AIDAN McCrory’s career as a Tyrone player has come to an end, and even though he missed out on the biggest prize of all, he says he enjoyed every minute of lining out for the county.
The Errigal Ciaran defender made 120 appearances for the county and was a regular starter during the 2014-7 period. His game-time was limited in the last few seasons, but his commitment to the cause was never in question.
“There has been good days and bad days but I have enjoyed every minute of it and it was an honour to wear the Tyrone jersey,” said Aidan.
“I had already made my decision that 2020 was going to be my last season in a Tyrone jersey. It was a decision that I came to at the start of the year and have no regrets about making it. It was an honour to play for Tyrone for ten years and I have some wonderful experiences and made a lot of good friends along the way.”
The 33 year old defender made his debut back in 2011 in a McKenna Cup game against Donegal at Edendork when he was thrown in at the deep end to mark Colm McFadden and he is more than grateful to Mickey Harte for giving him his chance.
“I owe Mickey everything for my County career,” he admitted.
“I don’t know if anyone else would have given me the opportunity. He could see things in players that others couldn’t see and he had a knack for pulling out a player and putting them into a different role in big games.”
When Aidan joined the senior panel he came into a dressing room that was laced with household names and a County that were on a roll having won a 3rd All Ireland in 2008 as well as winning three Ulster titles between 2007 and 2010.
“The Tyrone squad that won the Sam Maguire three times certainly raised the bar,” he says.
“When I came into the panel in 2011 there is no doubt that the target was always to try and win the All Ireland. That is what the supporters in Tyrone expect but it’s certainly not easy to achieve.
“Ulster was getting even more competitive with Jim McGuiness and Malachy O’Rourke over Donegal and Monaghan respectively. They turned them into two of the top sides in the Country and not alone Ulster and we had to wait until 2016 to win Ulster again.
“Even in those years when we lost in Ulster we always embraced the backdoor. We saw it as an opportunity to regroup. It suited us to an extent as the trips away for qualifiers meant that we spent more time together and that bonded the squad together even more.
“When we got to Croke Park we always believed that we were as good as any side and any time that we were beaten there in the championship it was to the top sides like Dublin, Kerry and Mayo.
“The defeat in the All Ireland quarter final to Mayo in 2016 was probably my biggest disappointment. We went into the game as Ulster champions but on the day we just didn’t perform the way that we could and it made it even worse that we only lost by a single point.
“Losing Sean Cavanagh to a second booking in the final quarter was a big blow to us. He was playing brilliantly that season and showing real leadership with his point in the Ulster final against Donegal straight out of the top drawer. It was definitely a game that got away from us. Over the course of a career you have good days than bad days but that’s football.”
Aidan was always a very committed player when playing for Tyrone and that was something that had rubbed off on him from the first season he joined the senior panel.
“Trainer Fergal McCann organised a session on Monday nights for extra conditioning work which the older boys dubbed the fat club,” he said.
“The offer was open to everyone and I decided to go along. The likes of Enda (McGinley), Hub Hughes and Brian McGuigan were all there, players with multiple All Ireland medals and that stuck with me.
Those boys had did it all before and more than once but they still wanted more. That was the level of commitment that was needed if you were to be a success at the very top.”
There of course is a new management team of Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher in place in Tyrone and Aidan feels that they have the players at their disposal to ensure that Tyrone remain at the top table.
“I believe that Tyrone have a squad of players that will mount a serious challenge for the top honours,” he says.
“They have a good blend of youth and experience and with more players coming through they will only get stronger. I remember Conor McKenna coming into the squad before he went to Australia and to just see what he was capable of you knew he wasn’t out of place and he will only get better.”