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Ballyclare Primary School

50 years of National Allianz CnmB: Liam Grugan

12th Jul 2021

Liam Grugan


Liam Grugan was a member of the Tyrone senior football team from 1982 to 1987. He has taught in St. Conor’s PS, Omagh, from 1989 to the present day...


“From 1967 until 1975, I attended Sacred Heart PS, Tattyreagh, as it was my nearest primary school and within walking distance from home. During my time there a new principal called Tom Flanagan came to the school. Tom had a background of GAA and immediately set about promoting it in the school. Tom took the boys for football at least twice a week. As it was a small school with 3 teachers and about 70 pupils, I was able to get onto the school team by the time I was in Primary 5. We were taken to different competitions, most notably the Feis Cup and the Boyle Shield. Whisper it softly but, in 1973, my very first competitive match was not for Tattyreagh Primary School, but for the school where I now teach - St. Conor’s PS Omagh.   Tom Flanagan was very friendly with Colm MacRory (Principal of St. Conor’s) and on one occasion St. Conor’s needed the services of two players. Another pupil and myself, were sent to play as ‘ringers’ for St Conor’s in what I think was a Boyle Shield match at St Pat’s Park (behind the fire station in Omagh). One player who I distinctly remember playing for St Conor’s at that time was Seamus ‘Shaker’ Bonner.


I first took part in the 7-a-side Feis Cup in Omagh when I was in Primary 6. The Feis Cup was a fantastic day of football organised by Donal Magee, a teacher in St Mary’s PS, Killyclogher. Teams came from all over the County to take part in what I would describe as a carnival of Gaelic football. We didn’t do well in our first year of it but we left that day determined to give next year’s competition (1975) a real go. Our main players the following year when we returned to the Feis Cup competition were Gerard McGinn, Brian Callaghan, Enda Mullan and Brian O’Reilly (nephew of the great John Joe 0’Reilly of Cavan). We got through our section easily enough and qualified for the quarter-final, where we met a P6 team from St. Colmcille’s PS Omagh, who at that stage were an all-boys’ school of up to 500 pupils. Their team included my now teaching colleague Paul Logue, Martin Woodhead (who later played for Omagh Town) and John McDaid (who later played for Tyrone Minors and Glentoran). Despite them being favourites, we managed to inflict a surprise defeat on them, which left us facing a P7 team in the semi-final from the same school, which included John “Cookie” Grugan, father of Rory Grugan (Armagh County Player).There was a hedge behind one of the goals and on following Tom Flanagan’s advice I, when taking our frees, made sure to put the ball into the hedge, to waste as much time as I could as we were winning at the time.  We qualified for the final where we met The Presentation Brothers School, Dungannon. The legendary Tyrone footballer Iggy Jones was the teacher in charge of the Dungannon team, and even though we were just 11 years of age, we were very much aware of who he was and what a great servant he had been to Tyrone football for many years. Any hopes we had of ending the day victorious were dashed very quickly as the Dungannon team totally tore us apart. They were by far the best team we had ever met and it was clear that they had been well prepared for the competition. We had been punching above our weight anyway, so we left Omagh that day disappointed but proud that we, as a small school, had got so far. One notable player on that Dungannon team was Declan Muldoon, a colleague of mine on the Tyrone team of 1986.


The Feis Cup was a football carnival. My memory is of great weather and massive crowds. You would have had school teams from Tyrone and beyond. Pupils from St Pat’s High School and the CBS would come down to watch. There were also many parents in attendance. Teachers from St Patrick’s High School, like Jimmy Meyler and Benny Burns, were employed as referees for the day


Our school also took part in the Boyle Shield competition. I have great memories of playing against schools like St Colmcille’s PS Omagh; St Colmcille’s PS, Carrickmore; St Conor’s PS, and St Mary’s PS, Killyclogher. In my P7 year, St. Conor’s had a great team which featured players like Raymond Monteith (now Trillick and the CCC) and Thaddeus Turbett, son of the great Thady Turbett. I remember taking a penalty against them at McRory pitch in Tattyreagh. The ball hit the post, rebounded out and I put the ball in the back of the net. The referee/teacher at the time, Oliver O’Kane (my future Principal), disallowed the goal, much to the annoyance of my father who was on the side-line at the time!


My Father was a GAA fanatic and would have been attending Tyrone matches since the early 1950s. He would’ve taken me to County matches as a young child. My first Ulster Final was in 1973 to see Tyrone play Down. This was the first time I witnessed the great Frank McGuigan. One lasting memory was when the ball was thrown in at the beginning of the game, Frank rose and caught it with one hand. Years later I was still in awe of “The King” when I joined the Tyrone Senior Team.


