November 01, 1991
John Lynch Tyrone
The shock of blonde hair is instantly recognisable, an unmistakable steely determination permanently etched on one of Ireland's best known footballing faces. But don't dry to identify him from the number on his back, for Tyrone's Mr Versatility John Lynch is a man of many parts. Throw him a goalkeeper's jersey and he'll grasp it willingly, offer him the role of a corner forward and he'll launch himself into it with the zest and hunger of a youngster.
Already this season the tigerish Lynch has been selected in three different positions for Tyrone's three national league games, and has accepted each new mission as a fresh challenge which requires heart and soul in equally copious quantities.
He's the never say die man, a player who will always give 100% for his county whether in a pre season friendly or an All-Ireland final. His commitment is unquestionable, and has never waned in eleven years of gruelling endeavour at the top level. And John Lynch is the first to agree that nothing is too much to ask of him as far as the Tyrone team is concerned. "I would do anything for Tyrone, I would play anywhere I was asked. If I was told to play corner forward I would go and do it without question," he says. Lynch, of course, is best known as a tough tackling defender, whose skill, positional sense and astute reading of the game are vastly under-rated qualities. But he also had spells in midfield and in attack.
Nowadays, he is back in his favourite defensive role, where his experience is vital in helping a new generation of fresh faced youngsters settle into the senior set-up.
Tyrone's 0-18 to 1-4 drubbing of Mayo in the opening game of the League campaign saw him operate at left half back. Two weeks later he played right full back as Dublin were dealt a four goal hammering in Croke Park. And he was in the left corner for the visit of Cork to Omagh last week. "Ideally, it would be better to have the opportunity to settle into a particular position, but any changes are made in the interests of the team, and the management are making changes in order to put together a settled side," he says.
Despite the steadying influence of players such as Lynch and Enda Kilpatrick, the defence has been Tyrone's most problematic area so far this season. No such problems with the attacks, a sweet moving exciting unit which has thrilled and entertained with its flamboyant style and superb score taking.
But 29 year old Lynch is sure that everything will come right in time for the championship. "Pre-Christmas football is not a very good guide to the promise or ability of a team. But I think this present team really has something going for it. It's greatest asset is of course, the forward line, and admittedly we do have a few problems in defence, but we think we have the answers to those.
"It certainly has greater potential than any Tyrone team I have played on before, simply because we now have forwards who have an instinct for taking scores. The under 21 players have brought a new brand of team spirit into the camp. They have tasted success, and the effects of that are now rubbing off on the older members of the panel like myself, Plunkett Donaghy, Enda Kilpatrick, Harry McClure and Damien O'Hagan. It's an amazing situation, but it's the young players who are calling the shots as far as morale and team spirit are concerned. They have brought a new lease of life."
John Lynch won an All Star award in 1986, just reward for his heroic performances in helping Tyrone to within a whisker of an All-Ireland final victory, and his burning ambition is to step out onto Croke Park once more on the third Sunday of September. "I would love to win a National League medal, it's something which has always eluded me, in fact, we have never managed to reach a final. But the biggest ambition is to win an All-Ireland medal. That's the ultimate for every footballer. I feel a National League title this year would be an ideal stepping stone for Tyrone.
"We didn't actually plan our early season success in the League this year. It just happened that way, and now we're beginning to say to ourselves - well let's go out and try to win it. In other years we prepared more determinedly for the League, and it didn't work out, but this year we have managed to put together some good performances at a very early stage." He puts Tyrone's early success down to the fact that they have those talented forwards who can be depended upon to score regularly.
"Thats a luxury we never had before. Adrian Cush, Peter Canavan and Matt McGleenan can be relied upon to find the target, and any team with a forward line like that will beat a lot of good teams, especially at this time of year."
John Lynch joined the Tyrone senior squad as an 18 year old straight from the minor side in 1980. Damien O'Hagan and Noel McGinn were others who followed the same path in that year. But Lynch's dazzling speed and fitness stood out above all the rest. That's because he was combining a blossoming footballing career with a successful career as an athlete. Winner of many Donegal sprint titles as a member of Finn Valley AC in Ballybofey, he also qualified once for the National Finals. "I always had an interest in athletics, but I was persuaded to get actively involved by my girlfriend Christine, who is now my wife, and who was an international athlete.
