred in Castlederg, I played all my football for Aghyaran five miles up the road because Castlederg had no club when I started to play.

Nowadays Castlederg play at a pitch on the farm I grew up in.

Glad you played in your era rather than the modern day?

I’d love to play in the modern era because you were so tied down at that time. Full back, you manned the square, you weren’t allowed to run past 21. But then, I loved the one on one battle. Days you were good enough you won your battles, other days you didn’t.

Today, I’m not so keen on the defence thing, but I love the element of freedom.

Any regrets?

Not winning the big one, the All-Ireland, because that’s what you set your stall out to do. But I gave the best I had. I wouldn’t have called myself the greatest footballer but I worked hard, looked after myself. I’d do it all again if I could turn the clock back.

Interview by Neil Loughran

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