A moving tribute was paid to the late Donal Donnelly at his funeral today (Mon) in Christ The King Church, Strathroy.
Chief concelebrant Fr Brian Darcy, who served as altar boy at Donal and his wife Bridie’s wedding, spoke glowingly of the former St. Enda’s and Tyrone legend who passed away on Saturday at the age of 82, highlighting his vast contribution to the GAA and education in Omagh.
Fr Brian, who boarded as a young boy in the Donnelly home in Castle Street while he was receiving his early education at the former CBS Primary School, said it was thanks to the Donnellys that he gained his love for Gaelic football. As a young teacher at the CBS Primary, it was Donal who helped Fr Brian pass the 11-plus exam.
“Donal was a man of great foresight who knew how to get the best out of people. I have some very special memories from the Donnelly home but what was most special was to see great players like Donal and his brother Sean, Thady Turbett and the late Paddy Corey, Jackie Taggart and Harry Scully training in the Brothers Park throughout the week.
“As a young boy, it was my job to fetch the ball from the bushes when it went out of play. I remember Thady Turbett having possibly the biggest hands a man could have and I was in awe of his ability to pick up a large, soggy pig-skin football with one hand. It was amazing. All of these men were incredible, and their training consisted of backs against forwards and they cut lumps out of one another,” said an emotional Fr. Brian.
As a minor Donal won an All-Ireland medal with Tyrone in 1948 along with three other St. Enda’s players including his brother Sean, Jimmy McGahran and Eddie Knox.
Fr Brian spoke of watching his ‘teacher’ training on the Brothers Park and then playing in Clones in the Ulster final of 1956 when Tyrone made the breakthrough to win their first senior championship.
“That was my first ever trip to Clones and it was special seeing those same men – Donal, Jackie Taggart, Paddy Corey and Thady Turbett – helping Tyrone to beat Cavan,” added Fr. Brian.
That game in 1956 was a special occasion for the Donnellys as Donal’s two brothers Sean and Hugh were also on the panel. Donal scored a goal in the 3-5 to 0-4 victory.
In 1957, Donal led his Tyrone colleagues to a second successive Ulster final win. It was also the year Tyrone travelled to New York but sadly Donal broke his arm in the All-Ireland semi-final to Louth, an injury that was to keep him out of St. Enda’s fifth county final win.
Despite being ruled out of that game through injury, Donal, along with Thady Turbett, went on to earn a special place in Tyrone GAA history by lifting six championship medals, the first coming in 1948 the same year he won an All-Ireland minor medal. He along with his brother Sean, Donal McSorley and Thady, were also part of an historic three in a row team in 1952, 1953 and 1954. His last championship medal was won in 1963 and just last month members of that winning team of 50 years ago reunited at a special celebration in the clubrooms. Sadly Donal was too ill to attend.
Donal’s contribution to St. Enda’s was immense. Off the field he held various administrative roles incuding chairman in 1956 and 1960. He was also instrumental in securing the grounds on the Gortin Road which was to be eventually developed as Healy Park.
In 1972 and 1973 he also guided Tyrone minors to All-Ireland finals. The 1972 side included St. Enda’s men Oliver O’Neill, Justin O’Doherty, Tommy Campbell and Jimmy McDaid but unfortunately they lost in the decider. The following year – 25 years after Donal himself played on the 1948 winning Tyrone minor team – he helped to bring the Markem Cup back to Tyrone again. Later in the 80s, Donal became Tyrone senior manager and helped to pave the way for the Sam Maguire titles of the past decade.
Fr Brian went on to pay tribute to Donal’s ‘hollistic’ educational qualities, with his astuteness and desire to see every boy achieve their best, making him a highly successful teacher and headmaster.
“Donal never demanded you to be the best, he only asked of you to do your very best. He was a great athlete and a great educationalist, a man who loved everyone around him and particularly his family. He left his mark on this life and he will be fondly remembered by everyone who knew him,” he added.
Many of Donal’s former footballing colleagues from the 50s and 60s including Thady Turbett and John Joe O’Hagan (Clonoe) attended the Requiem Mass to say farewell to the St. Enda’s man.
A guard of honour was formed outside the church by many St. Enda’s members as well as former Tyrone stars. They were joined by students from the Sacred Heart College, representing the former St. Patrick’s Secondary School where Donal was principal for many years. Members of Omagh Golf Club where Donal was once captain, also formed a guard of honour.
Donal is survived by his wife Bridie, daughter’s Noelle (Connolly) and Deirdre (Murphy), son Raymond, sisters Pearl (Ryan) and Maura (Rodgers), brothers Noel, Sean, Hugh and Patsy and seven grandchildren. He was predeceased by another brother, Brian.