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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 December 2004, 17:59 GMT
McAnallen death overshadows year
By John Haughey
BBC Sport

Cormac McAnallen had been given the Tyrone captaincy in January
The main GAA memory that will linger from 2004 is the sense of disbelief that one felt at the news of Cormac McAnallen's sudden death in March.

Less than six weeks earlier, the gifted Eglish clubman had been appointed as Tyrone skipper.

Post-mortems later revealed that the 24-year-old had died because of a viral infection in his heart.

Doctors said that it was a rare condition which affected about one in 100,000 people.

Huge crowds turned up at the footballer's wake in the family home in Benburb and Irish sport then united at the funeral to pay its respects to a great athlete.

Amid their grief, the McAnallen family showed remarkable dignity which continued right throughout the year as the GAA made determined efforts to make fitting memorials to the late footballer.

These included naming the new International Rules trophy, the Cormac McAnallen Cup.

The end of the year saw the setting up of the Cormac Trust which aims to provide defibrillators for sports clubs in Tyrone and raise awareness of heart problems in young sportspeople.

On the field, Kerry footballers and Cork hurlers atoned after falling short in recent seasons to claim the Sam Maguire and Liam McCarthy Cups.

Under new boss Jack O'Connor, Kerry adopted a more robust brand of football which enabled the county to complete a clean sweep of Allianz National League, Munster title and then their 33rd All-Ireland Senior title.

The year had started in apparently disarray for the Erne County

Mayo went into the All-Ireland decider with high hopes of claiming Sam for the first time since 1951 but John Maughan's side flopped embarrassingly as Kerry ran out 1-20 2-9 winners in a scoreline which didn't indicate the ease of the Kingdom's victory.

In truth, a wonderfully vibrant Fermanagh side should have been Kerry's final opponents but Charlie Mulgrew's youthful side had let Mayo off the hook in the drawn semi-final and the replay a week later.

However, Fermanagh followers had much to be proud of after a remarkable rollercoaster of a season for the squad.

The year had started in apparent disarray for the Erne County with several regulars opting out of the squad.

One disaffected player, Ryan Keenan, described the Mulgrew set-up as a "shambles" in advance of the Ulster Championship opener against Tyrone.

However, the young Fermanagh side were unlucky to lose against Tyrone and went on to defeat Meath, Cork, Donegal and, memorably, Armagh on their way to the All-Ireland Semi-Finals.

The year ended splendidly for the Ernesiders with Barry Owens and Martin McGrath named on the Vodafone All Star team and goalkeeper Niall Tinney picking up the GAA's young footballer of the year honour.

Of the Ulster counties, Armagh and Donegal will look upon 2004 with a sense of frustration.

Charlie Mulgrew talks to All Star full-back Barry Owens
Charlie Mulgrew's Fermanagh played great football in 2004

Armagh produced probably the display of the year to outclass Donegal in the Ulster Final before being ambushed by the Ernemen.

Donegal had been talked of as genuine contenders for Sam after their provincial semi-final demolition of Tyrone but their season ended in recrimination with the Ulster decider defeat followed by a narrow qualifier reverse against Fermanagh.

By all accounts, certain Donegal players had responded to their Ulster Final defeat by indulging in some bar-room high jinks which did not go down well with the county's loyal supporters.

Derry, meanwhile, claimed an unlikely place in the All-Ireland semi-finals via the qualifiers after regrouping from a heavy Ulster Championship defeat by Tyrone.

Mickey Moran's side relied heavily on the attacking scoring ability of Enda Muldoon and Paddy Bradley and the former picked up a deserved All Star.

Tyrone minors salvaged something from a difficult year for the county by picking up the All-Ireland title with a 0-12 to 0-10 final victory which ended hopes of a double for Kerry.

In hurling, it was another disappointing year for Ulster.

Dunloy endured another All-Ireland Club Final defeat when they were well-beaten by Cork club Newtownshandrum on St Patrick's Day.

They club then suffered tragedy two weeks later when player Frankie McMullan was found dead at his home.

On the intercounty front, Antrim boss Dinny Cahill tried to talk up his team in the press but, in truth, they never looked like making an impact in the summer.

Rule 42 seems certain to dominate the next Annual Congress in April

The Saffrons needed a replay to beat a game but limited Down side in the Ulster Final.

To put it mildly, Cahill was then extremely unwise to rubbish the talents of Brian Corcoran and Niall McCarthy before the All-Ireland Quarter-Final against Cork.

The fired-up Rebels routed Antrim by 22 points in the clash and went on to win the All-Ireland decider by beating three-in-a-row seeking Kilkenny 0-17 to 0-9.

On the club scene in the autumn, Crossmaglen claimed another Ulster football title by beating Mayobridge 0-14 to 0-9 in the decider.

However, the victory was overshadowed for many by a dreadful Francie Bellew challenge which left Mickey Linden concussed and minus his front teeth.

With Dunloy beaten in the Antrim Championship, Belfast outfit Rossa defeated Down side Ballygalget in the provincial club decider and like Crossmaglen will try their luck at All-Ireland level in the spring.

Away from the field of play, the debate over Rule 42 rumbled on and the issue seems certain to dominate the next Annual Congress in April.

With Lansdowne Road likely to be out of bounds for international soccer and rugby from 2006 onwards because of redevelopment work, informed speculation suggests that the GAA is likely to make an historic change on the Croke Park issue.

But there's no guarantee that it will happen at the next Congress and it's possible that the issue could be dragged out until 2006.




SEE ALSO
GAA mourns McAnallen death
02 Mar 04 |  Gaelic Games
Kerry crush Mayo
26 Sep 04 |  Gaelic Games
Cork are hurling champions
12 Sep 04 |  Gaelic Games


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