GAA Football

Former Tyrone assistant manager Tony Donnelly picks his Allstar team

Tony Donnelly and Mickey Harte plot Tyrone's path to success.
Pic Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

Tony Donnelly has selected taken two periods from his football life – 2005-2008 with Tyrone and 1982-1985 with his club Augher – to base this team on. Augher won club championships in 1982 and 1985 and Tyrone won All-Irelands in 2005 and 2008. As Tony says: “I thought I’d hone in on those four-year periods otherwise picking a team would be a never-ending thesis”. Andy Watters writes…

1 Pascal McConnell (Tyrone)

Between 2005 and 2008 Pascal and John Devine vied for the number one position and both are great men and great goalkeepers but I’ve opted for ‘Packie’. He was vocal, he had massive physical presence in the goals. John was selected to start the All-Ireland final in 2008 but tragically his father passed away the evening before the game and Packie stood in. His one-on-one save from Declan O’Sullivan (Kerry) in 2008 was pivotal in Tyrone going on to win that game.

2 Ryan McMenamin (Tyrone)

ANY team that wants to win anything needs a ‘Ricey’. He could play wing-back or corner-back whether it was man-marking or driving forward in his own inimitable way and finishing strong runs with great point-scoring. I remember him digging us out of a Qualifier against Mayo in 2008 with sheer grit and determination. They were attributes he had in abundance and he was blessed with great footballing ability as well.

3 Dessie McKenna (Augher)

He played full-back, centre half-back and midfield for Tyrone and likewise for Augher throughout his career. He had good hands, he was hard but fair and he was always cool and accurate in possession. In the era when all frees were taken off the ground, his clipped balls forward to players running into space were in many ways ahead of the times. He could pick out passes, he was a classy player and a good leader and I have no hesitation about putting him in at full-back.

4 Joe McMahon (Tyrone)

I had originally decided to put Mickey Magee, or as we called him ‘the negator’, in here but I couldn’t line out a team without Joe, ‘The Big Easy’. At one stage he was a wing half-forward who covered every blade of grass but in later years he operated in the full-back and sweeper roles. Like all class players he made the game look easy whether it was marking Michael Murphy or pushing forward to kick a long-range score.

5 Brian Dooher (Tyrone)

The number 10 jersey is synonymous with Dooher but such was my dilemma in slotting in the other forwards that I’ve moved him to wing half-back. The number on his back never meant anything to Brian anyway. He hunted the ball the length and breadth of the pitch. I believe he got better with age, his decision-making and finishing became top notch. Mickey (Harte) used to ask every player to “win the dirty ball like Dooher”. He read the game so well, he anticipated breaks brilliantly and he tackled ferociously. He scored a point for the ages in the All-Ireland final against Kerry – riding tackles, driving forward and finishing with a point off the outside of his boot. It was inspirational and in many ways he was the heartbeat of the team. He trained as he played – with total commitment. A captain, a leader, a Tyrone legend.

The half-back line was perhaps the most difficult to select and we had Fergal Conlon at Augher who had a fantastic career at right half-back. His tenacity, ball-carrying skills and style would have fitted perfectly into the modern game.

6 Conor Gormley (Tyrone)

Comfortable in any role he was given but he was a dominant presence at centre half-back. He was able hold the centre and go forward when the opportunity arose, support attacks and pop up with crucial scores. The scoring contribution from our half-backs was a significant feature for Tyrone at that time and from a psychological point of view it was damaging to their direct opponents who had to deal with how they defended against them and also cope with the attacking threat they posed. Conor had all those qualities.

7 Philly Jordan (Tyrone)

I witnessed his drive and pace in training when I joined the set-up in 2004 and I quickly realised what a powerhouse he was. Consistent, motivated and always looking to improve, he delivered match after match. In the 2005 final we switched him to pick up Declan O’Sullivan. He was tasked with marking him and if O’Sullivan dropped deep to pick up possession he was to hold his position and anticipate the long ball sent into the twin towers (Kieran Donaghy and Tommy Walsh) and be first on the scene to get the breaking ball. He did it perfectly that day. He managed a game as it unfolded and he knew what adjustments to make accordingly.

8 Eugene McKenna (Augher)

He played for Augher for close to 20 years and Tyrone for 15. He won Allstars at midfield, centre half-forward and full-forward which was a magnificent achievement. In 1982 and 1985 he played some of the best football of his career. He was brilliant at winning opposition kick-outs, rising majestically to do so, and then driving the team forward and scoring heavily from play and from placed balls game-on-game, season after season. He was an all-round footballer.

9 Shea Daly (Augher)

Shea and Eugene were a dominant midfield pairing. He represented Tyrone at underage and senior level with great distinction and played a key role in Augher’s successes. Shea was a brickie and when stamina runs were the order of the day in training he would come straight from a hard day’s work and win every run. He glided over the ground, he was a terrific fielder of the ball, was good in possession and was a great point-scorer. Sadly he is no longer with us but he takes his rightful place in this team as a football legend in Augher.

10 Stephen O’Neill (Tyrone)

In 2005 he was simply unstoppable. Such was his mental strength that nothing deterred him. He could score off right or left foot and from angles you didn’t think were possible. Players are encouraged to play the percentages but Stevie was the exception to that rule because he could score from ‘Row Z’ off either foot. He had great vision and was comfortable carrying the ball. A player that opposing teams found unmarkable.