I qualified from St Marys Teacher Training College in Belfast in 1986. My first involvement in primary school football came in 1987 when I was teaching in Roscavey PS. Paddy Bogan, principal of Roscavey at the time, mentioned to me about a Cumann na mBunscol meeting being held at Healy Parkand suggested I go along. The meeting, which was held in where the main office is now, was led by Joe McCrory (Glencull PS), Bertie Foley (Mullinahoe PS), Iggy Jones (St Patrick’s PS, Dungannon) and Seamus Kearney (Aughabrack PS). Declan Muldoon and Noel McGinn were also there and as we were involved with Tyrone at that time, it led to a bit of banter directed at us from Iggy. It certainly was a pleasant surprise to me to realise that the great man even knew who I was. While I was at Roscavey PS we took part in the Red Knights tournament which was for schools in the Beragh area.


In 1988 Paul Logue and myself began teaching in St Conor’s PS Omagh. St. Conor's is a feeder school mainly for the two local GAA clubs: Drumragh Sarsfield’s and Omagh St Enda’s. Before we arrived at St Conor’s, the school had a strong tradition of GAA with men like Neil Barbour, Gerry Raflewski and Oliver O’Kane very much to the fore. At that time, Cumann na mBunscol consisted only of an outdoor league section for boys. The main competition we took part in at that time was the BawnacreCup which was held in Irvinestown. This consisted of schools from the Omagh area and most of the schools in Fermanagh.


Our Cumann na mBunscol section had St Colmcille’s PS Carrickmore, Christ The King PS, St Lawrence’s Fintona and St Mary’s PS, Killyclogher. Our biggest rivals each year seemed to be Carrickmore. I remember one particular match where one Carrickmore player scored three goals against us to win the game for them. I discovered later it was none other than Conor Gormley. Conor still reminds me of it when he comes to coach at our school!


Our stand-out players over the years would have been Joe and Justin McMahon. Their older brother Patrick had been the star of our school teams. He went on to play for Tyrone minors and Tyrone U-21s. Joe was two years below Patrick and he first came to my attention as a footballer when he was in Primary 4. St Colmcille’s PS, Omagh, requested a challenge match between the Primary 5  classes of our schools. One of our P4 teachers, Anne McDonagh, approached me to tell me about 2 great footballers she had in her class: Martin Flanagan and Joseph McMahon. Despite being a P5 match, we decided to play them anyway, and it turned out that they were the best two players we had that day. They destroyed the St. Colmcille’s Primary 5 boys on their own. Martin Flanagan developed into a fantastic soccer player and eventually ended up at Derby County, where he signed a professional contract. Both boys were selected by the school in their P7 year in 1995, to play on the Tyrone representative game at half time of the Ulster Championship, between Tyrone and Fermanagh at Irvinestown. Unfortunately, Joe broke his ankle in the week leading up to the match, but can be seen in the group photograph with his crutches.


When Joe was in P7, his younger brother Justin was in Primary 5 and a member of the school team as well. In that year, our school reached the final of the mini 7s where we met Primate Dixon PS, Coalisland at Carrickmore. We lost that game by a point after missing a one-on-one with the goalkeeper in the last minute. Justin would go on to be captain of the school team in his P7 year and like his older brothers, his talent as a footballer was there to be seen.


When those boys left the school we had a few lean years until the early 00’s. In 2001 we reached the Tyrone Indoor 5-a-side final at Galbally, where we were again beaten by the Primate Dixon PS. Their team that year included Tiernan O’Hagan, Sean (Bob) Mc Nally, Louis O’Neill and Paddy McNeice.


It was around this time that we decided to host our own competition among local primary schools. The competition was to be called the St Conors Millennium Cup. We knew about the Academy Blitz in Dungannon for local schools in the east and also the Knockmany Cup for primary schools in the middle of the County. There was no Cup competition for Primary schools in the Omagh area. We had a good team at that stage, which included Adrian McCaffrey, who would win a county senior championship medal with Dromore in 2011, and Gareth Haughey who would go on to lift the MacRory Cup and Hogan Cup as captain of Omagh CBS in 2007.  In the first year of the competition we got to the final, with the whole school out supporting us. We met St Colmcille’s PS Omagh on the back pitch at St. Conor’s School. We were beaten in the final in a very exciting game and their star player in that match was a Primary 5 pupil called Peter Harte! The schools who took part in the Millennium Cup were Sacred Heart Tattyreagh PS; Christ the King PS; St Mary’s PS, Killyclogher; St Joseph’s Drumquin; St Ronan’s Recarson; St.Colmcilles/Holy Family PS Omagh, and All Saints’ Tattysallagh. Later on St. Lawrence’s Fintona and St. Patrick’s Newtownstewart joined in. For the first number of years it was either St Conor’s PS or St Colmcille’s PS who won the competition. However, in the years since Recarson, Fintona, Newtownstewart, Tattyreagh, Killyclogher and Drumquin all have all won it. St Conor’s have since hosted the Ronnie Kelly Cup for boys and the Conal Mc Crory Cup for girls. These are both indoor Gaelic football tournaments which are held annually for schools in the Omagh area.


In 2008 we managed to win our first county title, captained by Eamon Rea (Drumragh), when we won the Tyrone Boys indoor 5-a-side tournament at the Station Centre, defeating St Joseph’s Galbally in the final. This victory entitled us to represent Tyrone at the Ulster Finals held at Enniskillen. We managed to get to the final therewhere we met Ardara, a Donegal team. A goal in the last minute by them deprived us of the Ulster title but it was a proud time for the school to so nearly achieve an Ulster Title.


