GAA Football

Remembering Christopher 'Crico' Colhoun

In January Lisa Colhoun's husband Christopher died after a severe 'flu. On Sunday she will watch her brother Connor McAliskey run out in an All-Ireland final and know that ‘Crico' is smiling down on her, their daughters, and Tyrone. She speaks to Brendan Crossan...

IT’S the simple things she misses most of all. Lisa Colhoun hated living in that old priest’s house in Clonoe.

It was old and damp, but it was a means to an end.

“I remember it was a really nice sunny day and we had Rocco the dog. There was a big field and Christopher and me took two chairs out, with the grass up to here [pointing to her knee] and Rocco running around in the field.

“Christopher and me drank tea and coffee. It sounds stupid but it’s not so stupid because that’s what life is. Our lives were so simple and I wouldn’t change anything. It was about being together in the house with the girls [Grace and Beth].”

Ah, the honeymoon. Sure it was enough to buy a small house. New York. Philadelphia. Vegas and driving along America’s west coast in a Mustang Convertible and then on to Mexico.

“People were saying to me: ‘Lisa, you could have a deposit for a house.’ So what!” Lisa says. “We got our house in the end.”

That was living. But so was sitting on those two rickety chairs in the field and watching Rocco enjoy his freedom.

She has two pictures in her bedroom. One is of Christopher and Grace lying in bed one morning when they woke up and the other is of her late husband cradling little Beth moments after she was born.

“I look at those pictures and I think there is no consolation because I look at his eyes and I think: ‘You were so happy and then it was all robbed from you…’

Lisa’s voice fades to a whisper and then cracks…

“Then I talked to two girls and they never got to meet their daddy, and one of them said that they wish they had one picture with him.

“So I take consolation from that, and Christopher took so many videos of the girls.

“It doesn’t make it easier but it makes me appreciate that he had any time at all with them.”

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Read more: Connor McAliskey pays tribute to Tyrone team-mates after difficult year

IN the early hours of Monday, January 8 2018 the parishes of Clonoe and Pomeroy were plunged into mourning.

Christopher ‘Crico’ Colhoun had passed away - aged 33. Wrenched from the arms of Lisa and life itself.

He died of a severe strain of ’flu.

Lisa and Christopher had been out for a meal with a couple of friends the previous Tuesday evening and afterwards Christopher felt unwell.

He’d been on the phone to Pomeroy Plunkett’s new manager Brian McGuckin and told him that he couldn’t make their team meeting ahead of the new season.

As it turned out, the meeting was moved to Saturday.

McGuckin recalls: “He contacted me on the Saturday to say that his ’flu wasn’t getting any better and that he was actually feeling worse.

“I said to him to stay in bed and look after himself. He passed away the following day.”

McGuckin’s advice was the same as the doctor's. Stay in bed and rest. On Sunday, Lisa rang an ambulance. Christopher died in the early hours of Monday morning.

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Christopher Colhoun was one the leading lights of Pomeroy Plunkett's Picture by Seamus Loughran

IT’S a damp and grey Friday morning in Clonoe. Lisa is at her front door and Rocco is sitting at the mouth of the garage looking decidedly glum.

Grace is over in her aunt’s house but Lisa’s mother pops in with Beth for a few minutes.

Beth is one-year-old and light as a feather.

On every wall hangs framed photographs of her father.

Beth’s big, beautiful eyes are drawn to one of the framed pictures. And she points.

From each wall in the room Christopher gently smiles back at her.

There are also signed Pomeroy and Tyrone jerseys in frames.

Lisa is wearing a Pomeroy training jersey with the number 23 with ‘Crico’ emblazoned on it. The club retired the number 23 jersey after its owner passed away some seven months ago.

In an interview with The Irish News in May, Pomeroy and Tyrone player Frank Burns paid a heartfelt tribute to a club legend.

“Crico was such a leader on and off the field,” Burns said. “‘Crico’ is irreplaceable.”

Regarded as one of the leading lights in Tyrone club football, Tyrone boss Mickey Harte called him into his McKenna Cup panel in 2007.

“I thought he was a great athlete," says Harte. "He had great pace, a real athletic stride and he carried the ball at pace comfortably and he’d an eye for a score.

“He was someone you looked at and thought there was a lot of raw potential there to make a very effective footballer.”

'Crico' scored two points in Tyrone's opening McKenna Cup win over Queen's and grabbed another brace in the last group game victory over Cavan.

In the McKenna Cup final win over Donegal he started and nabbed another point.

“I know some time after the McKenna Cup he was away and wasn’t available around that time. Time moves on and we never really regrouped with him again.”