11 Brian McGuigan (Tyrone)

The playmaker. He was known as the conductor of the orchestra. He always found space to be an outlet for defenders and in possession he delivered the right pass to the men inside. Always at the top end in possession stats but it was how he used the ball that made him a special player. Time after time he found players on their first run with a perfectly-weighted pass. He also scored vital points in big games when the opposition tried, but never managed, to curtail his influence.

12 Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone)

I kept the Augher pair together in midfield but I don’t think the team is losing anything with Sean at wing half-forward. He gave the team drive and purpose at midfield but he also showed his class and versatility when moved to full-forward in the 2008 campaign. His five points from play were testimony to the player he was. Frank McGuigan (more about him later) had his dummy and Sean had his shuffle and, no matter how well versed they were on it, defenders couldn’t stop him. He would feint to go outside and then cut back inside and kick the ball over the bar. Another powerhouse of a player. Could play anywhere from number eight to 15.

"Pass her to me, there’s only three on me" Owen Mulligan.
Pic Seamus Loughran.

13 Owen Mulligan (Tyrone)

He brought colour, flair and class to every team he played in. He added that indeterminable quality which made him a dream player for Tyrone and a nightmare for opponents. At training ‘Mugsy’ would roar: “Pass her to me, there’s only three on me” during in-house games and he had the ability to take on the Hill (Hill 16) and win and that is testimony to his mischievous sense of humour, his nerve, his sense of occasion and his ability to deliver on the biggest stage. His flamboyance adds greatly to the team, giving it even more character and appeal.

14 Peter Canavan (Tyrone)

Kevin McCabe was nicknamed ‘the prince’ and Frank McGuigan ‘the king’ so when Peter came along the only higher moniker was ‘God’. So no pressure there! I was fortunate to work with Peter in 2005, his final year with Tyrone and in that Championship season he produced some iconic moments. His goal in the final before half-time epitomised his vision, his precision and his ruthless finishing. Taking responsibility off Mugsy and slotting over the winning free against Armagh in the semi-final typified the man. He was driven and he was focussed. He was deadly on the pitch and he was a popular prankster off it. A true GAA legend and someone who transcends all sport.

15 Paul Donnelly (Augher)

Back to my club for the final spot and I’ve gone for my brother Paul amid cries of ‘nepotism’ from the readers! He is someone who genuinely deserves his place. He was starring for Augher from 15 years of age and was viewed by many in the county as a footballing prodigy. A badly-broken leg while playing for Tyrone minors in 1976 ruled him out of the game for two years but he came back at club and county level. He captained Augher to win the 1982 championship and finished as joint top-scorer in that campaign. Like Peter Canavan he wasn’t tall but more than compensated for that with great ball-winning skills and scored heavily with his trusted left foot. My only gripe is that he got all the footballing genes in the family leaving the rest of us struggling to tie his boots. Thanks for that Paul!

Subs: Fergal Conlan, Mickey Magee, Collie Holmes, Enda McGinley, Davey Harte, Collie McCullagh, Barney McGinn, Martin Og McKenna, Aidan Cassidy, Mark Harte, Justin McMahon, Paul Connolly, *** Connolly, Brendy McKenna, Willie McKenna, Ryan Mellon, Stevie Rice, Dermot Monaghan, Chris Lawn

Overview

In many ways this exercise goes against my allegiance to the ‘team’. Matches are won and lost by the team, not one or two outstanding individuals. In Augher and Tyrone we’re indebted to all the players who wore the jersey and I apologise to anyone I’ve left out because all their contributions were of value and made a big impact on both teams in those eras.

The best I ever saw

Frank McGuigan

When I was 17, I finished a reserve game for Augher before the seniors played Ardboe. I was last out of the changing room and standing outside the door was this young fella wearing a flowery shirt out over his trousers with long hair with the fringe nearly over his eyes. He was holding a pair of boots and football socks in his hands. It was Frank McGuigan.

He says: “Where’s the away team’s dressing room?” I said: “Follow me Frank”. We had to go out one door and in another and I showed him where it was. The two teams were already out on the pitch and the game had just started and he went in and I closed the door. I noticed the key was in the door and I thought, for one fleeting moment: ‘I could lock Frank McGuigan in here’.

That would have helped our team but I resisted the temptation. I thought: ‘No, I want to see McGuigan play’.

I went out and watched and the score was soon Augher 0-4 Arbdoe no-score. Then Frank came out and he was leaning against the post with his arms folded. The Ardoe bench saw him and got flustered: ‘Quick get Frank on!’

They got him on at full-forward and a couple of minutes later it was Augher 0-4 Ardboe 1-1, a goal and a point from Frank McGuigan.

If I was picking a team from any era, Frank would be the first man on it. He could play midfield or wherever but he was more renowned as a full-forward. He was the most naturally-gifted footballer I ever had the privilege to watch.

His dummy, feinting to shoot with his right then dummying into a solo and scoring with his left, was his invention and they called it the ‘McGuigan dummy’. I felt he was majestic, sublime… You could quote any superlative under the sun and it still wouldn’t do him justice. Even opposition supporters loved to see him.

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