For years St Conors boys competed in Section 2 of the Tyrone Cumann na mBunscol leagues. In 2015, there was an opportunity to move up to compete with the largest primary schools in Tyrone, in Section 1. We jumped at the chance to play against schools that included Primate Dixon Coalisland, Holy Trinity Cookstown and St Patricks PS Dungannon. The first year we participated in this league we gave a fair account of ourselves, but quickly realised that we needed to improve big time to compete at this level. With the invaluable support of a number of teachers within our school namely Paul Logue, Barry McCullagh and Gary McCrory, we won the County League for large schools for the following 2 years. From these teams, past pupils like Matthew O’Donnell, Brendan Quinn, Nathan McGlinchey, Fionn Collins, Mike Sharkey, Cormac McGinn, Antoin McGinn, Conor Barrett, Aaron Lynch and Carraig Mc Kenna are now outstanding underage players for both St Enda’s and Drumragh. This outstanding achievement by our boys’ team was complimented by our girls’ team which was regularly competing in Final’s day in Garvaghy. Though it’s not an exact science, I am of the firm belief that a strong and successful primary school team hugely benefits the club for many years to come.


I am aware that most people view winning the Sam Maguire as being the ultimate achievement in Gaelic Football. I know that was the opinion I had when Tyrone was winning Sam, especially with 2 past pupils on the team. However, in my humble opinion, this was eclipsed in 2014 and 2017, when Omagh St Enda's won the O’Neill Cup, with around a dozen past pupils on the panel. We had watched all these players develop from young boys, in P1in to men capable of competing with the best in Ulster. There was a fantastic sense of pride within our school as we watched that team compete in Tyrone and Ulster. These players were our neighbours, our friends, our sons, our role models and our “past pupils”. On the Monday morning after both finals, I brought the O’Neill Cup into St Conors and held it high above my head in front of 450 pupils in the school playground..... It's about inspiring the next generation!  


In 2020, Drumragh Sarfield's reached the Tyrone Junior Final only to be beaten by a strong Kildress team. We, as a school,  were extremely proud that 9 of the Drumragh panel were past pupils of St. Conor’s and we look forward to them winning the Junior title in the very near future.


Many of our female past pupils have successfully represented Omagh St Enda’s, Drumragh Sarsfield’s and Tyrone teams over the years. In 2010, 14 past pupils were involved in the Omagh St Enda’s panel that were beaten in the All-Ireland Club Junior Final. In 2018 Christiane Hunter, Orlagh Mc Namee (both Omagh St Enda’s) and Josephine Quinn (Drumragh) played on the Tyrone team that were beaten by Meath in the All -Ireland Intermediate Final in Croke Park.


The legendary Thady Turbett was a past pupil of the original old Culmore School which is now known as St Conor’s PS Omagh. Thady was the goalkeeper on the first Tyrone team to win the Ulster Senior Championship in 1956 and 1957. He also played for Omagh St Endas, Ulster and Ireland. Thady was the holder of 6 Tyrone Senior Championship Medals with the great Omagh St Enda’s side of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. In 1993 Thadybecame the Honorary President of Tir Eoghain Cumann mBunscol. For a number of years, Thady accompanied myself and Paul Logue to the Tir Eoghain Cumann na mbuscol AGM. He was always fantastic company and was a man who was a wonderful story-teller and possessed a great wit. On Cumann na mbunscol Final’s day in Garvaghy, teams from throughout Tyrone play for the Thady Turbett Cup. It is indeed fitting that the Cup is presently in the hands of St Conor’s PS. *Thady sadly passed away earlier this month. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam


What really makes Cumann na mBunscol an excellent organisation is that we, as primary school teachers, are the first to see the future “greats” of Tyrone playing against each other at an early age. Over my 35 years of teaching, I have witnessed some of the best games of Gaelic Football at Primary School level. Systems and negative tactics don’t exist at that age, it’s just Gaelic Football at its purest. What has frustrated me slightly in the media, especially during Tyrone‘s All Ireland victories, was the lack of recognition that primary schools received when talking about the early development of the Tyrone senior players. The secondary schools, grammar schools and vocational schools were rightly praised for the systems they had in place. However we, in Tír Eoghain Cumann na mBunscolknow that the GAA in our schools begins long before pupils reach 12 years of age!


50 years ago we were lucky in the greater Omagh areathat men like Tom Flanagan, Donal Magee, Harry Scully and Colm MacRory went above-and-beyond their teaching duties to promote the GAA in our part of Tyrone. For the past 35 years or more, a raft of men and women in the many schools within the Omagh area, and beyond,have continued this tradition. The time is soon coming to pass the baton onto the next generation of teachers. The GAA within Tyrone will undoubtedly continue to flourish for the next 50 years and beyond, as these teachers inspire future generations of young boys and girls to strive to become the best they can..”