After the success of the Michael Farry interview we have approached ‘Town’ legend Tabs to share his experiences with us on all things ‘Town’.
Tabs has served the club in many roles; player, manager and Chairman but contents himself now with a spectator role on match days when he’s not golfing!
Tabs, as a man who has enjoyed great success with the club as both player and manager, what achievement pleases you the most?
Unfortunately success with Town did not come until late in my playing career but it was well worth the wait. Captaining the 1990 Mulhern cup winning team was special as it was the clubs 1st major honour and we had to beat a very good Shelbourne team 2-0 after a reply. The ultimate was also captaining Town in 94 to the Junior and Mulhern cup double over Oxford United again after a reply and Enniskillen Rangers respectively. In 96 as player manager of the 1st eleven we were involved in a 3 way tie with Ballinamallard and Dergview for what would have been our 1st Mercer league, unfortunately both of above could strengthen their teams considerably and we lost out narrowly. We did however manage to beat Ballinamallard in the Mulhern on their doorstep after me and my sidekick Ricky Beresford pulled off a master stroke. I picked Ricky up at 4.30 on the evening of the game and proceeded to Ferny Park with the kit, on our arrival all was locked up. We proceeded to jump the fence and placed our kit in the home changing room locked the windows and door and returned home with the key. When we later returned with the team I instructed all to go straight to the home changing room and get ready, when the Ballinamallard officials twigged on to what was happening they sent the match referee to order us out as they were the home team, I will not repeat what I said to the bemused official – this was an neutral cup final venue and we were going nowhere!
To say Ballinamallard at this stage were a little agitated would be putting it mildly and cannot repeat what names I was called – our cunning plan was taking shape.
15 mins before kick off the match official returned and this time ordered Town to change from our sky blue kit into a white kit supplied by Ballinamallard? You see Ballinamallard had gone to the bother of getting a new sponsored kit especially for the final – you guessed it, it was blue. Again they claimed home advantage and the ref informed me that the away team had to change? I politely reminded him again that this was in fact a neutral venue and that we would be wearing blue. To compromise both sides agreed to toss a coin to settle the issue, we won the toss and remained steadfast. The resulting game was a niggly affair, Malcolm Branley in goal was carted off to hospital and replaced by that season’s player of the year Gary Judge, Gary duly saved two penalties. Goals from Warren Dixon and Skino secured a famous victory.
In the season 1999/2000 the F&W decided to reduce the number of teams of the 1st division which meant 4 teams would be relegated. As manager I had to rely on all my experience and endeavour to secure a 5th from bottom finishing position because for long parts of the season we looked dead and buried. I dread to think what position Town would now be in if we had taken the drop that season? To cap it all we also won the Mulhern by beating the holders of the Irish Junior Lisnaskea Rovers. Myself and Ricky had studied Skea on numerous occasions and came up with a game plan to stifle them with Brendan Rodgers walking (not running) a fine line. With the game looking as it was going into extra time Raymie Gallagher broke from the half way line and duly delivered the fatal blow as only Raymie could. That night I had to make my hardest footballing decision by omitting a young Michael McGovern from the starting line up as he had been fantastic for us for most of the year. I got great satisfaction from this 1-0 result because Lisnaskea were a very good footballing team with no one but the hardened Town support given us a look in. Sorry what was the question again?
You played a great deal of your career during the lean years with the club but eventually collected the silverware you deserved but do you feel the teams you played with under performed or lacked the talent to make the breakthrough earlier?
During the so called lean years I played for 3 seasons with Town in the old 2nd division of the F&W following relegation from the 1st flight. At that time the old 2nd division included some strong reserve teams and a lot teams from Tyrone, this involved a lot of travelling, it was not a league for the faint hearted, poor pitches and with mostly no match official attending it was difficult to get out off. To our credit we did manage to return to the top flight on each time of asking but paid the price by loosing a lot of quality players to other clubs. So it was a vicious circle, every time we built up a team it was decimated by stronger clubs at that time. The turning point for me was the introduction of our fine youth system, the 1st of its kind locally. It is well documented that the work put in by John Illand, Paul Keveaney and Gerry Connolly bore fruit very quickly and I do not think we have looked back. This is confirmed because almost every local club has now a structured youth system – but we were the 1st!
Who was the best player you played with or against?
A very hard question, as I have played with and against some mighty fine players.
For me it would have to be our own Jack Love, two great feet, a venomous shot, pace, a nasty streak, an eye for goal, an old fashioned dribbler of the ball, his only weakness was in the air.
A player you would pay money to see – a natural talent. I believe his dislike of any form of training unfortunately shortened his career – which was our loss.
The F&W gets a lot of criticism nowadays as being an inferior league to the one in the 70’s, 80’s or early 90’s. Do you agree with this and why?
