The Artful Manager

Meet the man who has managed Tyrone Gaelic football teams for four decades

Born in Dungannon in 1940, Art McRory’s great sporting love from an early age was Gaelic football. He was inspired as a teenager by the heroic achievements of the Tyrone senior team of the 1950s who were the first team from the county to win an Ulster title.

McRory played for the Tyrone minor team in the 1960s before progressing to the senior side in the same decade. He occupied every defensive position during a long barren spell for Tyrone football in the 1960s. Despite playing for his club from 1958 to 1977 Art won no major honours at either club or county level.

It was during his time at St Joseph’s Teacher Training College in Belfast that he became interested in coaching. He enlisted on the Gaelic Football coaching course in County Louth in 1964, and having developed considerable coaching expertise as a result, became a central part of the management team which helped the Tyrone minor football team win Ulster minor titles in 1971, 1973, 1975 and 1976.

Tom Markham cup success

In 1973 Tyrone went on to win the Tom Markham cup when they defeated Kildare in the All Ireland final, 2-11 to 1-6. McRory, who was also an interprovincial basketball player with Ulster as well as a former Irish schools international basketball coach, was inevitably asked to take charge of the Tyrone senior team. This he did for three terms, from 1980 to 1987, 1992 to 1996 and 2000 to 2002.

During the first period he guided Tyrone to two Ulster titles. In 1984, Tyrone won their first Ulster title in 11 years when they defeated Armagh 0-15 to 1-7 in the final, before losing rather tamely to Dublin in the All Ireland semi-final. In 1986, Tyrone and McRory won their second provincial title of the decade defeating Down in the final by four points.

So near yet so far

In the 1986 All Ireland semi-final a very impressive all round display enabled Tyrone to overcome Galway by 1-12 to 1-9. Tyrone were in their first All Ireland senior final. McRory prepared his team diligently, putting the emphasis on mental fitness, and impressing upon his players that they weren’t going to Croke Park to simply make up the numbers against Kerry.

This mental fortitude served Tyrone well for two-thirds of the final, but a missed penalty by Kevin McCabe in the second half meant that Kerry won with eight points to spare at the end of an absorbing contest. After a heavy defeat by Armagh in the Ulster semi-final the following year, McRory decided to take a break from Gaelic football management.

In 1992, he re-entered the fray, taking on the Tyrone managership once again. However, it was not until 1995 that the team managed to get out of Ulster. Despite having two men sent off in the semi-final against Derry, a magnificent second half display of possession football enabled Tyrone to defeat their near rivals from the other side of the Sperrins. In the final against Cavan, Tyrone won easily by 2-13 to 0-10.

In the All Ireland semi-final against Galway, the Connacht side dominated for three quarters of the game, but thanks to an impeccable display by Peter Canavan, who scored 1-7, Tyrone emerged winners 1-13 to 0-13. Tyrone had to begin the final without injured star forward Adrian Cush, and despite the best efforts of Canavan a controversial refereeing decision in second half stoppage time meant that Dublin were victorious.

In the 1996 season Tyrone came back under McRory to become the first team since Derry in 1975-76 to win consecutive Ulster titles, defeating Down in the final. The All Ireland semi-final pitted Tyrone against Meath, who were surprise Leinster Champions. This game was to prove a hugely disappointing occasion for the northern county as a more physically determined Meath curbed the Tyrone running game, winning by 2-15 to 0-12. A few months later McRory relinquished his job as Tyrone manager.

Art’s third opportunity

Tyrone was in crisis in 1999 following the shock departure of Danny Ball, and Art was asked to form a managerial partnership with his former player Eugene McKenna. The four years out of management had only whetted Art’s appetite for success, and in 2001 Tyrone won yet another Ulster championship title under his guidance.

An All Ireland quarter final against old rivals Derry beckoned in Clones, and on this occasion Tyrone were defeated by five points in a dull contest. Hopes were high in 2002 that Tyrone would make the long awaited breakthrough for All Ireland glory. The season began brightly, with Tyrone defeating Cavan to win the National Football League.

Tyrone’s first major test in the Ulster championship that year resulted in a draw with Armagh. Unfortunately for McRory, Tyrone was narrowly defeated in the replay and suffered a shock defeat by underdogs Sligo in the All Ireland qualifiers. This particular defeat in Croke Park was to prove Art McRory’s last game in charge of Tyrone to date.

Only time will tell if Art will get another call to manage Tyrone, but he is undoubtedly one of the most successful Gaelic football managers the county has ever had. His dedication to Tyrone football is unquestionable since he has devoted at least five years in each of the past four decades managing a Tyrone Gaelic football team at some level.