‘An incredible buzz’: Tyrone football family hopes for an All-Ireland final to remember

Sister of late minor footballer Paul McGirr says there has been a big clamour for tickets

Fionnuala Colton with a painting of her brother Paul McGirr, who played on the Tyrone minor squad. Photograph: Ronan McGrade

Fionnuala Colton with a painting of her brother Paul McGirr, who played on the Tyrone minor squad. Photograph: Ronan McGrade

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He could have been one of the Tyrone footballing greats, but Paul McGirr died in 1997 after an accidental collision on the pitch in an Ulster minor football championship match against Armagh.

Many of his team-mates were part of Tyrone’s golden generation which went on to win the All-Irelands in 2003, 2005 and 2008 . Today, McGirr’s memory is held in high esteem within the county.

The Spirit of Paul McGirr was set up by his family and friends in 2007. The charity has been working in Lusaka, Zambia, since 2007 and in 2019 began building the Tyrone School Zambia, a non-denominational secondary school.

McGirr’s sister, Fionnuala Colton, is deeply involved in the Spirit of Paul McGirr Trust. Instead of travelling to Tyrone’s All-Ireland final against Mayo on Saturday, she will be reasonably content, she says, to watch the action unfold from home rather than in Croke Park.

“We were fortunate enough to get two tickets from the local club, so my eldest son Liam and daughter Kate are heading down with my husband, Eamon,” she told The Irish Times this week.

“There’s a big clamour for tickets and it’s even worse this year with only 50 per cent capacity. We’re disappointed because our last time in Croke Park for the All-Ireland was just magnificent and the children who are missing out aren’t happy to not be going.”

Three years ago, her daughter Niamh brought the Sam Maguire Cup onto the field before the start of the final: “We got a tour of the stadium early that day and were treated so well. It’s such a brilliant memory to have,” Fionnuala says.

“Myself, Niamh and my youngest son John . . . and a few cousins will gather to watch the game. We’ll be wearing our jerseys, have a bit of a party and put the flags out. Hopefully, we’ll have something to celebrate.”

Allegiances

Fr Paddy Barry, an All-Ireland winner with the Cork hurlers in the 1970s, who has worked for years in Zambia, has been in regular contact with the McGirrs in the run-up to Saturday’s match, even if he has kept his allegiances closely guarded.

“None of us have been able to travel to Zambia due to the coronavirus restrictions,” Fionnuala says. “Fr Paddy has been a great help to us and we’ve been having great craic with him about Saturday’s game,” she adds.

“I’d love to say that he’d be supporting Tyrone, but he might be going with his closer neighbours from Mayo. But if he’s from Cork, then he’ll be wearing the red and white.”

The banner heading into Moy sums up the sense of confidence around Tyrone this week: “Jesus saves, but Cathal McShane scores on the rebound.” There is as much talk about tickets as there is about the match itself.

“There is just such an incredible buzz in Tyrone now, everyone is in great humour and it’s really unbelievable to be there,” says Fionnuala. “I’d go to Croke Park in a heartbeat if I got a ticket.”

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