Nation pays tribute to sporting hero

Ireland is in mourning today as the impact of the death of one of its brightest sports stars hit home.

Ireland is in mourning today as the impact of the death of one of its brightest sports stars hit home.

From Malin Head in north Donegal to Mizen Head in Co Cork, the reaction to the sudden death of Tyrone GAA star Cormac McAnallen at the age of just 24 was one of disbelief.

The shock passing of the quietly spoken teacher and prodigiously talented Gaelic footballer touched all spheres of Irish life.

Tributes were forthcoming from all – the Government, the GAA, his team manager, fellow players, politicians and colleagues at the secondary school in which he taught.

Universally described as a gentleman and role model for young people across the country, his death sparked a massive public outpouring of grief.

The captain of the All-Ireland Football Champions died at home in Eglish, Co Tyrone, where he lived with his parents, but his passing was mourned much further afield.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern led the tributes: “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 fiancee, his family, his team mates and the people of Tyrone at this most difficult time.”

Mickey Harte, the manager of Tyrone, said: “There are no words we can say to do justice to the person Cormac McAnallen was. He was a real friend and a gentleman.

“People talk about role models and they misuse the word. If you were looking for a real role model, you look no further than Cormac McAnallen. I just can’t believe it.”

Margaret Martin, the principal of St Catherine’s College where Mr McAnallen taught history and politics, said: “He was an icon, a role model and I cannot understand what has happened.

"There is a sense of national loss and I think he epitomised, for me, someone who was committed not only to education but to Irish culture and gaelic games.

“We are mourning the loss of someone who epitomised all that is good, all that is vibrant, and all that is forward-thinking on this island of Ireland.”

GAA President Sean Kelly said: “Cormac exemplified everything that was good in a gaelic footballer and human being. He had that great and rare gift of greatness, allied to humility.

“Cormac’s achievements, his modesty and unassuming nature endeared him to everybody and would be a monument to his memory forever.”

Sports Minister John O’Donoghue said: “He was a great footballer and captain and was an outstanding role model for all sportspeople.

“His death at such a young age is a monumental loss to his club, his county and to gaelic football. To his family and his Tyrone teammates I extend my deepest sympathy on their great loss.”

A spokesman for the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) described Mr McAnallen’s career as “consistently brilliant“.

“His commanding competitive presence and his friendship off the field will be sorely missed by all who had the good fortune to cross his path in life.”

Michael Greenan, the chairman of the GAA Ulster Council, said: “Nobody can really get to terms with what has happened, its totally unexplainable.

“He was a fine lad and one of nature’s gentlemen.”

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said: “Cormac McAnallen was an inspirational young man who had achieved so much in his short life to date. His untimely passing has robbed this island of one of our greatest talents.

“On behalf of Sinn Féin and the three MPs who represent Co Tyrone, Martin McGuinness, Pat Doherty and Michelle Gildernew, I would wish to offer my sincere sympathies to the McAnallen family and to Cormac’s friends, team mates and to all Gaels in Tyrone at this most difficult time.”

SDLP councillor Joe Byrne said: “Not only was he one of the most gifted players to play Gaelic Football but in his work as a teacher he was respected and admired by all who knew him.

“He was an inspiration and a hero to thousands of young people, not only in Tyrone, but across the island. His passing has left us all the poorer.”

Micheal Ó Muircheartaigh, veteran RTE sports commentator, said: “Cormac was the type of person that you’d like to meet anywhere, any day of the week and he was one of the players that I always spoke to when I went into a Tyrone dressing room.

“He was great company, great to meet and the one thing that came across always – he was very anxious to help anybody in anything they asked of him and his heart totally was involved in football.”

UTV sports editor and close friend Adrian Logan 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.”

Noel Doran, the editor of the Belfast-based Irish News newspaper, said: “In terms of a sporting figure in Tyrone, he’s a bigger name than Damien Duff or Robbie Keane or Brian O’Driscoll, it’s at that sort of level.

“People are just going to find this almost impossible to comprehend.”

The National Football League match between Tyrone and Cork, scheduled for Omagh next Sunday, has been postponed, while there will be a minute’s silence at all GAA games and functions countrywide this weekend.

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