Barry O’Hagan was part of a star-studded minor that reached the All-Ireland final, and went on to soldier with the Orchard County for 10 years.
Moving to Donegal saw his county career cut short, but he was still able to give his full commitment to his club Clan na Gael.
And all these years later, he helps his son make the same commitment and is proud that Brendan can wear the Lurgan clubs jersey!
When did you make your Armagh debut and what do you remember from that game?
I made my debut in the second half of the league in ’93, that was the days when the league was played before and after Christmas. I was brought into the panel along with Paul McGrane, straight after the All-Ireland minor final in ’92, and then I made my debut against Kerry. What was memorable about it, maybe not the performance, we got beat by three points, but Eoin Liston, ‘The Bomber’, had made a comeback for Kerry. At that stage of my career my claim to fame was I’d shared a pitch with ‘The Bomber’ Liston.
Your last game for Armagh was the 2003 All-Ireland final, what made you retire from county football so early?
Because of where I was living, I’d been living it Donegal about 18 months at that stage. I was just about to turn 30 and it’s probably one of the biggest regrets of my career. I had a full time job, a young family and we were training in Shelagh in County Louth at that time. It was taking me two hours and 45 minutes to get to training and two hours, 45 to get home. We were training three times during the week and then at the weekend, and I’d have two or three gym session to do during the week. I felt very weak and I didn’t feel I contributed much. I was actually in good shape, physically, I was probably lighter that year than I ever was in my county career but there was just something missing and I think it was the travelling.
Did you continue playing club football?
I played away with Clan na Gael up until 2008. I was player-manager for a number of years, we got to the county final and won a couple of leagues. I took a year out and then played a bit of Junior football in the village I live in, in Donegal, for Naomh Colmcille and we won a Junior Championship the first year I played, we got to the semi final of the Intermediate the following year. Then my cousin Kevin, who was over the Clans team, asked me back to play a bit so I came back and played in 2012/13 and played for a season and a half.
What is your best memory of your Armagh career?
A lot of people probably think it was the year we won the All-Ireland but my most enjoyable time playing for Armagh was the four or five months leading up to the All-Ireland minor final (1992). Even though we lost the match against Meath, I just have great memories from that summer. Big Liam McCorry, from St Paul’s, a fantastic coach, great backroom team and a great set of lads, if you look at the team that went on to play county football, Andy McCann, Aidan O’Rourke, Justin McNulty, Diarmaid Marsden, Paul McGrane, Myself, Des Mackin and there might have been another couple. We had a great summer, and we won the minor league. The result (in the All-Ireland final) wasn’t nice at the time but looking back, the four or five months were probably my most enjoyable time playing football.
What was the biggest regret of your career?
My biggest regret looking back now, would be quitting too early for Armagh. It might have been better to take a year out and then give it a lash again, if I had of been living closer to home I would definitely played on for a number of years. Club wise, as I said as was player-manager in 2006 and I got sent off in the county final, wrongly. I was sent off after 17 minutes and the game was over, going down to 14 men against such a great Cross team. The Crossmaglen player stopped me getting on a 1-2, I brushed him out of the way, and he went down holding his face. Probably a bit of karma there, I should have been sent off in the semi final against Killeavy, I caught somebody with my elbow and was lucky to get away with a yellow card. I’m not saying we would have won the game but I was playing really well that year, the team was flying and it still wrangles with me 14 years on, more so the way it happened, but I can have no complains because I could have been sent off in the semi final.
The Armagh team you played on, should they have won more All-Irelands?
If you go back to 2000, we had Kerry beat a couple of times in the first game and in the replay. 2001, we had Galway beat; both those teams went on to win the All-Ireland. ’03, Tyrone deserved it on the day but I felt maybe our management probably put too much pressure on ourselves and focused on ‘two in a row’ and being a great team and being remembered. The pressure was all on Tyrone because they hadn’t won one and I think we got that wrong and we didn’t relax enough and I think our performance that day showed that. I suppose if there hadn’t of been a backdoor, that Armagh team probably would have won another one. If you look at that great Armagh team in ’05, Tyrone beat them in the semi, they had put Tyrone away in Ulster, if there was no backdoor, Armagh could have won it. I think the backdoor definitely went against us in a number of years but looking back over it, I was watching an interview with Tony Scullion, and Derry only won one All-Ireland when there was no backdoor, if there had of been a backdoor they might have won more. Donegal the same in ’92, Down were lucky enough to win two and Tyrone won three, two through the backdoor. A fairer reflection of that Armagh team would have been two All-Irelands. You’re grateful for one but there was a couple of years that it slipped away.
Are you still involved with football?
I’m not involved now, I don’t have time. I spend most of my time driving my young fella about, he’s on the Donegal underage teams and he’s actually playing for Clan na Gael, his team didn’t field in Donegal this year so he transferred there. So I don’t have time to be involved with anything at the minute, apart from being a taxi driver for him.
It must be nice for your son to be back playing for Clan an Gael?
It’s fantastic, he went back last year and he played on the Clan na Gael under 16 team that got to the Ulster Final, he was playing centre half back for them. They have a good young crop coming through, Clans are very strong at underage so you’d hope they get a lot of those boys through and start challenging at Senior again. It’s a bit of a commitment but the season is from April to September in underage so I’m happy enough to bring him up. Football is his number two, his number one sport is boxing and my daughter Lauren is in to her music.
What do you miss most about playing the game?
A lot of people will tell you they are glad when their career is over, but I played to I was 40 and played a bit of reserve even at 41, 42 and I would still play if I was able. I just miss going out on to the pitch and being able to play. I suppose what I miss more, from you’re 16 or 17 years of age, you’ve a focus, you need to get to the gym, you need to go for a run, need to practice frees, need to watch what you’re eating. Even when I was playing a bit of Junior football I was still looking after myself and had a focus around training to try and win a Championship or win a game. That’s probably the thing I miss the most, having that structure and that focus on a target, both that, and actually just getting out and playing. Even in the muck and the rain, I miss that more than playing big games, I just miss being able to go out and play the game.