By Niall Gartland
A TRUE great of Tyrone club football, Dromore’s Eoin McCusker, has decided the time is right to hang up the boots for good.
To say that McCusker has given good service to his club would pretty much be the understatement of the century: he made his senior debut at the tender age of 16 in 2002, and despite playing through the pain barrier, the veteran corner-forward was still terrorising opposition defences as he won his fourth O’Neill Cup medal last year, a full decade after his previous championship success back in 2011.
McCusker’s five-point haul against reigning champions Dungannon in an incredible first-round clash last October will last long in the memory, a testament to not only his longevity and warrior-like traits, but his enduring ability with a football.
A critical part of the trailblazing Dromore team which won three senior championship titles between 2007 and 2011, McCusker also finished up with eight senior league medals and a number of individual awards, including the Patsy Forbes award for finishing as the Senior Championship top scorer on three separate occasions.
In a statement marking his retirement, Dromore St Dympna’s acclaimed Eoin as a leader of men who has inspired the new generation of footballers in the club:
“On occasions too numerous to mention when Dromore needed someone to step up to the plate, Eoin was the man who would stand up, take leadership and drag us over the line.
“Dromore people have often been posed the questions as to why Eoin was never seen in the Tyrone jersey and only Eoin can answer that, but one thing is for sure is that we are glad it was the blue jersey Eoin took most pride in.
“The fact that he had to overcome serious injuries throughout his career makes his longevity all the more remarkable, including a very serious injury in a work accident in 2014.
“While it is sad to see his career coming to an end, we have a new generation of players who had the pleasure of sharing the training and playing field with Eoin in the last few years. Eoin has ensured that his legacy will continue through these players. The standards he set at training will be etched in the minds of Dromore players for generations to come.”
We also spoke to some of the men who know him best for their thoughts on his contribution to Dromore football down the years:
Peter Teague (Dromore footballer)
“GROWING up watching Dromore winning championships and leagues, I was always proud to brag that Eoin McCusker – the GOAT as we called him – was my neighbour in Knockhahorn. The way he played every time he wore the Dromore jersey lit a fire in the youth of Dromore for many years.
“It’s difficult to put into words what I felt as a 13-year-old when he lifted the O’Neill Cup in 2011, but I was in awe of the man.
“Ten years later, he won his fourth senior club championship. Our club has won four senior championships and eight senior leagues, and you could argue that none of that would have been possible without Eoin McCusker. What a player.”
Fabian O’Neill (Dromore’s O’Neill Cup winning captain in 2007)
“We were beaten in the final by Clonoe in 2008 and that night Eoin and I took the notion of going to Australia as we felt we had to get away for a while, There wasn’t much work at the time as we were both tradesmen.
“So we went to Australia in January and things were good out there. I remember our first training session with the Cormac McAnallen’s club, it was brilliant and they got us work.
“A week or two later, on a Friday evening we were at Bondi beach for a barbecue. The sun was shining, there was music playing and I remember turning to Eoin and saying ‘it’s some life here, lad’. And I can remember him looking back to me and saying ‘it’s brilliant, it’s brilliant, but I’ll not be staying. I’m going home to play for Dromore’ and that summed Eoin up.
“A few years later, he made the Tyrone panel and rightly so. He ended up playing a few league games and was going well. The next thing, he just left, and a few of us were saying ‘what are you at? Why are you leaving, what’s the story’? He just explained that he was afraid of missing out with Dromore. That was something else because Eoin was good enough to play for Tyrone, he was a brilliant footballer.
“He was our captain at the time so his decision reverberated around the rest of the team and we all improved as a result. He’s been a massive, massive man for our club and it was just a pleasure to have played alongside him.”
Ryan Porter (trained Dromore to three championship titles)
“My first memory of Eoin was a league game up in Clan na nGael when he was 17 years old. I remember going away already thinking this man was going to be a big player for Dromore. From the start of his career to the end he produced match-winning performances.
“The fact he played such a prominent role in delivering four championships over a 15-year period speaks volumes of his quality and longevity. And he wasn’t just hanging on, he was still producing man of the match winning performances. The league final against Errigal and last year’s championship game against Dungannon are two that spring to mind.
“His attitude to training was as good as it gets, there was no cutting corners and he went full pelt in everything he did. Not one for talking in training, he was a real leader of the team throughout his career. I’d imagine it was frustrating for him that he had to curtail his training and involvement in matches in order to prolong his career, but the fact he kept going for so long is no surprise as he was totally committed to Dromore.
“He was definitely good enough to play county football, but his love for playing for Dromore meant he wasn’t going to bide his time waiting for a chance with Tyrone. Even though Tyrone had an abundance of attacking quality attackers in that period between between 2005 and 2012, I felt Eoin’s pace, physicality and finishing meant he would have been a useful player for any county team.
“But it was evident that Eoin’s only focus was Dromore and the club will be forever indebted for that as he played an unbelievable role in the success that came. A lot of defenders will rest a lot easier now he’s pulled the plug!”