"I was always keen on keeping fit, and although I don't compete anymore, I still do the athletics training often on my own. I think the discipline of athletics training could be put to good use by footballers. It's based on common sense and a gradual build up of fitness. Athletes are, in my opinion, the best organised of all sportsmen. They build their training up at the proper rate, working on stamina and strength before going on to concentrate on speed."
Indeed, had the Lynch family lived a few hundred yards down the road, John could well have made his name as a Donegal footballer, for his home town of Castlederg is perched right on the border. Castlederg was never known as a footballing stronghold, the local St. Eugene's team languishing in the third division until it finally won promotion to the second two years ago.
Lynch's achievement in making it as a top county footballer is therefore all the more remarkable. "I was helped to make the transition from a very low standard of football to top class inter county football by Art McRory. He was involved with the Tyrone minor team in 1980. I was a bit raw then but he stuck with me and brought me into the senior panel when he took over the following year.
"I only started playing football at the age of 14. And the man who introduced me to gaelic football was Charlie Gallen, who is now principal of St. Eugene's Secondary school in Castlederg. He was then a PE teacher, and a great coach. I loved working under his guidance and he was a major influence on my career. And Harry Brennan is another man I owe a lot to. He was manager of the Tyrone minors during the two years I played on the team. I got to know him very well, and apart from being a gentleman he was a great motivator and a great friend."
He's still only 29, but it seems that John Lynch has been there for ever, and he looks certain to be there for a long time to come. But, unfortunately, he has been branded a hard man - even a dirty player - by some sections of the public. It's a reputation he finds hard to shake off, but one he feels is totally unjustified. "I don't understand how I got this reputation. In our most competitive year ever, 1986, I won an All Star award, and that honour is dependent on a clean disciplinary record. I think it dates back to an incident in a compromise rules match some years ago when I was sent off while playing for Ireland against Australia. Ever since that I have been labelled a dirty player. But that is not the case. On the field, I play hard and fair. I give the game full hearted effort but I do not go out to play dirty. I think also some referees can be swayed by the popular image of players, and I have found I have been affected by that."
Enthusiasm, whole-heartedness and determination can sometimes be mistaken for less worthy characteristics, and in this respect, John Lynch can justifiably claim to have been misrepresented on occasion.
There is no doubting his love for the game. "Football is my life. Sometimes I feel I think too much about the game. For the past ten years, I have been totally engrossed by it and my hunger has never lessened. I am very lucky to have a wife who is also a football fanatic. She is my greatest fan of all."
The name Lynch has always been synonymous with the GAA in this part of west Tyrone. In the sixties when Castlederg were only fielding at youth level, Jackie Lynch, a relative of John's, took juvenile teams to county finals. From these humble beginnings, and earlier attempts which petered out, eventually in 1975 the present Castlederg St. Eugene's was formed. The club is at present in the intermediate division of Tir Eoghain football and while playing at senior level, as yet, we have no league or championship trophies to show. We can feel proud that our club has produced a player of the calibre of John Lynch.
While at times, especially when the county team is being successful, the club can be restricted in the use of their best players. We have always encouraged our members on the honour of representing their club at county level, we feel that the honour of wearing the Tyrone jersey brings recognition to the players' club and to his area and increases the stature of the game, especially and most importantly among the youth.
John Lynch has been part of Tyrone teams since the seventies and throughout those glorious 1980s. He is accepted throughout Ireland as among the best defenders in gaelic football. In the 1986 GAA All Star awards, John reached the pinnacle of recognition when he won the award for left full back, the first time that such an honour came to this part of Tyrone. The success of the county team and this recognition of John Lynch's part in it helped enormously to heighten the profile of gaelic football throughout this area. At club level, we believe that the high standards set by John at county level, encouraged all our young footballers, so much so, that in 1988 we became the first club in Tir Eoghain to lift the minor league and championship trophies in the same year.
At the moment, Tyrone are pining many hopes on their under 21 footballers, that they can reproduce at senior level their exploits of '90 and '91 and it is testimony to John's commitment ti fitness that he is still among the first fifteen in Tyrone football.
Taken from Hogan Stand
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