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Ballyclare Primary School

50 years of National Allianz CnmB: Sean Cavanagh

28th Jun 2021

Sean Cavanagh

Sean Cavanagh attended Primate Dixon PS, Coalisland (1987-1990) and St Johns PS, Moy (1990-1994)

My first Primary school was Primate Dixon PS, Coalisland. My mother is from Coalisland and we started off in a house in the Newtownkelly area of the town before moving to a small bungalow on Annagher Hill, only a few yards from the Fianna pitch. One of my near neighbours was Peter Donnelly who was the same age as me. We were in the same class together and played for the Fianna U8 team under the guidance of TC Crawford and Whitebap. At the end of my P3 year my mum and dad decided to move over to the Moy to a house in Jockey Lane where they reside to this day. My Dad often tells the story that Master Barney Herron, principal of Primate Dixon, while filling out the transfer form, jokingly complained that the school was losing its best footballer!!! It was a source of pride for my dad that he managed to take me from being a Fianna player to becoming a Moy player.

When I joined St John’s PS, Moy, I initially found it a very daunting experience. In Coalisland there had been 3 or 4 classes of the same year which were all boys. St John’s, however, had just one class per year and there were girls in the room as well!!! At that time the Primate Dixon would have had more of a football background than the Moy so there were plenty of opportunities to get playing football in the yards at break and lunchtime. The Moy School, however, had just one small yard which the whole school had to share at the same time - therefore opportunities to play football were more limited. There was actually a grass sloped hill (the chapel car park is situated there now) where Master Gerry Dolan would have taken us for some games. It really was a game of two halves where one half was the easy part of playing downhill, but the second half meant we were playing back up it again.

Despite the fact that we were not a very large school, we were quite competitive when it came to school competitions. Arguably, our best player in my P6/7 years was Conor Jordan. Conor was very tall and strong for his age and used that advantage in any games we played and I was very much in his shadow at that time. Gerry Dolan was very keen on Gaelic games and would have always taken opportunities to take the team out for practice sessions and games. He also arranged challenge games against our neighbouring schools from across the Armagh border in preparation for our competitions against the Tyrone schools. We played St Peter’s PS, Collegelands, and St Jarlath’s PS, Blackwatertown. Our Moy clubmate Ryan ‘Rocky’ O’Neill played for Blackwatertown along with Christopher ‘Chipper’ Lennon and Shane and Brendan Nugent. Blackwatertown had quite a strong team for us to practise against. Gerry used these challenge games to refine tactics. I usually played forward, but one tactic we used a lot was where I would drift back to midfield and run onto long balls kicked from our backline into the space I had left. If we had a game on a Friday we could be sure that Gerry would have had us out on the Wednesday or Thursday lining us out and letting us know how we were going to play the game. It was great to have a teacher who shared my interest in the game and I will always be appreciative of the GAA experiences he gave me as a 10/11-year-old. I made the school team in my P6 year and played in the Cumann na mBunscol league and the Academy Blitz. The Academy Blitz in my P7 year has painful memories for me as we felt we had a good team and were confident that we would do well. On the morning of the Blitz, however, Conor Jordan came off his bike and injured his ankle. Hardly able to walk he remained at home. Despite that we reached the final of the second tier competition, the Fr Faul Cup, where we were narrowly beaten by Brocagh PS. I left the Academy that day convinced that Conor’s unfortunate injury that morning cost us that title! Paul McArdle from Charlemont was our goalkeeper and our stand-out players on the day were Steven Harvey, Stephen Millar and Donal Sage.

One match I recall very vividly was playing against my old school Primate Dixon PS, Coalisland, at the Cumann na mBunscol Finals Day at Pomeroy. Due to the opposition being my old school and knowing all the boys on their team, I recall being highly motivated as the ball was thrown in. Here we were, a relatively small school, up against one of the ‘giants’ of Tyrone Primary school football as I saw it. We beat them quite easily, but what I particularly recall was a ‘clash’ between myself and Peter Donnelly. I was running forward with the ball with Peter chasing me trying to put in a tackle. However it happened, my elbow clashed with his face and left him with a bloody nose. It was an accidental clash and I felt bad about it at the time. Peter had been my closest friend back in the days when I lived in Coalisland. We had played together and had gone to school together and here I was a few years later responsible for the bloody nose which he received! That match was the semi-final of that Tyrone competition and left us playing a school from Strabane in the final. I don’t remember the name of the school but I will always recall their strip. It was a navy and sky blue jockey style jersey which was different to any other strips I would have seen. Despite being beaten in the final I was quite proud of our achievements that day. We were a small school in terms of numbers but we had four or five really good players and we showed that day that we could hold our own with the ‘big boys’.

During my primary school years, I had a great interest in the fortunes of the Tyrone team. My father took me to many of their games. My near neighbour and Moy clubmate Plunkett Donaghy was a key player for the county at that time. I was always very keen to go along to see him in action as much as anything else. Another Tyrone player I always looked out for at that time was Ciaran Corr. It brought back memories of the time when I lived in Coalisland. Living so close to the Fianna pitch Peter Donnelly and I would have taken the opportunity to watch them train. At that time the changing rooms were behind the goals and we often stood and watched Ciaran in the changing rooms having the ‘craic’ and singing songs along with the rest of the Fianna lads while I looked on in awe…

One Tyrone match which stands out for me around that time was a National league game against Armagh at the Athletic Grounds. It was the first time I had seen Adrian Cush play and I was totally mesmerised by his performance. He was such a skilful player with all the ‘jinks’ and ‘shimmies’ and his free-taking during that match was a joy to watch. I remember coming away from that game realising that I had seen something special. Gerard Houlihan played in that same match and it became a shoot-out between him and ‘Cushie’ for scores and for demonstration of skills. It was from that time that I developed an ambition to maybe represent both my club and Tyrone in the future. I was lucky indeed that those ambitions came to be realised and to have played a part in some very successful teams.

When I look back on my playing career, and reflect on the many wonderful moments it has brought me, I am eternally grateful to all those who played a part in my development. Many wonderful, committed Gaels sacrificed their time so that I, and many others, could have the unforgettable experiences we had. When all is said and done my major primary school memories will always revolve around Master Dolan and that grassy hilly slope…

Sean Cavanagh