Tullysaran man Jason McGahan fulfils All-Ireland dream with Kerry

Kerry coach Jason McGahan, of the Tullysaran O'Connell's club in Armagh. Pic: Kenny Archer
Kerry coach Jason McGahan, of the Tullysaran O'Connell's club in Armagh. Pic: Kenny Archer Kerry coach Jason McGahan, of the Tullysaran O'Connell's club in Armagh. Pic: Kenny Archer

TWENTY years on from Armagh's only All-Ireland SFC triumph – ironically beating Kerry in that final – two men from the Orchard County played their parts in the 'Sam Maguire' Cup returning to the Kingdom.

Even more amazingly, they're both from the same small club, Tullysaran O'Connell's – stats man Colin Trainor and strength and conditioning guru Jason McGahan.

Fittingly, given the GAA's rivalries, the latter's love of Kerry stemmed from a victory over one of his native county's neighbours, Tyrone – the county where he went to secondary school, in Dungannon.

Speaking after Kerry's hard-fought win in a fabulous final against Galway, McGahan recalled the formative experience that set him on the road to lifting 'Sam':

"I'm still trying to take it in. That's my 30th All-Ireland – my first was in 1986 and my father took me to watch Kerry and Tyrone.

"I'm sorry, but I had a Kerry headband on and I was in the Canal End. I watched Kerry go seven points down and come back to win by eight. I told the story to the boys on Monday that this is my 30th All-Ireland.

"After '86 I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to walk the steps of the Hogan Stand, and I did that."

McGahan had dreamt of doing that as a player, through the club route, but that wasn't to be: "It's a long, long time goal of mine to do that.

"I told the boys in Tullysaran back in 2010, when we were going to the county [Junior] final that my one goal in life was to walk the steps of the Hogan Stand, and wouldn't it be great to do it with the club?

"We didn't get over the line that day but now, 12 years later, I've walked the steps of the Hogan Stand. I just can't really put into words, it's just so unreal. It's unreal."

As an Armagh man, 'Sam' did visit McGahan's home in 2002, but it's been a tough journey that took him to Croke Park as part of the winning team on an All-Ireland Final day.

"My career, I thought to myself, 'I'm not going to do this as a player, so I'm gonna have to start looking at coaching' and I went into coaching.

"I was always into coaching but my career as a footballer was starting to go away from me, I felt as if I wasn't going to happen for me as a player. So I just started trying to make things happen for myself. Jeez, cliche as it is, dreams do come true."

McGahan coached his own club, in his own county, in Tyrone, and then in Kerry – but that initially was seven years ago, under the management of Eamonn Fitzmaurice, with the Kingdom as reigning All-Ireland champions.

In a twist of fate, another outsider, Kildare's Cian O'Neill, brought McGahan into the Kingdom fold then – and he was part of the Galway set-up on Sunday.

"There's a lot of people I have to thank that give me opportunities throughout my career, even with coaching my own club, as a player-manager, to coaching Pearse Ogs, coaching Carrickmore with Adrian Clarke and the boys…

"Eventually, actually it was Cian O'Neill who gave me my break. Cian, obviously he's in the [Galway] changing rooms there, I'd have to thank him for everything, he gave me the opportunity to be working with Kerry in 2015. I'm grateful for everything."

Despite his innate rivalry with the Red Hand County, McGahan appreciates what he learned from Tyrone managerial legend Art McRory in his schooldays:

"I spoke to Art and I told him next time I'm home I'm gonna go and visit him. I'm hoping I'm bringing 'Sam' with me. Actually, he's on my list, I need to get sitting down, there's a few people I need to thank and Art's up there on top of it, I'll text him later on myself."

Another man from 'among the bushes' assisting Kerry was Paddy Tally – who had also been with Galway for a time, and McGahan acknowledged the defensive influence the Galbally man exerted:

"Paddy came in this year and put another perspective on things. He's really worked hard on the defensive end of things with the boys and it's paid off. Sometimes it takes that, a new voice or a different outlook on things."

Completing the Ulster input was Trainor, brought into the Kerry set-up by his old clubmate McGahan: "Last year I was doing a bit of coaching myself, some s&c with Peter [Keane] and Tommy [Griffin] and the boys, and I said I know a good stats man who could help me and I asked him would he be interested. He helped me a couple of times before and eventually I got him in.

"Peter met him, then I got him to meet Jack [O'Connor] and Paddy [Tally], and Paddy thought the world of him. We got Colin in, it's great, he's a great man."

Yet in the end McGahan insists it comes down to the players, a point made at the precise moment that superstar forward David Clifford strolls past, rejecting an suggestion that superior fitness took them away from Galway:

"Ah, we've been here before ourselves, some people may look at it as fitness but for me the boys have matured and grown and their experience came to the fore there.

"It's coming back to them - they're the ones that crossed the line, they're the ones out in the middle of the field, they're the ones that did the work and it's just paid off and I'm really grateful and happy for the lads.

"It's easy, when you've got boys that are driven for one goal and want to achieve so much. Basically they run themselves, all I do is facilitate them, create the environment for them to do it; they do all the work, I more or less just stand there and watch it."

Having said that, her thoroughly enjoyed the manner of Kerry's victory, concluding that winning while playing attractive football is important to the Kingdom:

"Oh yeah, it is. We knew if we were able to get the ball quick and move it quick and kick it we will do damage. It told in the first half, once we were moving that long ball in we will cause havoc in there with David [Clifford]. That's the game - as Tomas O Se said it, it's football - we kicked it and we like kicking it."