Sunday 21 January 2018

McAnallen's legacy still a driving force for McGeary

Tyrone U-21 captain Kieran McGeary (right) will be battling it out with his Tipperary counterpart Colin O’Riordan to get his hands on the trophy in today’s EirGrid All-Ireland U-21 football final at Parnell Park
Tyrone U-21 captain Kieran McGeary (right) will be battling it out with his Tipperary counterpart Colin O’Riordan to get his hands on the trophy in today’s EirGrid All-Ireland U-21 football final at Parnell Park
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

For the people of Tyrone and indeed the wider nationwide GAA community, the memory of Cormac McAnallen will forever hold a special place but for the Red Hands' U-21 captain, this evening's EirGrid All-Ireland U-21 final holds an even deeper meaning.

As a boy, Kieran McGeary grew up watching McAnallen and one day hoped to follow in his footsteps and now he has the chance to do just that.

McAnallen was the last Tyrone captain to lift the Clarke Cup back in 2001 and McGeary admits that it is a "massive inspiration" as his side look to see off Tipperary in Parnell Park (6.0).

A 14-year drought represents a long time for any county but for one with a rich recent history such as Tyrone, it must seem like an eternity.

"Cormac McAnallen lifted the last one on the pitch that we played Roscommon. It's a massive inspiration," McGeary says with a steely determination.

"It was good to get through that game and hopefully we can go on and do the business on the day.

"Fourteen years is a long time since Tyrone's youth has gotten to an All-Ireland U-21 final. We're glad to be back there and I believe we deserve to be back there.

"One of our aims at the start of the year was to get to an All-Ireland final and thankfully we're there."

As an attacking wing-back, McGeary has gone from strength to strength since his man-of-the-match display against Monaghan in the 2012 Ulster minor final and has been one of the stand-out players in this season's U-21 campaign.

Powerful midfielder Cathal McShane has also impressed this year, so much so that he has been drafted into Mickey Harte's senior panel.

With the inspirational Sean Cavanagh regularly being used to plug holes around the pitch, the hope in Tyrone is that McShane will one day fill that midfield role.

Going up against Tipp's mountainous duo of Colin O'Riordan and Steven O'Brien will serve as another stern test of McShane but his captain is confident that he can tip the balance of the tie in Tyrone's favour.

"He's a massive player for us, and we try to get the ball to Cathal as much as we can," McGeary enthuses.

"He is a player that has come up through the ranks very quickly. He's a very talented player and very focused.

"He was deservedly brought into the senior squad and he is a fantastic player. He will be very important for us today.

"Tipperary have a fantastic midfield - you're looking at one of the best there in the whole of Ireland.


"They've dominated games and to come up against the Dubs and beat them was absolutely fantastic," he adds.

McGeary has plenty of admiration for Tipp and he is adamant that no one in Tyrone is taking them for granted, despite the fact that they are still widely regarded as being just a hurling county.

"Public perception is a lot different to reality," he eagerly points out.

"You have papers saying certain things but that's absolutely out of the picture for us. We know that as a team. Our set-up knows that.

"They're probably more talented than any team we've met so far. We know the strength and depth they have, even on the sideline.

"Their management background is fantastic as well and it wasn't easy for them to get to the All-Ireland final. They probably came through a harder route than we did.

"They tick all the boxes and we have to figure out ways of unpicking those boxes to get over the line."

Tyrone may be the bookies' favourites but a 14-year spell without an U-21 All-Ireland title doesn't leave room for any sort of complacency.

Peter Canavan and Brian Dooher are both part of Feargal Logan's backroom team and McGeary maintains that their experience has been invaluable in helping his side get this far.

"They've been there and done it. I'd say they wouldn't mind togging out and giving it another rattle," he smiles.

"Their training sessions have been fantastic right throughout the year. The lads have all bought into it and thankfully we're in an All-Ireland final.

"It's up to us to deal with things if they aren't going well on the pitch. But to have that experience on the sideline means that they can help fix things as well."

The Pomeroy clubman maintains that lessons have been learned from the failings of the last couple of years and that the squad is now in an ideal place to finally bring an end to the barren spell at this grade for Tyrone.

"That minor team that we were in, we got to Ulster final and were beaten in All-Ireland quarter-final," McGeary recalls.

"The minors got to the final the following year, and those age groups have come together.

"It's a very professional group. We feel that we're surrounded by winners and if there are issues on the pitch, we do sort them out ourselves.

"The way Tyrone football was going for the last while, it was on a bit of a downer but with us winning the Ulster final, it raised spirits and showed that there is still talent and desire to win within the county and I imagine if we manage to win today, it will raise that even more."

Inspired by McAnallen's memory and what he achieved 14 years ago, McGeary is desperate to write his own history this evening.

A strong Tipperary side stands in his way but sometimes, just sometimes, boyhood dreams do come true.

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