GAA Football

'Unique and the best trainer I ever seen. RIP Fergal McCann' - Tony Donnelly

Tyrone trainer Fergal McCann (centre), sadly passed away last night after a long illness
Brendan Crossan and Francis Mooney

UNASSUMING, unique and the best trainer he ever seen. Tony Donnelly’s fitting and emotional tribute to former Tyrone trainer Fergal McCann (47) who passed away last night following a year-long illness.

The Tyrone GAA family were in shock last night following the tragic news that the father-of-two and beloved husband of Roisin had lost his battle with cancer.

The Augher St Macartan’s clubman trained the Tyrone footballers to two All-Ireland titles – in 2005 and 2008.

Employed as a full-time coach by Tyrone GAA, working in primary schools throughout the county, McCann was always in high demand at club level following his hugely successful period working alongside former Red Hand boss Mickey Harte between 2005 and 2014.

When it became known McCann was suffering ill-health, the Tyrone players of that era sent him video messages of support and thanked him for what he helped deliver during the county’s halcyon days.

“As hard as it was for the players, they all sent Fergal a personal message to thank him. And they were all saying: ‘God, we should have thanked him more.’”

Donnelly was full of praise for the affable trainer who later enjoyed coaching stints with Carrickmore, Killyclogher and Omagh as well as always having his shoulder to the wheel at his own club.

“His training was unique,” said Donnelly, a club-mate of McCann’s.

“His preparation was meticulous and he earned the respect of the boys immediately when he came in in 2005. He was going into train Tyrone, big shoes to fill in Paddy Tally – but he set all that to one side because Mickey had faith in him.

“The way he went about his sessions, the players quickly realised that this man knew what he was doing. Tactically, fitness-wise, he covered every component in the sessions that he would deliver.

“Night after night he did that and no two training sessions were the same. He wanted the players to be engaged in it, involved in it, he wanted players to respond whatever what was needed at the time."

McCann steered clear of the media’s gaze and was always happy to let his work on the training field do the talking.

During the ‘Noughties’, Tyrone were always one of the fittest, if not the fittest, team on the inter-county circuit with both their ’05 and ’08 runs to the Sam Maguire attritional, exhilarating journeys.

“He’d stay in the background and was happy to do so,” Donnelly added.

“He was an avid Tyrone man. He’d studied the players and he had a ravenous hunger to be the best coach he could be.

“In my opinion, he was the best coach I ever seen.”

“He was a real sound man too. He would lead the session and when it was over the natural Fergal would emerge – the shy, retiring type. He was just so prepared.”

Asked for his abiding image of McCann when Tyrone reached the summit in ’05 and ’08, Donnelly said: “I don’t know how you’d describe it, but Fergal enjoyed being part of it but also liked to take a step back from it and be almost an observer of it.

“He seemed to enjoy other people enjoying the successes. And he never walked about saying: ‘I’m the Tyrone coach.’ He was never like that.

“He was shy by nature and unassuming. We worked together with the underage teams at the club and he would show the same diligence as he would with the Tyrone senior team. It's just a terrible shock and my thoughts and prayers are with Roisin and their two kids.”

County chairmain Michael Kerr paid tribute to the late Mr McCann as “an absolute gentleman and a true gael”.

“He will be a massive loss as an employee, but our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time."

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