GAA Football

Great to 'hear' the voice of Derry legend Eamonn Coleman again

The late, great Eamonn Coleman with his niece - and author of his memoir - Maria McCourt. Picture Mal McCann

JRR Tolkien said that one of the problems with his fantasy trilogy 'The Lord of the Rings' was that it wasn't long enough.

Some (fools) may dispute that - but that's certainly my only criticism of 'The Boys of '93', the memoir of the late, great Eamonn Coleman penned by his niece Maria McCourt.

Some (also fools) may say that enough has been written about this book, especially in this publication, but I say you can never – and could never – get enough of Eamonn Coleman.

I try not to write on the same subject as my colleagues (see below), but I'll make an exception in this instance.

The book is brilliant, the authentic voice of the Ballymaguigan and Derry legend – but it's far too short. Still, that never stopped Eamonn from being a success and it won't have any adverse effect on the book either.

I wanted to hear more from Eamonn, about his times with Longford and Cavan, his return to the Derry job, his involvement with Jordanstown, his playing career, his club jobs. Everything. Anything.

Eamonn was always worth talking to and, more importantly, worth listening to, whenever he deigned to give you his opinions.

Yet the perception that he was tough on journalists was far from true; Eamonn loved to talk, even to us.

Maria summed him up superbly in six simple words: 'turn of the head, flash, grin'.

The Eamonn I got to know a little, in his second stint as Derry boss and then his time with Cavan, usually had that look of mischief in his eyes – and always had something interesting to say (even if that was sometimes off the record).

One personal memory was from going to Derry training, and waiting around to be granted an audience with Eamonn. We chatted over the fence surrounding the pitch like two farmers.

Just as we finished up, he turned, and with feigned confusion, asked Derry's then PRO, Gerry Donnelly: 'What was that oul award I got down there in Dublin, Gerry?'

Flash, grin. Turned out the boul Eamonn had been named the Philips Manager of the Month (after leading Derry to the National Football League Division One title in his first season back in charge).

Besides capturing her uncle's spirit, Maria also provided great advice to any biographer or ghost writer: 'I didn't want to put words into his mouth and I didn't want to take them out either.'

That's always the approach I've taken towards interviewees, perhaps leading to my articles being too 'quotes-heavy', but I take the (perhaps mistaken) view that readers are more interested in the subject of the piece than me.

Maria, however, avoided doing something that I occasionally can't resist doing: 'tidying up' grammatical errors in speech, and her decision to quote Eamonn's vernacular verbatim was a stroke of genius.

If you knew him in the slightest, you can sense, hear, almost see him in front of you from these pages.

The relative brevity of the book is perhaps fitting, given Eamonn's stature and his tendency to be taciturn in public.

Yet it also says something about the man that he didn't want it published until his retirement from management, despite the bitterness and hurt he felt about how he'd been so badly treated by Derry in 1994.

The fact that it's a slim volume is also partly due to the cancer that took Eamonn from us far too soon, and partly because of the pain that the author felt (and still does) at the loss of her beloved godfather.

Even if this book were only half as long as it is, it would still be worth twice the price – rather like the man himself.

Even if proceeds from this book weren't going to cancer charities, you should still buy a copy. I shall – and there can be no higher recommendation from a journalist than that.

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'The players is the men' is not only the title of a chapter in 'The Boys of '93' but also one of Eamonn Coleman's main mantras.

Yet were he still with us, he might update that to 'the players is the people'.

I didn't get to watch the Ladies Football finals at the weekend live as I had a prior commitment – taking my children to a chocolate festival. The things you have to do as a parent. Sigh…

Anyway, obviously there wasn't the same sense of drama watching the recorded matches, due to knowing the outcomes.

What I did see was some pretty poor shooting and a host of handling errors in the Tyrone-Meath game – but then the Red Hand men have put on similar displays in Croke Park on a few occasions, without winning.

But those are minor quibbles. Importantly, that Intermediate Final was entertaining, from the first whistle to the last.

Tyrone's creating and finishing for goals was superb, and some of Meath's point-taking was very impressive.

The football was pacy, open, direct, with plenty of kick-passing and efforts on goal. There is physical contact, without dirt or diving.

You may need to check the byline on this column but, at this stage, Ladies Football probably does need a successful Dublin, in order to ensure large attendances.

However, the game is only heading in one direction, with standards and levels of participation and interest ever-increasing.

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* In case anyone suggests that while praising Tyrone Ladies I've suspiciously ignored the weekend violence in Tyrone club football, I knew that my colleague Cahair O'Kane was writing on that subject. I can tell you, I wanted to punch him.

Sorry. Seriously, it's no laughing matter, and as I've said several times before, the GAA needs to re-think its attitude towards 'acceptable levels of violence'. There's a big difference between being 'hard' and being 'dirty'.

And, while aware that 'it's not only in Tyrone', it is OFTEN in Tyrone, too often.

Credit to the Tyrone County Board for condemning the scenes and hopefully appropriate punishment will be handed down to all the guilty parties.

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