What does it take to become Tyrone football captain and succeed men like Peter Canavan, Brian Dooher and the late Cormac McAnallen?
Days before Tyrone began their condensed league campaign against Donegal last May, Pádraig Hampsey was walking off their training ground at Garvaghey when he noticed Dooher and Feargal Logan gesturing towards him.
‘Me? Really?’ he thought, before looking around to realise yes, indeed, they were gesturing towards him, and him only.
Dooher and Logan were looking to bring a new voice to the Tyrone captaincy and Hampsey was unquestionably their man.
Mattie Donnelly had served his time suitably honourably for the previous three years, only this was a team with fresh ambitions and new standards again and Hampsey ticked all the right boxes.
Logan had already made him captain when he took charge of the Tyrone minor team, and he’d also captained his club Coalisland Na Fianna to high praise. What Dooher and Logan felt he would bring the present senior panel more than anything else was his ability to lead by both example and his own high standards of expectation, which have made him one of the meanest defenders in the game.
“Aye, I just remember they pulled me to the side and they explained they were putting me in a new role,” Hampsey recalled ahead of Saturday’s final showdown against Mayo. “It was a very proud moment for myself. To be taking the role from the likes of Mattie Donnelly, who I’ve learned a lot off as a captain and is still a great leader to this day. I’ve learned an awful lot from him as a player as well. It was massive for myself and I’m very thankful to Brian and Feargal for it.
“I just try and keep the head down and work hard on the training pitch. As I’ve said in many interviews, there are plenty of leaders in the panel even the likes of Kieran (McGeary), who is vice-captain, and he plays a massive role and is a great leader himself.
“There are many in the panel who lead by example and it makes my experience a lot easier and it takes a weight off my shoulders. I’m very thankful to those lads for sharing the whole thing.”
Much of Hampsey’s example comes from his experience: an All-Ireland Under-21 winner in 2015, also under Dooher and Logan, his commitment to his own personal fitness sets new standards too. He spent much of his teenage years training in the boxing gym as well as on the football field, and currently runs his own personal fitness business out of his gym in Coalisland.
He was one of the few Tyrone players to hold his own against Dublin in the 2018 All-Ireland final, which earned him his first All Star, and crucially his inhibiting of Sean O’Shea in the semi-final win over Kerry - limiting him to a point from play, and better still equaling that with a point of his own - is one of the chief reasons Tyrone are where they are now.
“Driving up to training on the Monday, seeing the flags and the bunting up, it sinks in that bit more,” he says of that win. “When the final whistle went, your emotions just left you and you were just drained because it took so much out of the body to beat a great Kerry team. We’re just thankful we did that.”
Playing an Ulster final in Croke Park helped ease their way too back into GAA HQ: “And probably the battle we had with Monaghan that day stood to us a bit. Monaghan came at us in that second half and threw everything at it and thankfully the lads dug deep and we got across the line. Looking back on the Kerry game, it was probably the same situation where at times it felt like we were across the line and Kerry kept coming at us. But again we didn’t panic and we knew we had a job to do.
It’s no secret that being captain on All-Ireland final means having a few cúpla focal prepared in advance, only for Hampsey that’s just not his style.
“I try and speak a bit but I wouldn’t be great. Look, I won’t even worry about that. I’ll worry about going out to do my best for the county and all the lads will be the same. It will take a massive effort against a great Mayo side.
“The likes of the speeches and stuff, you’d only be worrying about them on the day. You’d just be worrying about performing and doing the county proud. As a captain, I’m not really that type of person. I like leading by example and that’s the way I like to go about my business.
“And look, Brian (Dooher) has been there and done that. He has led by example as a footballer and he’s doing the same as a manager. A no bullshit attitude and he can sense things. He just knows when things aren’t right. He’d pull you to the side. He’s keeping lads grounded.
“You’re just working hard and putting your head down and he’s keeping you focused. That’s the way he wants it and I suppose that’s the best way to have it.”