'The atmosphere, chatting to the boys; those are the things you'd miss': Tyrone diehard Gerard McGlynn relishing Red Hand return
For the first time in over 14 months, some supporters are to be allowed through the gates of inter-county games this weekend. Neil Loughran talks to Tyrone diehard Gerard McGlynn about hopefully ending the long wait to see his beloved Red Hands in action…
SIGHS of relief were breathed across the north when confirmation finally came through late into Tuesday afternoon - and the news was no more warmly received anywhere than in the McGlynn household.
Four days after the Stormont Executive had given the go ahead for 500-strong crowds to return to sporting fixtures from Monday past, the GAA gave the green light for 400 supporters (the other 100 will be split between non-playing players and county officials from both sides) to attend inter-county matches in the north for the first time in over 14 months.
It was music to the ears of Tyrone diehard Gerard McGlynn and his daughter Sinead who, along with other family members, didn’t miss a single game – McKenna Cup, League or Championship - throughout the Mickey Harte era.
That was, of course, until the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
Watching last year’s Championship exit to Donegal at a rain-lashed Ballybofey was a painful experience, so too the games that marked the eventual resumption of Tyrone’s Division One campaign, against the Tir Chonaill again before the long trip west to Mayo.
But he is delighted to be in the hat for golden tickets ahead of Saturday night’s crucial clash with Monaghan in Omagh, the same place he last cheered on his beloved Red Hands as they downed All-Ireland champions Dublin in February last year.
“I hope so,” he chuckled, “I’ve no idea what way the tickets are being sorted out but hopefully two will come this way...”
The love affair with his club, Aghyaran, and Tyrone is all Gerard has ever known. His own playing career was cut short by a car accident but he soon threw himself into all other areas of the club.
And as Sinead grew up, the timing couldn’t have been any better. Having inherited her father’s grá for all things GAA, the McGlynns had ringside seats as the county’s grand awakening unfolded in spectacular fashion through the Noughties.
“The whole family had a good interest.
“Our club has had many county representatives through the years, male and female, which encourages young people to strive to that level. You’d the likes of the late Brendan Dolan and the legendary full-back Ciaran McGarvey, who should have been our first Allstar.
“And then when you were going to going to county games, you got very familiar with all the local men – Martin Penrose, Owen Devine, Benny Gallen, Ronan McNamee, Shane Sweeney.
“It grew from there really, and then you had everything that happened in 2003, 2005 and 2008, some of the memories… like, for the 2005 final, Sinead and me were up in the top deck of the Hogan Stand.
“We started coming running down before the last point went over, just as Philly Jordan got the ball, but when we got to the gate and it was closed; it must have been six or seven foot high I would say.
“Anyway Sinead put her hand on the top of the gate and cleared it with one jump! It wasn’t just as easy for me. I got stuck halfway up and Sinead had to pull me over - a few choice words were said. Still, we got to the pitch before the final whistle went… it was brilliant.
“And then, even through all those years, you always remember the losses of Cormac McAnallen, Paul McGirr, Michaela, and then recently Johnny Curran and Fergal McCann. We’d have got to know them all very well.”
Bonds were built across the county, through tragedy and triumph, during those times.
Mickey Harte would become a personal friend to the McGlynns over time, the Glencull man taking inspiration from their unstinting dedication to the cause, using it as fuel for his players.
“There is a fella, Gerard McGlynn from Aghyaran, who is always there before our bus arrives at any venue and in fact in the latter days we’d arranged that when the bus would pull in at the Cusack Stand we’d let Gerry on,” said Harte last November in an Irish News interview reflecting on his 18 years with Tyrone.
“He’s an honest-to-God true blue supporter. When we leave a venue, no matter how long we are in the dressing room, he’s outside. He just loves Tyrone football, and I tell people that there is a Gerard McGlynn in every parish. I tell the players, that’s who you’re playing for. That’s the joy you’re bringing, to people like him.
“He is just the epitome of what a real GAA supporter is about.”
Those words warmed him then. They still do now.
“It was very nice of him to say that… I was sorry to see Mickey go – he did so much for Tyrone.
“There was never any airs or graces about him, and I’d like to thank Mickey for everything he did for me especially and wish him all the best down in Louth, him and Gavin [Devlin], as well as Feargal [Logan] and Brian [Dooher] with Tyrone.
“As he said, we’d have always been there to meet the players when they arrived at different grounds around Ireland. We’ve been around quite a few grounds in Ireland at this stage and we always got there pretty early.
“If we were down in Cork or Kerry or somewhere like that, I’ve a brother who lives in Laois so we’d have stayed with him the night before then travelled down to the game.
“Sometimes we were there that early I used to help the kitmen carrying the gear into the changing room – you wouldn’t be long getting a job if you hang around long enough.
“Then manys a place we went to and the Tyrone flag was the wrong way round so I’d have made my way to meet the head steward or whoever was in charge to get it changed around. Noel McGinn would always have had a bit of craic with me about that.
“We just became a part of the furniture I suppose. Mickey and all the players were so nice and respectful, we were always there to shake their hands as they got off the bus and went into the dressing room… you were made to feel a part of it.
“They even brought me onto the bus when they were going to Croke Park for the All-Ireland final [in 2018]. I remember another day going down to Kerry, they had a Garda escort to the pitch and I was directly behind the bus and they let me be part of the escort as well, going through all these wee towns, driving up the wrong side of the road with the Guards behind me.
“You don’t forget things like that.”
And, if he does manage to get his hand on a pair of tickets for Saturday, Gerard will be among the first through the gate at Healy Park as always.
A familiar face too long removed but now, hopefully, back where he belongs.
“The past year, I was shielding for a lot of it, you couldn’t hardly go anywhere. It was terrible altogether, but then it was the same for everybody - just a whole new way of life. Never did you ever think something like that would happen.
“For years we would never have missed a game and you realise how big a part of your life football is; well, football and everything that goes with it. Watching that Championship game in Ballybofey last year on the TV, it was terrible.
“The atmosphere, chatting to the boys; those are the things you’d miss. I’ve made a lot of friends from across the county who you’d regularly meet at the games… the season ticket holders all end up nearly sitting around the one area and you’d have got chatting to them all every week, no matter where we were.
“It’ll be good to hopefully see some of them again. The main thing is the safety of the players and spectators who are there because this thing isn’t over yet and we still have to be careful, but I’ve had both my jabs now and that makes me feel a bit more secure about going out.
“And if we do get tickets, we’ll be there early to wish them all well. After all we’ve a reputation to keep up.”