It has been described as the GAA’s JFK moment - Cormac McAnallen’s sudden passing ten years ago stopped people in their tracks.
The late Tyrone captain, whose anniversary fell on Sunday, was only 24 when he died, after lifting the McKenna Cup just a few days previously. At the time, Tyrone were a team on top of the world.
The shock of his untimely passing prompted solidarity from across the religious and sporting divide in Northern Ireland.
Ten years on, and thanks to a heroic effort from his family and supporters, Cormac’s legacy shines on in so many ways.
The Cormac Trust has helped to install defibrillators in every club in Tyrone and has now reached into Armagh and Fermanagh, not just GAA clubs but sports clubs too.
The GAA has played its part too, offering subsidised defibrillators. As many as 1,500 units have been supplied at costs ranging from €850.
His brother Donal reflected on the progress that has been made in raising awareness of sudden cardiac death.
“Nothing will ever replace Cormac, but there is a certain sense of fulfilment in knowing that his death has brought about a complete change in sport towards the treatment of sudden cardiac events”, he said.
“It was a watershed moment, and locally and nationally, the scene has improved immeasurably over the past ten years, and the presence of defibrillators at so many club grounds is testament to that.
“The changes have also come about not just because of our campaigning, but through individual and statutory initiatives, and while there is some way to go, the improvements have given us consolation.” Donal revealed that the Cormac Trust will be providing a new postgraduate fellowship worth £25,000 to fund further research into the causes of sudden cardiac deaths in the young.
Further details will be announced at a special memorial event entitled ‘Comóradh Chormaic’, which will take place at the Armagh City Hotel on 21 March.
As well as remembering the man himself and others who died suddenly, the event will reflect on a decade of progress for various commemorative projects.
Legendary broadcaster Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, a Patron of the Cormac Trust, will be a guest speaker. Several more guests whose lives have been saved or changed by the provision of defibrillators and cardiac screening over the last ten years will also share their inspirational stories.
People who have made extraordinary contributions to the charity work and fundraising, as well as projects such as Campa Chormaic summer schemes and Páirc Chormaic at Eglish, will be honoured on the night.
Campa Chormaic will also be extending its schemes this year with renewed vigour, and there will also be a special memorial lecture in St Patrick’s Grammar School, Armagh on April 15.
“This event is our way of looking back on all that has been achieved over the last ten years and thanking some of the many people who have done great things to honour Cormac’s memory,” said Cormac’s father and Trust chairman Brendan McAnallen. “But the focus is also on the future and the purpose of continuing this legacy to the benefit of the community.”
Tyrone player Ryan McMenamin also paid tribute to Cormac’s legacy.
“He was constantly looking to improve himself. When he did get moved into full-back he was always coming asking for information,” he said. “He had a meticulous mind. ‘Can you explain that in more detail?’ he would ask. You would have to go into the detail.
“He would still be playing. I have no doubt. His love for the game, the way that he went out to prepare, lifestyle-wise, everything was right. In the last five or six years, with preparations even more advanced Cormac would have embraced that, he would have loved it and taken it on.”