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New footage reveals roots of GAA’s biggest rivalry

18 August 2009

GAA fans around the world now have the chance to watch the earliest known footage of a clash between two of the sport’s great rivals, Armagh and Tyrone.

The match, held to mark the opening of Orchard County club Maghery’s new football field in August 1956, drew thousands of people from the neighbouring counties.

The film originally belonged to a curate, Fr William McKnight, before being transferred onto video in the 1980s.

And the fascinating footage is now available to everyone on Maghery Sean MacDermotts’s website thanks to club man Kevin Corr, who spent hours meticulously editing it into short segments.

It shows crowds lining the pitch for a match that took on extra significance as it came shortly after the Red Hands had claimed their first ever Ulster senior football championship.

Many of the Armagh players were also veterans of their county’s first Anglo-Celt triumphs in 1950 and 1953 and the game featured legendary names including Iggy Jones, Malachy McEvoy and Frankie Donnelly.

Two of the opposing players recently got a chance to watch the footage together after broadcaster Jerome Quinn interviewed them.

Tyrone’s teenage captain for the day, Jody O’Neill, remembered a bruising loss despite it being only a challenge match.

“Oh yes, it was a sore one alright. The game was played with championship endeavour. We had a full-strength team out and losing was hard to take,” he said.

Armagh’s full-back for the day, Jack Brattan, was able to pinpoint the Orchard County’s motivations for the game.

“I remember there was a huge crowd because there was a lot at stake. The infamous ‘Battle of Armagh’ had happened only the previous year and Tyrone were just back from a trip to America.

“I can clearly recall their players arriving for the game in Maghery carrying PA [Pan American] bags and wearing baseball caps and dark glasses. We were very determined to beat them”.

Unfortunately, the catch-and-kick style of football on view might come as a shock to fans used to today’s fast-paced and highly skilled game.

Mr O’Neill admitted his disappointment at the standard of the players from his era.

“I thought we were better players than the film portrays. It reminds me of school-yard football – a fairly pedestrian affair. The game has sky-rocketed since then,’’ he said.

“We had great players in those days but they wouldn’t count in today’s game – it’s like the Olympics with huge advances every 10 years or so, thanks to scientific techniques and what have you.”

However, despite any tactical limitations the footage remains a fascinating insight into one of the north’s most enduring sporting rivalries – the two counties went on to meet in the 2003 All-Ireland final and have shared the last 11 Ulster championships between them.

“That match was important because it was so intense and the huge crowd and the effort made to video it set up the Armagh-Tyrone rivalry,” Mr Brattan said.

As well as the challenge match, GAA fans have an opportunity to view some unique footage that highlights the importance of clubs in their communities.

Maghery Sean MacDermott’s have prepared clips of Fr McKnight helping to purchase the club field and the subsequent development of it.

The opening of the pitch was an important event in the area and this is reflected in film of an energetic Ceili Mor and a community sports day.

After the game hundreds of people can be seen making their way to the old Maghery ferry to cross the Blackwater River.

Aside from the football action, the footage is also a fascinating look at life in Ireland in the 1950s.

In the GAA’s 125th anniversary year, Maghery Sean MacDermott’s now hope to remind their members of their predecessors’ pride in their sport and community.

- The videos are available at http://www.maghery.com/video

Irish News 17/08/09


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