The quaint name of Edendork was on the minds of the GAA public on Sunday morning, when it was announced that the Tyrone-Kerry Allianz League game would have to be moved from Omagh.
TG4 had their trucks and equipment ready to broadcast when the pitch failed an inspection.
Contingency plans in the east of the county were already in full swing and with the first arrivals at Arthur Mallon Park landing at 7am, the biggest day in the St Malachy’s club was beginning.
November 2008 was their darkest time.
In the early hours of a Saturday morning, a group burned the St Malachy’s clubhouse to the ground.
A game was due to be played that very morning, against Pomeroy. The club volunteers cleared all the debris and the game went ahead.
Later that evening, a caller claiming to represent the Orange Volunteers, a group thought to comprise former UVF militants, contacted the UTV newsroom in Belfast to claim responsibility.
The caller said the blaze was in retaliation for an arson attack that destroyed Ballinderry Orange hall, in Co Tyrone, the previous Sunday, and for an attack two months earlier on Ballywillwill Orange hall, in Co Down.
Politicians from all backgrounds condemned the mindlessness of the acts, but there was little consolation for the club. They couldn’t even claim off the Northern Ireland Office, due to a stringent set of circumstances relating to such offences.
“(It was) completely destroyed, down to the ground,” said St Malachy’s vice-chairman Dara Cullen.
He said: “For any club, their clubhouse means a lot to them. I mean, the men in this club actually physically built it (the original) themselves. There was no grant aid available at that time, so if we had held on for a few years, we might have got a grant, but when you had no facilities, you just had to bite the bullet and go on a fundraising effort and borrow money from the bank, grab the bull by the horns, and build this facility.”
All in all, they raised an astonishing £700,000 (€828,201) to build the gleaming pavilion.
They named it after Des Fox. He was a bookmaker who was in his second spell as chairman of Edendork when he was shot as on his way to the Curragh, his killers stealing €20,000. Fox was a revered figure and ambitious for the club. So the best way to honour him was to go big on the pavilion.
“That facility had been there for 20 years and there’s no point in just matching what we had. We decided this was an opportunity to take our facilities to the next level, so that is what we did,” said Cullen.
At their AGM in late 2017, they announced that they were debt-free.
Of all the clubs in Tyrone, they believe they have the most activity, with 26 teams across men’s football, ladies’ football, and camogie and have recently purchased another parcel of land to use as a training facility, half-a-mile away from the ground.
For them, Sunday was an honour.
“It is fantastic for our club to be able to have the Kingdom here. It was unbelievable,” said Cullen.
“We do get Tyrone championship double-headers now and again. So we have a core group of people who have a template of stuff to work on. We get on the What’sApp groups, your coaches, and everybody pulls in,” Cullen said.
The club brought down the inter-county referee Sean Hurson to conduct a pitch inspection, before a torrential downpour required another inspection, with drainage spikes.
“While all this was going on, we still had to line out the pitch and get the kitchen sorted out and all that kind of stuff,” said Cullen.
In the end, the club had three clubmen who were playing in just their second games ever: Goalkeeper Niall Morgan, midfielder Con Kilpatrick, and man of the match Darren McCurry, who might never have as good a game again.
McCurry was brought up in the house closest to the pitch, and as he told BBC Radio afterwards, when describing a stupendous sideline effort: “I pictured my (late) mum looking out the window, watching me kick it over.
“Everybody talks about the importance of practice, but he practiced and practiced,” adds Mick McGuckin, a long-standing club stalwart and former Derry footballer.
“I had a younger brother managed Edendork about ten years ago now. And Darren was only a child, but my brother couldn’t believe the effort Darren put in when the senior team were doing their training and Darren was kicking the ball from one side of the pitch to the other side of the pitch, over and back, over and back.
“So I am glad to see the fruition of it all because Darren is a great lad," said McGuckin.
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