Harte’s son Mark and Adrian O’Donnell guided Pomeroy Plunkett’s to county and provincial intermediate glory in 2016, with ‘Crico’ emerging as one of the team’s stars.

Harte added: “I know Mark and Adrian had really high regard for him. When you needed a job done or a vital score – even in his latter years – they always trusted him to turn a game, and he turned many important games for Pomeroy during that Ulster Club run.”

Harte’s nephew and Tyrone footballer Peter Harte also got to know him after ‘Crico’ got the vice-principal’s post in St Patrick’s Primary School, Donaghmore just last September.

“I know Petey was really taken by him,” Harte says.

“He thought he was fantastic and a great person to be around. There is not much bad said about Christopher Colhoun and his father was an Errigal Ciaran man, in our parish, here.

“It was a big shock to everybody. There was a serious football connection around him and he was a huge loss, and of course the biggest loss of all was for his wife and young children.”

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Christopher Colhoun was appointed vice-principal of St Patrick's Primary School, Donaghmore last year. Here, he teaches his pupils the 'Dab'

BRIAN McGuckin remembers driving into the Pomeroy club for the first time after being announced as new senior team manager.

“I was always very aware of who ‘Crico’ was just by watching him over the years and I knew he was in the twilight of his footballing career when I arrived at the start of last season,” McGuckin says.

“I remember the very first time I arrived into Pomeroy. He came over to me straight away – I’m not trying to build him up or anything – but within two minutes you would have swore you knew the guy for your entire life.

“We nearly looked upon ‘Crico’ as an extension of our management team because of his experience and the way he was with people…”

Due to a series of injuries, ‘Crico’ had flirted with retirement for the last two seasons but always found a reason to go back for one last crack.

Pomeroy had a clutch of brilliant young footballers coming through their ranks – Frank Burns, Brendan Burns, Kieran and Hugh Pat McGeary – and ‘Crico’ loved the idea of being part of the new revolution.

Lisa laughs: “Years ago, he’d come home after training and say: ‘Lisa, finished top again. Won all the sprints, kicked all the points…’ Bla, bla, bla,

“Then about three years ago all these young lads started coming through, and Christopher would say to me: ‘You should see these young lads, Lisa, they're deadly.’

“And then this last while he would come home and say: ‘I finished sixth in the sprints but I was only beaten by the Tyrone boys.’

“And he’d say: ‘Hugh Pat [McGeary] has been flying all year… but I still scored a few points off him!’

“I think the young boys looked up to him because Christopher took it upon himself to be the leader.

“If anything needed sorted he was the one that sorted it out. He pushed those young boys but those young boys pushed Christopher.”

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YOU can take the woman out of Clonoe - but you can’t take Clonoe out of the woman.

Christopher Colhoun actually failed on both counts. They settled in Clonoe and Lisa loved the O’Rahilly’s.

Lisa, who played for Dungannon and Tyrone Ladies, recalls: “A few years ago when Clonoe and Pomeroy were in the same division, I said to Christopher: ‘If you have a chance to beat Clonoe and it’s you one-on-one - as much as I love you - I hope to God you put it wide.

“Christopher said: ‘You don’t mean that’. And I said: ‘I mean it with all my heart.’

Lisa’s brother Connor McAliskey, currently starring for the Tyrone seniors, was very close to Christopher.

After moving up to the Tyrone senior championship last season, it was preordained Pomeroy and Clonoe would meet.

“‘Crico’ had picked up a calf injury against Killyclogher in the first game and we were playing Clonoe in our next Championship match,” says McGuckin.

“That game was massive for him, personally, because he was living in Clonoe, he was married to a Clonoe woman and obviously Connor McAliskey was his brother-in-law.

“He wasn’t ready to play against Clonoe the first day, even though he was togged out and told me he was fit for selection. So he didn’t take part the first day. In the replay he told me he was good to go even though I knew he wasn’t good to go.

“I can remember we were struggling in the second half and I just felt with his experience he could potentially add something to our attack. So we threw him in and with his first touch he set up the goal and that really gave us the impetus to go on and win the game. He said to me afterwards that it was his greatest moment on a football field.”

Connor, his dejected brother-in-law, didn’t darken ‘Crico’ and Lisa’s door for about a week after Pomeroy’s dramatic win.

LISA and ‘Crico’ first met in Belfast 11 years ago. He was in his final year of a multi-media degree at Jordanstown and she was studying sports science.

“I met him in the ‘Bot’ [Botanic Inn]. I lived with Dee McCaul of Donaghmore. Dee and Christopher and Colm Cavanagh used to travel up and down to Belfast together.

