Mourners bid farewell to a rare footballing talent

EIGHT days ago Cormac McAnallen attended the wedding of his Tyrone team-mate Gavin Devlin, in the company of his fiancee Aisling Moore.

According to friends, he talked excitedly about his future marriage plans. Yesterday, neighbours, friends and the community at large joined with the Tyrone team and management and the GAA fraternity in their thousands to bid farewell to Cormac, described as an iconic figure who had nourished people with his goodness.

The tiny parish church was packed to capacity, hundreds more watched the funeral mass in St Patrick's GFC hall on closed-circuit television and a huge crowd of mourners gathered in the environs of the little chapel.

On the wall outside the club's pavilion, a banner erected last September wishing Cormac luck in the All-Ireland final was still to be seen. On an inside wall, another celebrated Tyrone's historic victory, praising him for 'doing his club and county proud.'

It was all so poignant on an occasion that could have been celebrated as a reunion of friends, team-mates, opponents and admirers, but for the sad fact that people were saying their last good-bye to a rare footballing talent who also touched so many people through his warm personality, his modesty and his integrity.

The funeral, presided over by Archbishop Sean Brady was the culmination of a traumatic week for his parents, brothers and fiancee since his death early on Tuesday morning from a rare viral infection of the heart.

It was estimated that up to 20,000 people attended his wake in the family home over the four days. Members of the St Patrick's club, assisted by helpers from outside ferried mourners day and night from central locations to the end of the lane leading to the family residence.

And, through the words of assistant manager Fr Gerard McAleer at the Mass, they, along with neighbours, members of the local Protestant community and the business community, were thanked for their work.

The Armagh team and management attended the Mass and afterwards shared a guard of honour along the funeral route with other groups.

President McAleese telephoned Cormac's parents, Brendan and Bridget, to express her sympathy, as did Archbishop Eames, the head of the Church of Ireland. President McAleese was represented yesterday by her aide de camp Captain Sue Ramsbottom. Minister for Sport John O'Donoghue represented the Taoiseach and the GAA delegation was headed by president Sean Kelly and several former presidents along with provincial chairmen Nickey Brennan, Micheal Greenan and Sean Fogarty.

The President of the Irish Football Association John Boyce, attended the funeral, while a message of sympathy was received from the Omagh-based Linfield Supporters Club.

Some of the country's best known Gaelic footballers visited Eglish over the last few days, among them Seamus Moynihan who had roomed with Cormac in Australia in 2001 Darragh Ó Sé (accompanied by Kerry manager Jack O'Connor), Sean Marty Lockhart, Dessie Dolan, Ciaran McManus, Colin Corkery, Anthony Lynch and Graham Canty. Along with John O'Keeffe, selectors Matt Connor, Peter McGinnity, team 'runner' Ger Power and team doctor Con Murphy, the latter group had toured Australia with Cormac last October.

In the church, his Irish number 21 jersey was one of four proudly displayed.

"I had to privilege of knowing him and seeing him at his bet best in his early days. It's something I will always treasure," said Fr McAleer.

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