GAA Legends - Enda McGinley
The Bord Gáis Energy Legends Tour of Croke Park with Enda Mc Ginley takes place on Saturday August 26 at 11am. For ticket details click here.
By Cian O'Connell
Croke Park provided a gorgeous backdrop on Tyrone’s most famous afternoons. Enda McGinley was there for them all: 2003, 2005, and 2008. Epic adventures culminating with Sam Maguire being hoisted high into the sky by Tyrone.
The 1998 All Ireland minor final triumph hinted at Tyrone’s promise and potential, but they delivered on the days which truly counted too. An emerging Mickey Harte was the coach, inspiration, driving force, and leader.
McGinley’s personal story centred on dealing with injury setbacks, overcoming awkward obstacles, but his class was always evident. This Saturday McGinley hosts the Bord Gais Energy Legends Tour at the GAA Museum and the Errigal Ciaran clubman is delighted to be returning to the scene of so many wonderful sporting occasions in his own life.
“Absolutely, it is brilliant going back, especially with the weekend that is in it in with Dublin,” McGinley admits. “I have so many fond memories of playing in Tyrone and Dublin fixtures, it will be nice to just be back in Croke Park.”
When McGinley is mentioned the 2003 All Ireland when he played for a spell with a serious neck problem always carries fascination. Five years previously, though, McGinley was part of an exciting crop of Tyrone youngsters, who claimed All Ireland minor glory.
“In many ways 2003 was a notorious one because I dislodged a bone in the upper part of my neck, it was quite a dangerous thing that was only discovered two or three days afterwards,” McGinley recalls. “So I remember that clearly, a massive hit fairly early in the game.
“I was lucky enough that back in 1998 I played at Croke Park with Tyrone Vocational Schools and then with the Tyrone minors.
“It was the old pitch with the old wooden posts and I scored a goal into the old Canal End so I have so many memories from Croke Park. It is just such a special place, any time you are involved or just around it I find that it is always a bit of a privilege.”
Harte prepared teams with remarkable poise and composure especially considering the tragic circumstances in which Cormac McAnallen and Michaela McAreavey passed away. There was something about Tyrone's blend of spirit, stamina, and skill.
“It was unique in the sense that a special bunch of boys all came through at the one age, at 16, 17, then we grew up together,” McGinley remarks about Tyrone’s development.
“Mickey Harte was our manager, he was a young manager back then at the start. He had us as minors and took us up right through with the Under 21s and seniors. Thankfully we won underage All Ireland titles and then won three senior All Ireland titles.
“It was the battles with Dublin, the battles with Kerry, unfortunately the death of Cormac McAnallen, the death of Micheala, it has just been an amazing 10 or 12 years to be involved in. I suppose that sense of privilege is there because Croke Park holds so many of them memories, especially the moments in the dressing room before and after the games.
“They are probably the most personal and precious memories for any player because they are unseen, only the people inside the circle gets to experience and see. Croke Park, the dressing rooms, that really encapsulates the time with those bunch of boys.”
McGinley will never underestimate the contribution of Harte, a fellow Errigal Ciaran clubman. “He is a phenomenal competitor, his will to win, I have never seen it to that extent in any other individual,” McGinley states.
“That maybe doesn't come across at times, but he is ferociously driven. I had him right back, I was 11 years old when I was first managed by him with the club under 14 team. We managed to win a county title, our first county title together and then right the way up through he was in St Ciaran's school, he was a teacher there.
“Then obviously with the Tyrone minors and he managed Errigal to a senior Ulster title as well. I'm proud enough that I sort of know him behind the scenes as well and what he has achieved and what he continues to achieve with Tyrone is special.
“Again Croke Park is where he has really made his name, his biggest victories, his biggest moments have always been in Croke Park. So he will be hoping no doubt to achieve similar on Sunday, it would probably rank as one of his biggest ever wins if he manages to pull it off. While the rest of us have hung up our boots, he is still there working away, creating another team.”
That fondness and respect for Harte endures. In 2012 McGinley took the difficult decision to step away from the inter-county arena, but he was satisfied to win a Tyrone SFC title that year.
“By 2011 I had done 10 years, I was still travelling up and down from Belfast as I had throughout the years by myself really, a lot of the years anyway by myself.
“I was starting to creak with a few injuries and I was feeling it would be a struggle. I had always, in my own mind, wanted to have a few good years with my club, to be able to play at a good level. In 2012 I pulled out of the county squad and went back to my club.
“That was my only full year with the club and I ended up getting a further neck injury the following year which meant I had to quit earlier than I had planned. I had that final year with my club, I was captain, we won a county title.
“Among everything else you try to balance your county career with your club so that last decision to step back from Tyrone when I could have had another year or two, it thankfully proved the right decision.”
During his productive stint in the Red Hands shirt McGinley ranks the tussles with Dublin in his list of highlights. A sold out Croke Park was exactly where Tyrone craved to be. Questions were posed and answered.
“I remember those games clearly,” McGinley admits. “When you played Dublin in Croke Park, especially before the All Ireland final stage it is a completely different beast to playing any other team.
“The noise and the atmosphere generated in Croke Park because it is such a partisan crowd is like nothing you have ever experienced. An All Ireland final is a massive occasion, but the crowd is almost split in thirds.
“A third for each team and then a third for neutrals, dignitaries, and sponsors the way the tickets are divided up for a final. A Dublin match, however, you have got 60,000 maybe supporting one team so whenever Dublin get on a run, the noise and the atmosphere, the stadium is literally rocking. You can feel that on the pitch.
“Easily some of the best highlights of my career were experienced against Dublin. As Tyrone players we thrived on that, we loved it to be fair, that is why we managed to pull out some of the results that we did.”
McGinley featured in the last Championship encounter between Dublin and Tyrone in 2011. Dublin were really beginning to stir.
“Towards the end of my career Dublin turned a corner and discovered a pretty special group of players and beat us at the time. Whenever we were at our peak thankfully we had the measure of Dublin.
“We also played in the first night under lights in the National League, Tyrone and Dublin in a National League game- a full house, brilliant, brilliant days.”
Having monitored Tyrone’s recent progress McGinley is hopeful that Harte can extract a performance from his team on Sunday.
“It will be really intriguing,” McGinley accepts. “Bottom line I don't think anybody can with any huge degree of certainty or confidence can predict what is going to happen. With Dublin you just know how good Dublin are. Dublin are a phenomenon. The quality of the team.
“Tyrone to an extent are a bit unknown, especially at this level. We sort of know or suspect that Tyrone mentally with Mickey Harte in charge should thrive in this occasion. If Tyrone manage to up their game and match Dublin we should be in for another great, great classic game. If that is the case I don't think anybody will be disappointed.”