IN 1956, a teenage sensation burst onto the gaelic football scene with a performance that proved crucial in helping Tyrone on their way to that year’s historic first ever Ulster Championship title success.
Mick Kerr from Beragh was just 19 when he made his big breakthrough with the Red Hands. His star may have shone only briefly on the inter-county stage when compared to others, but the key contribution that he made during that season stands the test of time and cannot be under-estimated.
He was recently honoured at a special event organised by the Red Knights club and attended by family members, former teammates, club officials and members. It was organised to mark his immense contribution to gaelic football and handball in the area over seven decades.
It was in June 1956, just as Tyrone were gaining in confidence, that Mick Kerr made his entrance in the provincial semi-final against Monaghan. He recalled how his call-up, in keeping with the manner of the times, came almost completely unexpectedly on that day.
“The first time I knew about being selected on the Tyrone team of 1956 was when I saw my name in the paper. I wasn’t sure if it was me, but then somebody asked me did I know anyone else called M Kerr who played football,” he recalled.
“On that day against Monaghan, I was standing outside the pitch watching the minor game when Paddy O’Neill, the county secretary, came over and told me to tog out as I was playing in the team. That’s how quick it was.
“It was an even bigger surprise and I was fortunate enough to get 1-1 in that game. I was always somebody who tried to look after myself on the pitch. I often just kicked on sight of goal and I think that ability to take chances when they arose stood to me.”
Victory in that game saw Tyrone into the Ulster Final – their first since away back 14 years previously in 1941. Cavan once again provided the opposition, and the general expectation was that this latest Tyrone team bidding for glory would have great difficulty in defeating the then undisputed kingpins of Ulster football.
However, the UlsterHerald preview three days before the big game at Clones at the end of July that year was in no doubt about one of the main factors which could secure the Red Hands success.
“As luck would have it, Tyrone made a real find for the right corner forward position in Mick Kerr. This dynamic little two-footed player proved to everyone there that he as the Tyrone selectors meal ticket and after welcoming Mick to the team, I hope he now wins an Ulster Championship medal,” wrote Fearghal.
Mick remembers the training done for that final, the excitement of winning the title and how proud he remains even yet of playing his own part in a triumph which changed the face of Ulster football forever.
“For the final we trained eight nights in two weeks at Pomeroy. I stayed in Donnelly’s Hotel in Omagh the night before going to Clones. I don’t think I was nervous or anything like that, apart from maybe just before the start.
“Being honest about it, I probably didn’t realise how tough that game would be. I was marking Brian O’Reilly in a full-back line that also had Phil ‘The Gunner’ Brady. But we won the match and the celebrations were nearly tougher than the match with people congratulating us and jumping on our backs. It was a big achievement.
“I suppose it’s only really now that I can appreciate just how much that success means for me personally and everyone involved. I played on that first Tyrone team to win the Ulster title, I have the medal and that’s something of which I’m very proud of.”