LIAM O’Neill remembers 1974 with particular pride. It was, as he remarks himself, a very good year for him.
In March he played for Omagh CBS as they captured the MacRory Cup title for the first time and then was a member of the Dromore team which won the Tyrone Intermediate title, winning a place in the senior ranks that the St Dympna’s have never since relinquished.
Now half a century on, he has great memories of his involvement on the CBS team, and their route to that famous victory. He doesn’t dwell too much on the passage of time, but was keen to organise a reunion for the surviving former players five years ago.
“There’s two medals that I keep in a special place. The MacRory Cup one from 1974 is one and the Intermediate medal is the other,” he says.
“We’ve lost Tommy McGarvey, Barry Lagan and Pete Fox from those 1973 and 1974 MacRory teams. That’s one of the reasons why I got the ball-rolling on our reunion in 2019. So what if time passes. We’ve got to take the positives from being involved in those teams. Football wasn’t as big at the Brothers back then. My only involvement with a school team prior to the McRory was probably a Corn Na nOg side. It wasn’t like there was five or six years of football for all those players.”
Liam’s defensive displays were significant during those years. He marked future UTV presenter, Adrian Logan, when they played St Patrick’s Dungannon and then future Northern Ireland Soccer star, Jimmy Cleary in both the 1974 MacRory drawn and replayed final.
“Bro Canton and Terry McGurk were in charge of the team. We went through the group stages losing to St Michael’s. I lost an important lesson when the ball was flicked over my head for Jimmy to score the crucial goal. I marked him three times that year – what a footballer and man he was,” he added.
Unsurprisingly, Liam has few memories of their next meeting against the Fermanagh side in the MacRory Final. That game finished 0-6 apiece, setting up a replay which provided a big 6000 attendance at Lisnaskea with great value for money.
Pete Fox got the Omagh goal in a 1-11 to 0-12 victory. It was their first ever in the competition, and very significant considering how the school had largely struggled to make its mark for so many years beforehand.
“I have good memories of that replayed final. It was a lovely day, there was a great atmosphere. One memory that stands out for me was being advised beforehand on how to deal with the attacking threat of Jimmy Cleary. He was a real handful and everything worked out alright, but there were times when Colm McAleer saved my beacon. Anytime Jimmy escaped my grasp, Colm was there to intercept and close him down.
“We were under a lot of pressure near the end and you’d expect that in a game of that nature. Eugene McKenna, Colm McAleer, Pete Fox, Paul Donnelly, Gerry McCallan, Barry Campbell and Tony Marlowe all played for Tyrone minors. We had a tight-knit bunch of players.
“It’s lovely to have those memories of that time, even though a couple of the players have passed away. That was a really vital victory for the school, Two years earlier Joe McGrade was the captain of a MacLarnon winning team, Omagh had been knocking on the door for a few years.
“The school went a lot of years after that without making the same impact in the competition. St Michael’s seemed to push on more effectively while we sort of fell asleep.”
Liam shares another honour with Martin McCarron, who was also a member of that 1974 side. Both had sons – Sean ‘Snowy’ and Cathal – who also represent Omagh CBS with distinction in the MacRory and Hogan Cups.
As for this Sunday’s final clash against St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon, Liam is well aware of how history also beckons the current generation of players.
“Our team also got to two finals in a row in 1973 and 1974 and now the present side can make history by winning a second in a row for the first time,” he adds.
“It’s lovely to know that we set the ball rolling. 1974 provided the school with a real confidence booster. The players can build on their achievements with confidence. Schools football is great for the confidence of the players. Being a winner is better than being a loser.”
On Sunday, this competition will mark its 100th anniversary with a Tyrone derby clash. Half a century ago, Omagh CBS won the 50th title and now have the Centenary MacRory Cup beckoning them just as in 1974 when Liam and his teammates starred so historically.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere
SUBSCRIBE TO CURRENT EDITION TODAYand get access to our archive editions dating back to 2007
(CLICK ON THE TITLE BELOW TO SUBSCRIBE)