I definitely think the F&W is not as strong as it once was, when you have clubs and players moving up to a higher standard this will obviously leave voids that are hard to fill. I am not one of those folk that stand at games and rant that things are different; I believe that players are fitter and stronger nowadays and players do not have the time on the ball as the once had. Every dog will have his day; it’s not that long since teams like Shelburne, Rangers, Irvinestown and Lisbellaw were ruling the roost; it is up to Town to stay focused and to move with the times.
Always remembered as the ‘Town Captain’, a role you excelled in but do you not regret playing at a higher level aside from your stint with Portadown?
I enjoyed every minute playing for Town and particularly honoured in captaining them in good and not so good times, through Town I made many friends for life. I did actually play for a while at a higher level. In 1980/81 I joined Portadown FC in the old Irish League playing for the 1st team and reserves on about 10 occasions each. Unfortunately at that time I did not have a car and was transported to most games by Willie Mc Frederick from Lisbellaw United. Willie also drove a Lisbellaw player Don Weir to the games which I was entirely grateful.
For the season 1981/82 Portadown changed their manager and Tabsie was no longer required.
Apart from the travelling I enjoyed the experience and believe it made me a better player, the thing I missed most was the pint (pints) and the craic after Town games in the County Bar, we certainly knew how to drown our sorrows – for half an hour anyway!
Being a former team mate of yours and recalling the drive and passion you possessed, it seemed these qualities were amplified further during a derby game, what is your favourite memory of a Town-Rangers game?
Yes! Town v Rangers derby games were special; you would see people at these games that you believed did not even follow football. Not a lot of people know that I actually played for Rangers before moving onto the Roadhouse, the reformed Enniskillen Corinthians and then the Town (it’s a long story). However in the early days of Towns existence a measure of their season was gauged on the result of the Rangers games, so it would appear acceptable to beat Rangers twice and then get relegated? Rangers were the kingpins of local football, every team wanted to beat them, every team wanted to be them. My favourite moment came in the Quarter final of the 1979 Mulhern cup at Celtic Park. Celtic Park was heaving and a lot had come out to see us get a good hiding, the game ended 1-1 after extra time and we were involved in our very 1st penalty shoot out. I took the 1st – big Davy Phair read me well and saved at the foot of the post (great save), I was gutted until the ref informed that Davy had moved to soon – good refereeing, I buried the retake and we never looked back as we scored all our remaining spot kicks with Rangers missing their 5th. We went on to reach the final against Lisbellaw but I promised my brother Kevin that I would not mention his own goal in a 1-0 defeat. Lol.
The best goal you scored was……..?
I think my best effort was funny enough against Rangers at Celtic Park in an end of season mid-week game and again Celtic was packed. Rangers were in contention for the league with Shelbourne. We were trailing 1-0 with 5 mins remaining when we were awarded a direct free kick about 25 yards out and 5 yards from the left hand sideline facing towards the houses, Towns bigger players had pushed on into the box in expectation of a cross but greedy balls Tabsie had other ideas. We had just purchased the new lighter type mitre balls which Kenny Maguire always moaned about claiming that the moved about to much, with this in mind I approached at pace with my eyes closed let rip. At one stage the ball looked destined for the corner flag but then aerodynamics took over and the ball nestled in the top right hand corner of Gary Howe’s net to the delight of the huge Town support. To add salt to their wounds this goal effectively ended Rangers title hopes – I always managed to get a free pint in the “Top of the Town” bar in Omagh on the strength of this goal.
A rule you would change or introduce would be……..?
The rule I would change at local level is the “offside” rule as it has got too complex. There is no way a referee can apply this rule accurately on his own, I see the need for 2 assistants at each game played. Even with TV analysis it leads to heated debates and is open to scrutiny.
How does the current squad match up to the one you enjoyed success with?
I think the current squad is in good shape, the 2nd coming of Beckett has just come at the right time. There are similarities between both squads, experience, youth, ability, team spirit, fitness and a fire in their belly when required. The one thing I would say that the present set up is maybe lacking is a little cuteness or awareness to make changes when things are not going to plan, myself, Busty and Damian Love were experts in courting a referee which helped in getting those 50/50 decisions and could have an outcome on the game.
Finally, as the clubs’ forum is currently discussing the clubs all time best 11, thanks to Ferris Mulligan, name your best 11?
The hardest question of them all, I hope I do not hurt anyone’s feelings, who the hell is Ferris Mulligan?
Michael Farry Barry Corrigan Terence Mc Manus
Dermot Corrigan (capt.)
Cathal Beacom Barry Henderson Rory Judge
Jack Love Damian Love
Thank you for the invitation to answer the above ten questions and apologise for rambling on a wee bit, I would gladly continue over a pint in “The Hollow” anytime.