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Ballyclare Primary School

50 years of National Allianz CnmB: Noel McGinn

14th Jun 2021





Noel McGinn attended St Mary’s P.S. Killyclogher 1966-1973


  My first memories of Primary school football at St Mary’s are in P3/4 when we played soccer in the school yard at break and lunch time. There were always the same 2 teams - Leeds United and Manchester United everyday and as I didn’t know which team was which it was another pupil Joe Keys who told me to play for his team!!

       In September 1969 Donal Magee came to teach in the school and totally transformed it in terms of sports provision. Up until then we never had a Sports Day or any sort of competitive sports, only the soccer we played during our breaks. Donal, however, arranged to have the playground painted with a running track. He introduced a long jump pit, a high jump pit and the Shot. He introduced the game of Gaelic Rounders and began after-school coaching in Gaelic Football and basketball. Basketball always stood out in my mind because in Primary 6 he taught us the 3 second rule. In Gaelic Rounders we used amitre football and a home run was gained by kicking the ball from the top to the bottom of the schoolyard. At the bottom of the yard was a fence beyond which was a river. It was because of this that Donal forbade me to kick with my left foot as I was able to reach the river with a kick!! Although I didn’t realise it at the time, it meant that I was having to practice kicking with my right foot which did me no harm at all in my later football career. Donal didn’t fancy losing any mitre balls!!  Soon we were playing after -school Gaelic matches and boys who went on to play for Killyclogher Senior team like Shea Sweeney and Brian McCullough were playing Gaelic for the first time. Donal arranged a match against Culmore School (now St Conor’s PS) where Colm McCrory was principal and for whom his son Sean played. We soon became aware of a competition called the Boyle Shield which became a forerunner to Cumann na mBunscol competitions in our area. Taking part was our school, St Conor’s PS, or Culmore as it was known then, Omagh CBS Primary school, Tattyreagh PS and to a lesser extent, Carrickmore PS and Loughmacrory PS. We played each other on a league-basis and there were some excellent and competitive games of football. The Christian Brothers, being the largest school, was the best team and were regular winners of the Shield. We got to know many other boys from those schools and when we transferred to our next schools we met boys against whom we had played in the Boyle Shield. Myself and Mark Haran, who would later captain the Tyrone minors in 1980, played on the school team from Primary 5. Mark was a great athlete, swimmer, hurler and an all-round sportsman. We came up against some really good players during our primary school games. The three Murphy brothers Steven, Gerard and Cormac from Loughmacrory were very good as were Camillus Woods from Carrickmore and Sean McRory from St Conor’s PS.


I had a big interest in the Tyrone teams when I was at Primary school and attended matches on a regular basis in Dungannon and in Omagh. I remember seeing Brendan Dolan, who was a teacher in Strabane, playing for Tyrone in midfield and it was a great shock to me as a primary 7 pupil to hear that he had been tragically killed on his way to work. I was also very aware of the Tyrone Minor teams of 1972/73 and would have had photographs of the Tyrone senior team of that time as well. It was my ambition even at Primary school to play for Tyrone when I got older.  When I went to the Brothers school in Omagh my ambition was to play MacRory Cup football. I often say it was the only reason I went on to do A Levels!!!


During the summer of 1978 I was labouring and doing discos at night. I was bringing home £150 per week which was a colossal amount of money at that time especially for a 16-year-old. I didn’t want to go back to school but was persuaded to by my father. That and the prospect of playing MacRory Cup football was an attraction as well. I had already played in MacRory Cup in 4th and 5th year and I went on to captain the team in 6th and 7th year. I had been on the Tyrone minor panel as a goalkeeper in 1977 and again in 1978 when we were beaten by Monaghan in the Ulster Final. I then captained the side from corner back in 1979.





When I qualified from St Joseph’s Teacher Training College in July 1983, I spent my first year as a teacher living in Belfast as my wife was working in the Royal Victoria Hospital. For most of the following school year (83-84) I was working in St Augustine’s Secondary School on the Ravenhill Road as a substitute teacher where former Tyrone player Sean McElhatton taught PE. We were living at 474 Falls Road where the offices of Féile an Phobail is based now. I was playing for Sarsfields in Belfast and worked in their club as a barman at the weekends. Previously I had been thumbing home to Killyclogher for training and matches and to continue this wasn’t practical. Football in Belfast was mostly on Wednesday nights and I was getting £9 per shift in the club at the weekends. I transferred to Sarsfields on the understanding that once I got a teaching job at home I would be away. In September 1984 a job for one year became available in St Colmcille’s PS in Omagh.Eugene Bradley brought the application form to me one night at Tyrone training which I completed in the car on the way back to Belfast.  A year later I took a permanent job in Christ the King PS, Omagh where I remained until I became principal of Our Lady of Lourdes, Greencastle in January 1997.



When Cumann na mBunscol started in Tyrone in 1986/87 I immediately got involved. Among my first memories was attending a GAA coaching session at St Enda’s in Omagh on a Saturday morning organised for teachers by Terence McWilliams who then was working as PE advisor for the Western Board. I was PE Co-ordinator in Christ the King and took the schoolteam for coaching and Cumann na mBunscol league matches. The Strathroyal area of Omagh however, from where we got most of our pupils, was not historically a hotbed of GAA and thus it was hard work at times generating enough interest among the pupils to put a team together. We did have some excellent footballers through our school over the years for Christ the King P.S. though. Ciaran McDaid was an excellent player as were Sean McDaid, Liam McAleer, Brendan McAleer and Ciaran Hope.




When I went to Greencastle PS the first thing that struck me was the enthusiasm the girls at the school had for Gaelic football and who were also very good at it. At that time there was no provision for ladies’ football in Cumann na mBunscol. The only competitive action for girls against other schools was netball. Our teacher,Diane McCann, who took the girls for netball, was off on maternity one year so I took the girls to a competition in Omagh against the larger schools. We won the tournament, not due to my coaching ability, but due to the tactic I encouraged the girls to employ namely jersey tugging etc.!!!!! It was only afterwards did I realise that netball is supposed to be a non-contact sport!!!!! Shauna Keenan, Eimear Teague, Michelle McDermott and Laura-Lee McCullough were our stars that day but for some reason we weren’t invited back!!!!


We have had a number of very good boys’ teams at Greencastle PS. We had a team that went through one year completely unbeaten. The Christian Brothers' Grammar School ran a tournament for three years which we managed to win twice even though all the larger schools in the area were taking part. Mark and Conor Carson, Shane McCullough, Daniel McDermott, Barry McGarvey were all great footballers for us in the Christian Brothers' tournament. In the final against Carrickmore PS, Barry McGarvey put on a man of the match display at full back.   We have also won both the boys and the girls mini 7s competitions which were prestigious events as the winners were able to provide players for the All Ireland semi-finals matches at Croke Park.


I have enjoyed every one of my years involved in Primary schools GAA as   a player, teacher and principal. It has brought so many memories and friendships which have lasted to this day. It’s wonderful to go to a primary schools blitz and see primary school children of all abilities playing GAA and simply enjoying themselves; no winners - no losers ... and long may it continue….


Noel McGinn