Cormac McAnallen, captain of reigning All-Ireland football champions Tyrone, died suddenly today.
The 24-year-old teacher from Eglish, County Tyrone, was found dead at home where he lived with his parents.
His death has plunged a stunned GAA community into mourning.
Mickey Harte, who appointed McAnallen captain this season, said: “We are completely shattered, absolutely devastated.
“He gave so much to Tyrone. He was a born leader.”
McAnallen played a central part in Tyrone’s historic All-Ireland victory when they defeated champions Armagh at Croke Park, Dublin, in September.
His performances had earned him selection for the current GAA All Stars panel and he had been marked out as one of the top names in the sport for years to come.
A friend of his, Paul McGirr, from Dromore, Co Down, once played in the same minor team but died tragically some years ago.
Tyrone’s victory last year was partly dedicated to McGirr.`
Just days before his shock death McAnallen attended the wedding of his team mate Gavin Devlin.
UTV’s sports editor Adrian Logan, a close friend, said the death had left Tyrone GAA fans numbed.
“They are viewing this as a death in the family,” he said.
“Tyrone is in a state of complete and utter devastation and in the aftermath of the championship victory it’s total heartbreak.
“He was a brilliant footballer and a wonderful person, highly intelligent, very motivated, a deep thinker and a leader of men.
“When former captain Peter Canavan made that moving speech at Croke Park it was Cormac McAnallen who helped him prepare for it.
“And it was him who was standing at his side to make sure nobody, including the memory of Paul McGirr, was left out.”
Taoiseach bertie Ahern led the tributes today, describing Mr McAnallen as a wonderful young man and said he would be missed by the entire country.
In a message which encapsulated the shock of the nation, Mr Ahern extended the Government’s sympathy to the family of the talented GAA star.
“I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the untimely death during the night of Cormac McAnallen,” he said.
“I had the pleasure of meeting Cormac recently and he was, as all who knew him will agree, a wonderful young man.
“He will be deeply missed by his family and friends, his county and his sport.
“On behalf of myself and my colleagues in Government, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his fiance, his family, his team mates and the people of Tyrone at this most difficult time.”