It’s Thursday night in the heart of Ballinascreen parish and Tempo native Charlie McNally is doing what he does best. Chatting about football! He is the owner of the appropriately named Hogan Stand Bar at the top of the Five Mile Straight. On a lovely day the setting of Eagle’s Rock in the distance is postcard material and today Charlie’s will have passed it as he headed over ‘The Birren’ towards Celtic Park.
McNally has been in this neck of the woods for twenty-five years but after spells in London and New York he confessed it was ‘by accident’ that Ballinascreen was where he eventually settled. After a decade working as a publican in the ‘Big Apple’ McNally was looking to follow this up when he returned to Ireland in 1991.
“I was living up in Trillick at the time. I was looking for a pub and I bought the local paper and this pub happened to be in it.” This coincided with the start of a golden generation in the early 90s for Derry and Charlie rhymes their honours and achievements off the tip of his tongue. Jimmy Magee wouldn’t have a look in!
The renaming of the bar had nothing to do with Derry’s regular visits to Croker. It was closer to his heart than that. “I was always going to name it The Hogan Stand, my daughter’s Christening party was held at a bar called the Hogan Stand in New York.” In fact locally to those in Moneyneana [or whatever way it’s meant to be spelt] it is simply known as Charlie’s.
One of the first things you notice is the array of Derry photos on the walls, images from battles between Derry and Down, with centre stage a picture of the 1993 All-Ireland winning team. There is a roaring fire on and the football chat is in full flow. On the counter lie three newspapers, all with the sport pages open. It’s the type of scene you will find in any Irish town or village.
Another item hung on the chair behind the bar is a Derry jacket and when we mention it Charlie laughs, “Hugh Peter [McWilliams] gave it to me, I wore it last week and I don’t think I’ll wear it for a while. I get too much stick.” He is now a fully-fledged ‘Screen man but as we delve deeper into McNally’s archives, he has never forgotten where he came from.
Fermanagh people will be glad to hear that Charlie has given pride of place above the fireplace to a framed photo of Fermanagh’s team of 2004. He follows Fermanagh everywhere whether it’s division four or division one and last year he was one of the many supporters who applauded the Erne players after their epic battle with Dublin.
Jim McGuinness couldn’t fathom Fermanagh’s players and fans celebrating despite defeat but McNally had a different outlook. “Everybody thought we were going to Dublin and not score maybe but we scored 2-15 and we thought this was great, scoring 2-15 against The Dubs.” He also didn’t miss the fact of Fermanagh hitting nine wides against the breeze. All those years of going to games the length and breadth of the country, he misses very little. You’d want him in your quiz team, that’s for sure.
The Tempo man predicts the Metropolitans to retain Sam this summer with a tongue in cheek statement. “It’s hard to go by The Dubs; last year I said the team that beats Fermanagh would win the All-Ireland!” When prompted about what has made the difference to his county’s fortunes, McNally points to the influence of Rostrevor’s Pete McGrath.
“He has nothing to prove in football and has had a big influence on the whole thing.” Charlie added. “We are very lucky to get a man like Pete. Down will surely regret not taking him back.” For now however he looks forward to the Erne boss getting the best from their talisman Quigley but he knows they need more than that. “McCloskey [Ryan] has been a great servant over the years. There’s a lot of young boys coming in now, young McMahon [James], the Jones brothers and the Corrigans.”
In a recent interview Tony Scullion admitted that he had received a few phone calls from McNally about the impressive Derry performances. Back in his younger days ‘Scud’ spent many a Sunday night working in the bar and knowing Charlie well suspected he was setting Derry up for a fall. It’s not just Kerry men who play the ‘cute’ card you know.
During our chat Charlie is still singing the same tune, playing down Fermanagh’s chances. “It’s a big jump for us, Derry coming down from division 1 and us coming up from division 3.” He knows the football scene well and says the race for the Anglo Celt Cup is between Derry and Tyrone. “Derry won’t be far away but I hope they come second and we [Fermanagh] win.”
With Gaels across the country debating the various proposed changes to the All-Ireland Championship, this Fermanagh man gave his opinion. “The back door made the like of Fermanagh! Just look at 2004 and going to the replay of an All-Ireland semi final. We didn’t get it easy against Meath, Donegal, Armagh and Cork, but with no back door there’d be no fairytale.”
He is a fully adopted ‘Screen and Derry man at this stage, twenty-five years on and he’s a well known character in this picturesque corner of the Sperrins. One of the best games he ever watched was Derry v Down in 1994, even though Derry lost to a late Ciaran McCabe goal. McNally reckoned if there was a ‘back door’ that Derry team would have won at least another three All-Irelands.
Neither did he want a ‘Champions League’ format as he wants to see his beloved Fermanagh win an Ulster title before the provincials are done away with. They came closest in 2008 and when I asked him what the best game he ever attended was, he immediately referenced the win over Derry in Omagh that summer. He would have had some smile behind the bar that night!
McNally hadn’t met anyone from ‘Screen during his American adventure but four days before opening the Hogan Stand that changed. While going into Healy Park for the 1991 Derry v Tyrone game, he got chatting to Ballinascreen man Brian Yarry [McWilliams]. When he informed him about his forthcoming business venture Yarry told him ‘I’m not a drinker, you’ll not see me’!
Since that day he has built up a great rapport with the locals. From that 1991 game he remembers Seanie Meyler throwing the ball down quickly for a free, Derry took it quickly and it resulted in a late Damien Cassidy winning goal. This level of detail is only found in enthusiasts like McNally. That was twenty-five years ago and Derry fans will be hoping it makes for an omen ahead of 22nd May.
McNally will be supporting Derry that day no doubt, but today he will be in the stand at Celtic Park cheering on his native Fermanagh. When he catches up with Hugh Peter and Pele [John Scullion] Charlie will be hoping the Erne County will have the bragging rights. Regardless of the result, the fire will be on, the game will be dissected and the chat will be aplenty.
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