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Glasheen FAI Minor Cup winners 1966. Back: Davy Fahy, Barry McGann, Peter Cox, Tony O’Sullivan, John Carroll, Brenan Cronin, Seanie Dennehy, Ref Nedser Cotter. Front: Timmy Grainger, Tommy Garry, Micky Desmond, Noel Keohane, Gerry Hurley. Nostalgia
Glasheen FAI Minor Cup winners 1966. Back: Davy Fahy, Barry McGann, Peter Cox, Tony O’Sullivan, John Carroll, Brenan Cronin, Seanie Dennehy, Ref Nedser Cotter. Front: Timmy Grainger, Tommy Garry, Micky Desmond, Noel Keohane, Gerry Hurley. Nostalgia
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The fascinating story of Barry McGann, Cork's Irish rugby international who could have been a Man United star

IRISH rugby international Barry J McGann, educated at St Joseph’s in the 1950s, was a brother of Sean and Diarmuid who had their Gaelic football skills nurtured in that Mardyke Academy before going on to play senior football with Cork. 

St Joseph’s Sciath na Scol winners 1959. Back: Tony McGeough, J Sheehan, J Blake, D McNamara, M McCarthy, T Coffey, J Wall. Middle: T Boyle, P O’Sullivan, l O’Brien, Finbarr O’Sullivan, M Moynihan, Donal Lyne, C Lang. Front: M Fowler, Barry McGann, Kieran Roddis, J Lambe. 
St Joseph’s Sciath na Scol winners 1959. Back: Tony McGeough, J Sheehan, J Blake, D McNamara, M McCarthy, T Coffey, J Wall. Middle: T Boyle, P O’Sullivan, l O’Brien, Finbarr O’Sullivan, M Moynihan, Donal Lyne, C Lang. Front: M Fowler, Barry McGann, Kieran Roddis, J Lambe. 

Young McGann looked as if he was going to follow in their footsteps when captaining the 'Joey’s' team which won the Sciath na Scol title in 1961 and was also a fine sprinter in his primary school days. 

One Examiner photo showing Barry winning an Egg and Spoon race in 1958 photo meant nothing at the time but would have been a collector’s item following his meteoric rise to international prominence. 

When he entered PBC to commence his secondary education all thoughts of a Gaelic football career vanished. 

By then he had become a soccer prodigy and came under the microscope of Man Utd whose captain, another St Joseph’s boy, Noel Cantwell had been instructed to offer him a trial at Old Trafford.

This offer would have been a dream comes true for most starry-eyed kids but Barry, being a Pres boy, now true to tradition had also developed a greater love for the oval ball. 

Barry a star with Glasheen AFC and rated the most talented young schoolboy soccer player in the country as well as a promising schools rugby player declined Cantwell’s request. 

The kid was recommended to the Man Utd skipper by his great friend of Schoolboys League founder John Cooke. 

This scribe recalls seeing Cantwell walk down Togher Road, after a schoolboy match, with his hand around the young prodigy’s shoulder. 

Barry enjoyed the best of both worlds and his dual activities cost him a Schoolboy International cap when he chose to play rugby for Pres on the day of his international trial. 

However, compensation waited as he went on to captain the PBC team which won the Munster Junior Schools Cup. Two years later, in 1966, he captained the seniors to Munster Schools glory.

His rugby exploits deprived Glasheen of their prized asset for most of that season but his availability in the 1966 FAI Youth Cup was a huge boost. 

They qualified for their sixth final with a resounding 4-1 victory over Young Elms (Dublin) at Milltown. 

McGann scored two of Glasheen’s goals and the second was the best ever seen at Milltown in any grade of football as he won the ball in midfield and beat the entire Young Elms defence in a dazzling run, then drew the keeper and flicked the ball into the empty net. 

This was a goal which may have come straight out of the ‘Tiger’ Comic Magazine and its ‘Roy of the Rovers’ feature – every schoolboy’s miraculous dream of glory come true. 

Playing in his third National final Barry, revelling in the wide-open spaces of Flower Lodge, helped Glasheen to a comfortable victory over Shelbourne. 

The Denis Law XI which played a Cork selected at Flower Lodge in May 1966. Back: Vinnie Maguire, Barry McGann, Tommy Taylor, Eddie Kehilly, Tony Allen, John Brohan. Front: Tony O’Connell, Noel Cantwell, Denis Law, Eric Barber, Austin Noonan. Nostalgia
The Denis Law XI which played a Cork selected at Flower Lodge in May 1966. Back: Vinnie Maguire, Barry McGann, Tommy Taylor, Eddie Kehilly, Tony Allen, John Brohan. Front: Tony O’Connell, Noel Cantwell, Denis Law, Eric Barber, Austin Noonan. Nostalgia

The International selectors could no longer ignore him and he was selected for the team which played in the UEFA Cup Finals.

In Ireland’s victory over Holland, he was opposed by the great Johan Cryuff. 

Later that season he guested for the legendary Denis Law’s Selection in a testimonial at Flower Lodge when, no doubt, he again declined another invite, this time from Law, to travel to Old Trafford to meet Matt Busby. 

Soccer wasn’t where he saw his future though he did play for Shelbourne in the League of Ireland during the 1968-69 season.

Rugby was the main focus of his physical activities and on leaving PBC he signed for Cork Con with whom he made his senior debut in 1966 on a side which went on to win the Munster Senior Cup (when it was the Holy Grail of Irish Club rugby). 

Business took him to Dublin in ’69 and Landsdowne won the race for his signature. 

When the peerless Mike Gibson, Ireland’s out-half, withdrew through injury for a championship international against France, Barry McGann was named as a replacement. 

Barry McGann running on to Lansdowne Road pitch with Ireland. Nostalgia
Barry McGann running on to Lansdowne Road pitch with Ireland. Nostalgia

He made an outstanding debut and helped Ireland to a 17-9 victory. When the fit-again Gibson returned to the fray McGann retained the number 10 shirt and the Ulster supremo moved to the centre. 

McGann became a clever international out-half and Gibson was soon to be rated one of the best centres in world rugby.

He won four caps with Lansdowne in the 1968/69 season before returning to Cork and rejoining Cork Con, where he won a further 21 Irish caps and several Munster Cup medals. 

The portly but deceptively fleet-footed player had the ability to do magic things with the boot and his great distribution skills were a feature of his acclaimed footballing repertoire. 

He was capped 25 times - against France, England, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand and Australia - between 1969-’76, an impressive haul for an everpresent fly-half in a decade when the World Cups or matches against teams like Argentina, Rumania and Italy hadn’t even been conceived.

He scored 60 points for Ireland through tries, penalties, conversions and drop goals.

In a famous match against the All Blacks at Lansdowne Road which was drawn 10-10 on the 20 January, 1973 he kicked two penalties and at the death took the touchline conversion of Tom Grace’s late try which appeared to be good but which was disallowed by the referee to the chagrin of 50,000 spectators and of course Barry himself. 

It would have made history as the only Irish side to beat New Zealand.