“That following summer, without either of us even knowing, we were both going out to Philadelphia to play football. So, even if we hadn’t met during that term we would have met in Philadelphia. It was September 2007 when we came home. We clicked so well in Philadelphia; it just felt right.”

They were love’s young dream. They returned to Philadelphia the following year and spent a summer in San Francisco.

Lisa and Christopher became school teachers and worked in London for a couple of years before coming home for good.

“For Christopher, I think he was more of a clubman,” Lisa says.

“This is going to sound so cheesy but I remember we were talking one time and I asked him did he regret ever leaving [Tyrone] - maybe he wouldn’t have had a choice as he mightn’t have been kept on – to maybe win an All-Ireland in 2008 and he said: ‘No, because I mightn’t have ended up with you.’

They were married Easter 2013 and Grace and Beth came along a few years later.

Just last September, Christopher landed his dream job. After teaching for several years in Belfast, he was appointed vice-principal of St Patrick’s Primary School, Donaghmore.

He threw himself into the role. To celebrate his promotion, he took Lisa to Belfast for the night.

“Obviously getting a promotion you’re on better money. When we went shopping, Christopher said: ‘Do you want that dress because I’ll get it for you? Do you want that because I’ll get that for you too?’ He wanted to give me everything…”

A rare night away from Grace and Beth, the happy couple drank Prosecco and toasted Christopher’s new job.

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Lisa embraces her brother Connor McAliskey after Tyrone reached the All-Ireland final

SO what do you do when the metronome is removed from the clock? How do you get it working again? What happens when you realise the metronome was one of a kind?

Brian McGuckin and his management team didn’t know what to do. ‘Crico’ was Pomeroy Plunkett’s. Soon after his funeral, the Pomeroy players and management gathered.

“We met upstairs in the club and we put all the chairs in a big circle,” McGuckin says.

For the first few moments all you could hear was the uncomfortable movement of chairs scraping the floor.

“Then one of the fellas told a story about ‘Crico’ and we laughed. You know, we stayed there telling stories about ‘Crico’ and I swear to God I never laughed as much in all my life.

“It was one story after another and one was as funny as the next. It was a very positive, strange scenario but one that helped the boys. We said that we would talk to each other whenever we needed to talk. We made a promise that we would do our best to make him proud.”

Number 23 still has its place in the Pomeroy changing room.

Christopher’s wake and funeral is all a blur to Lisa – but what she will never forget is the support she received from the GAA community. She will be forever indebted to every act of kindness, every letter of support and every precious story uttered to her about the innate goodness of her late husband.

Writing things down has helped Lisa in a small way.

She posts her thoughts on Facebook and without even knowing it she has created an entire online community many of whom have suffered loss.

She was with her friends in Killarney recently and out of nowhere she suffered a panic attack, “to the point where I thought I was actually going to die. I thought: ‘This is it’.

“I took my phone out. I didn’t have pen and paper and I just started to write and by the end of it I had started to relax. I had written what I was thinking and what I was feeling…”

One day her aunt Marissa, also her Godmother, floated the idea of running the Belfast marathon. All money raised would go to Christopher’s school.

Over 300 friends and family signed up for the run to remember ‘Crico’.

Lisa didn’t plan on running the entire marathon. But she did. She just kept running and running. They raised £60,000 for St Patrick's, Primary School, Donaghmore.

At the finish line she didn’t feel any sense of achievement.

“Do you know the first time I felt achievement of any kind is when I had a birthday party for my daughter Grace. Because it was harder.

“It was the 3rd of July. Grace turned two. I kept saying to myself: ‘I’m not having a party’. And then I looked at Grace one day and I thought: ‘It’s not about me any more. It’s about Grace.’”

When Tyrone finally edged past Monaghan in the All-Ireland semi-finals at Croke Park earlier this month, Connor McAliskey found Lisa at the foot of the stand.

Their warm, eternal embrace didn't need any words.

For you, sister, a thousand times over.

January 8 2018 is a date etched in the hearts and minds of the Gaels of Tyrone.

No-one will forget 'Crico' Colhoun. He was Pomeroy’s finest.

The Tyrone boys certainly won't forget him on Sunday at Croke Park, especially those among them who bleed Pomeroy and Clonoe.

Lisa Colhoun will be there too, with her clan, wearing number 23, hoping and praying that Tyrone can touch the sky.

Grace and Beth will be oblivious to the noise - but when they grow up they will know who their father was.

Each day and every day he will smile gently back them.

Read more: Connor McAliskey pays tribute to Tyrone team-mates after difficult year

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