GAA Football

Where Are They Now? Former Tyrone defender Chris Lawn takes a walk down memory lane

Tyrone legend Chris Lawn sizes up Dublin's Conal Keaney. Picture by Seamus Loughran

Age: 46

Club: St Malachy’s, Moortown

Position: Full-back

When did you play for Tyrone?

From 1991 until 2005.

What do you do nowadays?

I’m a publican, I’ve run Lavery’s Bar in Moortown the last five years.

Are you still involved in Gaelic football?

I was involved up until last year but just with the job I have now, I couldn’t fully commit. I was helping out with our minors last year, I was on the committee a couple of years before that but I stepped away completely to see how it goes this year.

What do you remember about your first game for Tyrone?

It was when Tyrone played Donegal in a McKenna Cup final. Myself and my brother Stephen had been playing with the minors and then the U21s - we’d won the All-Ireland that year with the U21s - and we were called in.

Obviously you’re looking at players you would’ve looked up to from the team that got to the ’86 All-Ireland final - Damien O’Hagan, Plunkett Donaghy, John Lynch, Noel McGinn, big Harry [McClure]… they were household names for us so to even be in the same changing room was something else.

At the time you were seeing Down, Donegal, our neighbours here in Derry, winning All-Irelands. Maybe I didn’t realise the rivalry but I loved to see Derry winning that game.

Eventually though, when everybody else was winning, you did think ‘what’s wrong with us?’

In ’94 we got to an Ulster final and that was a bit of a learning curve for us, so dusting ourselves down for ’95 was key.

We won Ulster, but I remember it seemed an eternity from the All-Ireland semi-final to the final. There was so much going on, it was only Tyrone’s second final appearance, so you were being dragged here, there and everywhere. Most of us maybe played the occasion rather than the game because it passed by in a bit of a blur.

Funny enough, when the final whistle went I actually thought it was a draw because Sean McLaughlin scored a late point. It was obviously disallowed but I was that busy getting back in position I hadn’t noticed.

Next thing I saw Jason Sherlock celebrating, falling to his knees, and I was thinking ‘Jesus, he’s happy with a draw’. Then I looked at the scoreboard and saw the bastards had won!

What is the best memory from your playing days?

Any player that has been fortunate enough to win a senior championship with his club and an All-Ireland with his county, you’re lucky. Winning with your club is probably the most special.

I have so many great memories – winning the first Ulster Championship with Tyrone was special. The 13 men against Derry will live long in the memory because of the occasion, the heat, the rivalry… it was something to behold. Then you go to ’03 when things really started to kick off.

You’d have great memories off the pitch too – getting away to an Allstar tour to San Diego in 2002 and I absolutely loved it. Armagh were the All-Ireland champions that year, so you were mixing with those fellas… it was a pure recon mission too, don’t get me wrong. We bled them dry!

But no, getting out with the likes of McGeeney, McGrane, McNulty, O’Rourke was great. It was the age before social media where you could let your hair down a bit and it was real, genuine.

And the worst?

Definitely ’96 against Meath. We were mauled, obviously, but with five minutes to go we were still in that game, and then they just ran away. But it was the whole thing with Peter [Canavan] being taken out the way he was…

We had the experience from ’95 but I believe we were a better team in ‘96, and then that happened and it was really the end of that group. That’s still a sore one.

Who is the biggest character you have played with?

From the early days you’d the likes of big Seamie McCallan, Sean McLaughlin, Paul Donnelly, ‘Dinky’ [Ciaran McBride] - good craic, brilliant men. But [Owen] Mulligan’s top of the tree for me.

You see him on TV and he nearly seems quiet but he has to be comfortable in the surroundings. You have to peel away a few layers but once that happens you’re in for some evening, put it like that. Sometimes you could’ve strangled him but he was a big character.

I’m lucky to have probably crossed a few eras and met good, solid people – that’s what I liked about it.

I remember one night we were training in Omagh, I was coming to end of my career and it was a brutal session. I was flagging badly and ‘Hub’ [Kevin Hughes] was beside me – he could’ve passed me no problem, he could’ve lapped me, but he stayed with me and kept pushing me on. That’s some leadership for a young fella to show.

'I was flagging badly and ‘Hub’ [Kevin Hughes] was beside me – he could’ve passed me no problem, he could’ve lapped me, but he stayed with me and kept pushing me on. That’s some leadership for a young fella to show'

And you got to enjoy another All-Ireland in 2005?

I had a groin operation in 2004 and I thought maybe that was it. Fair play to Mickey, he could’ve cut me loose then but we stuck with it and got into good shape in the early part of ’05.

I knew that was going to be the last. Me and Peter had gone out for a walk around the golf course that morning and we knew this was going to be it. It wasn’t a bad way to go.

The ’05 final was probably the biggest relief of my career, just to get that over and for it to go reasonably well. I was coming up against better players, faster players, and I was just happy to get out of dodge at that stage.

Can Tyrone upset the odds and beat Dublin on Sunday?

My gut feeling is Dublin, but obviously the heart says Tyrone. Mickey has had total access to these Tyrone players since the semi-final, so they will be at least – if not better prepared – than Dublin going into this game. And I think that’s a massive plus for Tyrone.

He’s playing with a full deck and it’s at times like this where Mickey comes into his own. I would not bet against Tyrone when they’re in this situation.

Interview by Neil Loughran

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