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Ballyclare Primary School

50 years of National CnmB: Damian O’ Hagan

22nd Nov 2021

Damian O’ Hagan

 

Damian O’ Hagan attended Primate Dixon Primary School, Coalisland, from 1964 – 1971. Damian has represented Tyrone at minor, under-21 and senior levels. He has won three Ulster Senior Football Championship titles and an All-Star Award in 1986. He has also represented Ireland in the Compromise Rules v Australia.

 

The big thing I can remember about my Primary School football was that I was lucky enough to get onto the school team for two years in-a-row. Primate Dixon was at that time an all-boys school and competition for a place was very fierce - even for a P7 pupil. I was fortunate in that I gained a place in my P6 year to play in the trial matches that were organised against the first year team from our neighbouring secondary School, St Joseph’s College. These matches were played each year so as to give the boys an opportunity to stake a place on the team to play against the other primary schools in serious competition later in the year. The manager of our school team, Principal Barney Herron, played me at full-back. It was a busy position against the first years because you had so much work to do, blocking etc. You were involved in the game throughout. The first years appeared to be a fantastic team due of course to their size along with their ability.  It was when we went on to play against other primary schools in the area, which the local teachers would have organised among themselves, that this Primate Dixon full-back didn’t see much of the action due to our dominance in the other half of the field! As a result, Barney decided to move me upfield either into midfield or forwards.

We had some great players in our team in my P7 year: Cathal Maneely, Eamon Dillon, Eamon Gervin and Eddie Harte to name a few. Our main opposition, and the team which we knew would really put it up to us, was St Patrick’s PS, Dungannon. This was a school with a similar enrolment to our own so we knew that they would have plenty of players of ability to challenge us. One stand-out memory of one of our Dungannon games was Brian McBride RIP getting involved in a ‘physical argument’ with one of our ones. Brian was a great lad whom I got to know well in later yearsbut at that time he would have been their main‘enforcer!!!’

      At that time, we lacked decent facilities at the school to practice, but Barney put a lot of effort in with us in the yard during break and dinner-times. Our pitch stretched from ‘Master Looney’s Wall’ as we called it over to the ‘Wire’ on the other side. These matches among ourselves tended to be quitelet’s say, ‘competitive’ and I remember one incident when Ronan McSherry went down over a ball after being pushed by myself. Ronan’s eye connected with the kerb and it went up like a bap. Barney, who was refereeing at the time, took a lenient view of the whole thing given the competitive nature of the game and, given that Ronan was no shrinking violet himself, took the decision in this case to let the game proceed!
Barney had and still has a great interest in the GAA and this manifested itself in the amount of time and effort he put into promoting the game in our school. He was a big Fianna supporter and would often talk to us about the fortunes of the senior team at that time. (I would just like to add in at this point, that Barney, on one particular occasion at a later stage in my life, helped me out big-time in Belfast. Thank you again for that, Barney!)

Our class once had a trainee teacher called John Donaghy. John, father of Armagh player Brendan Donaghy, was a brother of Jim Donaghy who was a teacher in our school as well. We enjoyed having John in our class as he had a great interest in Gaelic himself and in fact played for his local club Clonmore at the time. When his time was up in our school his parting gift to us was a football which he presented to the class.

Players from other schools whom I would have played against would have been the likes of Brian Robinson, Kevin Kennedy, Petsie Kennedy and Seamy Donnelly. Our team then would have been very good and I have no memory of us being beaten. The only team that would have been closest to us would have been Dungannon PS.

At that time, I was very much involved in the local athletics club and was competing at an Ulster and All-Ireland level under the guidance of local men Pat Hughes RIP and Johnny Fay RIP. On one occasion when we were due to play Dungannon PS in an important schools’ match, my father came under pressure from both Pat and Johnny to withdraw me due to the fact that I was due to compete at the All-Ireland U11 60m race and the U11 triple-jump at Santry, Dublin, the following weekend. We managed to get the match postponed until after the event and I managed to secure a bronze medal in the 60m race. The school made sure that there was no potential clash next year in my P7 year when I returned to Santry very confident that I would achieve Gold this time considering I was only aged 10 the year before. As it turned out I won the triple jump but only achieved silver this time round in the 60m race. We also won the 4 x 100m race along with Aidan Quinn whom I had played against when we played Dungannon PS.

During my time at Primate Dixon PS I was a big supporter of Clonoe O’Rahillys and not the Fiannasurprisingly. When I was P6 I was looking to get onto the O’Rahilly U13 team but after the trial I was deemed to be not good enough. There were about 50 at the trial in a match against Coalisland where I was marked by Micky McGurgan. Mickey was about 3 or 4 years older than me at the time and issued a health warning to me that I would be advised to stay well clear of the ball! That put paid to any notion I had of making a favourable impression on the Clonoe selectors and was subsequently deemed ‘surplus to requirements’. It was while I was helping my father on his breadvan on the Stewartstown Road that Jackie O’Neill invited me to come along to Coalisland U13 team.  Of course I had to get approval from my father who took the view that if the Rahilly's were not going to play me then give Coalisland a go. So at 10 years of age I joined the U13 team and we went on to win the championship 4 years on the trot.

In 1970 my father managed Eglish GFC to their only senior championship title. I travelled over with him on many occasions and watched the players train. From that I got to know the Tyrone senior player Micky Jordan on that panel. At that time athletics was my main interest, however, and most weekends we were away on the bus with Johnny, Pat and Tommy Kelly from Brackaville to the many athletics meetings across the country. I hadn’t much time therefore to follow the fortunes of the Tyrone teams though I was lucky enough to be given the ball with which the Tyrone minor team won the Ulster Title in 1968. Eamon Morgan, who captained the team that year, had been helping my father on his Macs breadvan and gifted me that ball. In 1974 when I was 14 and attending St Joseph’s Intermediate in Coalisland, I got onto the Tyrone Vocational Schoolsand the minor squad. Eddie Campbell, my PE teacher at St Josephs, with whom I had, and still have, a great relationship, was part of the Vocational Schools management. I was lucky the following year in 1975 to be on the minor team that reached the All-Ireland Final. From then I progressed through playing with the Fianna to the Tyrone Senior squad where I was lucky enough to be playing  among the best players in the country at that time.

I have always appreciated the opportunities I have been given in my GAA career. My days at Primate Dixon PS where I played GAA for the first time are memories I will always cherish. It’s great to see Tyrone Cumann na mBunscol thriving in the way it is today giving our youth in our primary schools the opportunities and wonderful experiences that they will cherish for the rest of their lives. This, along with the wonderful work going on at underage level in our clubs, ensures a successful future in Tyrone GAA for us all to enjoy in the years ahead…”

 

                                                       Damian O’Hagan

 

* We are sad to report that since this interview was conducted Damian’s father, John Joe O’Hagan, has sadly passed away.
Cumann na mBunscol Thír Eoghain take this opportunity to offer Damian and the wider family circle our sincere condolences.

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