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Many happy returns as McMenamin hangs up his boots

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Ryan McMenamin. Photo: Sportsfile

Ryan McMenamin. Photo: Sportsfile

Ryan McMenamin. Photo: Sportsfile

YESTERDAY was Ryan McMenamin's 35th birthday, an occasion tinged with sadness as it marked the first day of the rest of his life as an ex-Tyrone footballer.

He informed Mickey Harte on Monday night of his decision to quit the inter-county scene but will play with his club, Dromore.

His exit comes as no surprise. His role in this year's championship was as a sub, and with Harte set to further re-shape the squad for 2013, the prospects of 'Ricey' forcing his way back onto the team were slim.

Given his loyalty to the old guard, it's unlikely Harte would have dropped him off the panel, but life at the tail end of the subs' bench where the call to action is rarely heard would never quite fit with the McMenamin persona.

A flinty character right through a career which coincided with the most successful period in Tyrone history, McMenamin was a central figure in the bold Red Hand adventure which took them through new frontiers.

Equally effective in either defensive line, it was as if he had wrapped himself in barbed wire, turning engagements with him into an experience that opponents tended to remember.

It also brought him into frequent conflict with authority.

Incensed

He was suspended in 2005 after an investigation into an incident where he landed with his knees on John McEntee's chest during the Ulster final replay against Armagh in Croke Park.

The referee booked him but the offence was later upgraded to red card status, which incensed Tyrone.

They supported McMenamin all the way to the Disputes Resolution Authority who, in a landmark ruling, held that he should not have been suspended. McMenamin and Tyrone had been vindicated.

In 2009, McMenamin (right) was suspended for eight weeks after appearing to grab Paul Galvin's groin area during a league game.

As in 2005, the suspension came as a result of a post-match investigation.

That infuriated Tyrone, who felt that McMenamin had become an easy target for the video-reviewers in Croke Park.

While McMenamin was certainly a feisty character who tended to polarise opinion, nobody could dispute his value to Tyrone.

Apart from his defensive solidity, he played a huge role in their counter-attacking game, darting forward when the time was right and linking expertly with his attackers.

He had his down times too, but he always recovered from them.

In his autobiography, Harte recalled Tyrone's defeat by Down in the 2008 Ulster championship where the winning goal was scored by Benny Coulter after McMenamin let the ball slip from his hands.

"Next day I was thinking of Ryan McMenamin. He had started the year with doubts. Now he had made a mistake that handed a crucial goal to Down," Harte wrote.

"Having done so many wonderful things for Tyrone over the years, he had no need to beat himself up over this. He needed to know that.

"I sent him a text, told him he had nothing to worry about after years spent bailing us out. Stick with it, said the message, we're going to win the All-Ireland."

Three months later, Tyrone were indeed All-Ireland champions, with McMenamin having been at the heart of the summer revival. His career lasted another four seasons, delivering another two Ulster titles.

McMenamin's departure breaks yet another link in the strong chain that hauled Tyrone through so many glory channels over the last decade.

He said he thought about going on for another season but had decided it was time to go.

He leaves with the whole of Tyrone grateful for the unquestioned durability he brought to the great project.

Irish Independent