GAA community is united in grief

THE GAA community was united in grief this week following the news that two of its best known personalities have passed away.

On Monday former Armagh player Kieran McGurk died suddenly at his home in Derrymacash and, in Armagh City, Joe Houlahan, who was a former Armagh goalkeeper and father of ex-Armagh player Gerard Houlahan, passed away.

Well known GAA man Harry Gormley has fond memories of a very young Kieran McGurk when he began his football career.

The former Armagh footballer was managed by the Sarsfields man when he first pulled on the Hoops jersey.

Harry said: “Kieran played right half back for our under 14 team and, even at that early stage, we knew that he would become a very special player.”

Harry Gormley, who is well known throughout Ulster as a keen Scór participant, had a direct bearing on shaping the future of Kieran who he brought to the Sarsfields club at a young age.

Harry takes up the story: “Kieran had been living in Francis Street at the time and I believe that Clan na Gael had their eyes on him.

“Kieran was a good friend of Noel Skelton, the brother of current Sarsfields manager Gerard Skelton and the lads knocked about together at the time. I remember telling Kieran that there was always a place for him at the Sarsfields.”

There was a slight problem, however, for Harry Gormley considering that the young talented footballer then moved to the central Craigavon area and appeared to give his allegiances to Éire Óg

But Harry persisted: “I remember Jimmy Bogle, who was a great man for the football and did a lot of work with Éire Óg, saying to me just leave him where he is. I think Jimmy also saw the talent that Kieran had.”

But the link to Kieran McGurk’s future, and between the Sarsfields club and Éire Óg was not to end there.

Following a spell playing for his native Kildress club, Kieran joined the ‘Trasna outfit and his Senior Championship medal, won in 1990, was made possible thanks to the intervention of the then Éire Óg chairman Frank Hendron who, prior to the formation of the Ógs, was the Sarsfields chairman.

At the end of the 1989 season, the ‘Trasna club applied to step down to the Intermediate Championship, but at the county board meeting Frank Hendron suggested that, considering that the Sarsfields had a big number of county players, their move should be rejected.

As it transpired, Frank Hendron was later thanked for his timely intervention and the Sarsfields made history lifting their first senior title the following year with Kieran McGurk as their captain.

At that year’s awards night, Kieran made a point of thanking Harry Gormley personally for his persistence and how it had led him to that point. Harry recalls the real pride he felt at that time and how Canon Liam Stevenson joked: “I bet you didn’t expect that Harry.”

His former manager Gormley paid a glowing tribute to what he described as “a very special player”.

He said: “Kieran McGurk was one of the all time great Armagh players. He was a great all rounder and was at home whether playing in the half forward or full forward line.”

Whether Kieran would have finished his senior career with either Éire Óg or Clan na Gael before the interjection of Harry Gormley will never be known, but Harry can be happy with his part.

He added: “As a community we are all shocked and saddened by Kieran’s untimely death, and I am just delighted, in some small way, to have been involved in introducing Kieran to what turned out to be a glittering career. He’ll long be remembered.”