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Ballyclare Primary School

50 years of National CnmB!!! Peter Canavan

6th Jun 2021

There's only one man to receive the honour of kick-starting our series to commemorate 50 years of Cumann na mBunscol nationally: Primary school GAA.

Personally, I never heard tell of him lak Peter Canavan
I often wonder what became of him...


Peter ‘The Great’ Canavan

My earliest sports memories of Glencull PS would have been P3/4 around 1977/78. Master McGurn was principal in my early years and Joe McCrory became principal when I was in P4. The yard was too small to play Gaelic so soccer was the preferred option. As it was a small school there was just one big game with everyone from P4-up taking part. When I was in P3/4 I had the sense to stay close to the goals and not to get caught up going out to the middle and getting knocked about by the older boys. It was in P4 when I first got onto the school team to play in the Knockmany Cup. I recall playing with my brother Pascal who was in P7 at the time and also Plunkett McNelis and Eamon McAnenly. Back in those days there were no Adidas or Predator football boots so Eamon had a pair of hobnail boots and if Eamon didn’t kick the ball he would kick something else!

We played in 3 competitions during my time at Glencull. The Knockmany Cup, the Parish Cup and the Cabragh tournament. Every year we had the Parish Sports Day at St Ciaran’s High School, Ballygawley and the 4 local primary schools took part in a football competition: St Mary’s PS, Ballygawley; Altamuskin PS; Garvaghey PS, and our own Glencull school. That was a great competition between the schools each year with a good healthy rivalry. It was held on a Sunday and apart from the Gaelic competition there were athletic competitions, races, egg and spoon, 3 legged races etc where all the pupils from the 4 primary schools gathered for an enjoyable day of completion. For the Football completion there was a Cup and medals for the winners and the all-important bragging rights when they started the big school in September. I still like to remind my neighbour Conor Quinn, who attended St Mary’s PS, that we beat his school by 26 points in the Parish Cup final.

The Knockmany Cup was also a great competition with schools from Augher, Eskra, Beragh, Aghaloo, and Cabragh all participating. I played in the Knockmany for 4 years and I have memories of playing against Martin McCaffery, Tiffy Quinn…

By the time I reached P6 there had been a bit of work done to our playground and small soccer goals were installed. It was at this time when Joe McCrory came to the school, and he immediately began to give us some coaching in Gaelic football during and after school. We also began to make use of the Glencull pitch which was based right beside the school. That pitch became our Theatre of Dreams. To have access to football posts where you could kick the ball over the bar and also to have nets as well to kick the ball into was something that not many primary schools pupils had available to them back at that time.

There were only 3 boys in my year at Primary School. Apart from myself there was Sean O’Neill, a vet in Ballygawley and Brian McKenna , an accountant in Toronto. Other boys on the school team when I was in P7 were Sean’s brother Emmet, who went on to win an All-Ireland as a goalkeeper with the Tyrone Vocationals, Denver Farrell, a future Tyrone minor, and Barry ‘Jordie’ Mallon, named Jordi after Joe Jordan Manchester United player at the time who had 2 front teeth missing. That was the year we won both the Parish Cup and the Knockmany Cup.

I played in Cabragh Tournament in my P6 and P7 years. I enjoyed going to Cabragh because Damian Kelly, then a teacher at the school (prior to becoming Principal), was a very enthusiastic personality who loved Gaelic games. He loved to watch not only his own teams but the other teams as well and was always willing to encourage all players. He was deeply passionate about the games.

During my time at Glencull PS I had a keen interest in the fortunes of the Tyrone senior team, Our own club man Mickey Harte was playing for Tyrone seniors at that time and I would have travelled with my older brothers would have travelled to the matches to see him play. Also, Ciaran McCrory and Paudge Quinn were on the panel too, so our club was well represented on the County panel. Thus, I was well tuned-in to the inter county scene. I recall attending many National League games in Pomeroy but one match that stood out for me was a game against Offaly. It was either in Coalisland or Dungannon and Matt Connor was playing for the opposition. The memory of that game has always stood out for me because he was absolutely superb that day - in particular the way he kicked the ball off the ground. I was also aware of the talents of Frank McGuigan. At that time he was travelling backwards and forwards from America but I always took the opportunity to see him when the chance arose. I remember in particular seeing him in a game against Down in a championship game in 1982 where he caught a high ball and turned and hit the top corner of the net from a left-footed shot. Also at that time the opportunities to see Gaelic Football on TV was hugely limited to live coverage of the 2 All-Ireland semi Finals and the Final itself. Those days were big days in our house where the dinner was made earlier than usual so that we would be able to settle down to watch the games at 3.30pm. To get seeing the crowd, the excitement of the scores and what it meant to the players and the particular county aided and abetted by the fantastic commentary of the one and only Mícheál Ó Hehir who like the legendary Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh had the ability to make a poor game sound good.

There were 3 players who I looked up to when I was a primary school pupil. The first player was one from whom I learnt a lot and watched a lot and that was my brother Stephen. He was one of the main players at the club and also a Tyrone minor. I also remember going to a fancy dress competition as part of the Parish Sports dressed up as Frank McGuigan as I like many other Tyrone supporters had total admiration for his skills on the football field. I also admired Eugene McKenna. I had watched him winning championships with Augher and also starring for Tyrone as well. He was a stand-out player for me and it was fantastic to watch him perform in his prime.

Part of my job as a teacher in Holy Trinity College, Cookstown, is as Primary Links Coordinator. I keep in touch with what is going on in our local feeder primary schools and from time to time help out if they need any GAA coaching of if they need sports personnel in to help with different events they may be hosting. I aim to keep them aware of what is going on in Holy Trinity College and offer experiences of coming into our school, participating in games and become accustomed to the size and layout of the building. I often go out to the schools and organise activities for them to come in for taster days and other activities. I am regularly in touch with all the local primary school principals, and I get to witness the importance of Gaelic games is in the lives of the pupils and recognise the effort and time that so many teachers put in to ensure that their pupils learn the games and derive so much enjoyment out of it. People often ask me why Tyrone has become so successful in recent years. I would have no hesitation in stating that the work that is going on in both Primary and secondary schools would be superior to many other counties and when teachers are prepared to put in that time and effort then you will inevitably see the fruits of it in later years. I definitely benefited from the efforts that my teachers put in to developing my football career and likewise at the minute so many pupils will look back and hopefully say the same.

County players who are teaching probably don’t realise the impact they have on so many of the children that they teach., I know in my own case my son Ruairí was taught by Mark Donnelly at St Colmcille’s PS Carrickmore while Mark was a member of the Tyrone senior team. Ruairí idolised him and Mark was such a positive role model and made school life so much more enjoyable because of what he did on the football pitch and what he was prepared to do with the children in after school GAA. I think it’s very important to acknowledge the likes of Mark, Stephen O’Neill at Killyclogher PS, Niall Morgan in Edendork PS as well as Peter Harte at Donaghmore PS – to name but a few - and make people aware that we should not underestimate the influence that these people have on so many of their children.


Many thanks to our former Secretary, Master Niall McQuaid, for undertaking a series of interviews & write-ups.

Go raibh míle maith agat a mháistir