Disbelief after death of Tyrone's 'brilliant' young man

The GAA club dominates the Co Tyrone village of Eglish, and Cormac McAnallen, who died suddenly yesterday at the age of 24, dominated…

The GAA club dominates the Co Tyrone village of Eglish, and Cormac McAnallen, who died suddenly yesterday at the age of 24, dominated the club, writes Frank McNally in Eglish.

A placard on the front still wishes him well in last year's All-Ireland final, the only representative on the county team of a community too small to have a pub. Inside, the centre-piece of the trophy cabinet is his 2001 Young Player of the Year award. Everywhere else are photographs. Cormac as a baby. Cormac with the Sam Maguire.

He won everything in inter-county football, most recently Ulster's McKenna Cup, the last silverware to elude him and his first as county team captain. But he still turned out for the club on Sunday in a challenge match that everyone agreed was beyond the call of duty.

Yesterday the lads who played alongside him, some of them his team-mates since the age of 10, gathered trying to make sense of the news that he was dead at 24.


The Tyrone GAA family gathered around them. Peter Canavan arrived in the late afternoon, followed by manager Mickey Harte.

Harte had learned the news in a phone call at 5.30 a.m. and it had already been a long and terrible day. But he reminded everyone that this was foremost a tragedy for McAnallen's family and the girlfriend he planned to marry.

Of the loss to football, he said: "He was more than a player. He was a big, big man in any squad." He was the second of Tyrone's 1997-98 minor team to die. But where Paul McGirr's loss was the result of a freak on-field accident, McAnallen's death in the night was a mystery. "He was the fittest, strongest man on the Tyrone panel," said former Eglish chairman Conor Daly, in disbelief. "He was in fantastic condition."

The disbelief was shared at St Catherine's College in Armagh, where the young history and politics teacher worked.

McAnallen was a key figure at the once all-female school, not least for the 10 boys (among 1,000 girls) who recently joined for its Irish-language stream. But the principal, Ms Margaret Martin, saw in him something more than a popular, gifted teacher. "He was part of the new Ireland. Unafraid to stand up for his language, culture, sport. He just had a deep pride in his country and everything about it."

The college held special assemblies yesterday to break the news, followed by services at which students read tributes. Most mentioned his sense of fun. "He carried that Tyrone bag around the school with nothing in it, just for badness!" complained a second-year student, adding: "I thought everything of him - he was brilliant."