Sunday, October 21st, 1956, and a young Arthur McRory is slaving away at the pedals of a heavy bike, climbing from Dungannon to Plunkett Park in Pomeroy to see the Tyrone county final.
When Dr George Sigerson wrote what became the Tyrone GAA ballad, ‘The Mountains of Pomeroy’ it wasn’t titled in irony. Still, it was worth the journey as McRory witnessed the majestic Iggy Jones inspiring those around him to a 2-6 to 1-5 win over Clonoe.
It was the 12th time a team from Dungannon had won the O’Neill Cup. There wasn’t a club in the county to touch them for prestige and success.
“It was easier getting home than it was getting there,” quips McRory.
It planted a seed in his imagination. A year later, he was making his debut alongside Jones, the man believed to have introduced the solo run to Gaelic football.
“I was privileged to play with him,” says McRory.
“Iggy was a once-off. A once in a century type of player. Marvellous skill and his dedication to the club was unreal.”
But the open tap of success ran dry. McRory never even made it to a final as a player. In time he would manage Tyrone to their first two All-Ireland finals in 1986 and 1995, his outwardly gruff persona partially concealing a man in tune with the higher callings of drama festivals, classical music and greyhound meets.
Nothing, though, topped the thrill of playing with Iggy. Those memories have been flooding back this past fortnight, since two of Iggy’s grandsons, Dalaigh and Ryan Jones helped propel the Thomas Clarkes club past Errigal Ciaran in an extra-time thriller screened on RTÉ during a Saturday night prime-time, and into their first Tyrone final since 1986, this Sunday against Trillick.
Talk about coincidences.
That ’86 final was played just one week after the All-Ireland final where Tyrone threw away a lead to Kerry as McRory watched on in despair.
It was hosted by Pomeroy too. The two team captains were Terry Loughran of Dungannon, facing Liam Donnelly of Trillick. Both men are selectors this Sunday. It took Trillick a replay, but they got there in the end.
It was a sore time for Adrian Logan. The ebullient sports presenter for UTV was making his way in the media world and had captained the Clarkes as they rose to Division One.
But with his profile growing and time in front of the camera increasing, spending his Sundays in the fields of Tyrone club football wasn’t an option.
“I wasn’t on that team,” he now rues.
“There were too many boys were queuing up to have a pop at me because I was on TV at the time. They were saying things like, ‘You UTV b*****d’ and I would go into work with a black eye, Terry Smyth (programme editor) looking at me saying, “F*** sake Logie, you need to catch yourself on!”
But he kept up his involvement, on the committee and coaching at underage. When the club needed an MC for an event, he was always there.
An outsized personality, Logan carried outsized ideas for the underage teams he coached in the noughties.
“I was at a function one night and someone asked us were we ever going to bring the Clarkes lads anywhere? I had a friend there with me, Damian Dynes. I said, ‘Funny enough we are bringing the minors to San Francisco next year’, just to have something to say. And Dynes almost threw up in the sink because it was the first he had heard of it. I had just made it up on the spot!”
In the end, they brought a travelling party of 55. His management team of Nigel McBride, Harry Óg McBride and Jimmy McCallion along with current senior team manager Chris Rafferty. Players on that trip include the spine of the current senior team in Kiefer Morgan, Padraig McNulty, Patrick Quinn, David Walsh and Johnny Toal.
Most of them were there when they upset the odds against Trillick in the 2014 Intermediate final. But while Trillick went on to win the senior Championship the year after, Dungannon fell back into Intermediate.
For a few years, they drifted along in Junior football. Competition for players in the area is fierce. Less than three miles separate them from Donaghmore, less than two for Killyman and Edendork. Out the road is Eglish.
There’s a different feel about this team. And to the town. Some years ago, an influx of workers from Portugal and East Timor arrived to work in the local meat plants. The schools in Dungannon have been filled with their children, so the club have successfully brought this new talent pool into their youth system.
In their U16 team, they have six players of East Timor origin playing. Former Clarkes and Tyrone midfielder Audi Hamilton has watched them closely and believes at least two of them will be playing senior Championship football over the next couple of seasons.
“The reality of it is, they love playing for Dungannon too. They got a welcome into our club,” says Hamilton.
2020 has been a year of crushing reality. Imagine some romance this Sunday just to redress the balance.