Merit Award Recipient - Paul McAnea
February 27, 2023
Paul McAnea is known to most people in the football community as Maxi, he is not completely sure how the nickname came about but thinks it was a play on his surname rather than a reflection of his stature.
Paul can remember well his first appearance in the Fermanagh & Western Football League back in 1972. He was kicking a ball around the Cannondale housing estate with a friend when John Sharkey, brother of ex-Manchester United player Pat Sharkey and manager of Kevlin United stopped his car and asked the two 15 year old boys to come and play in an end of season match away to Mourneview as the team was short. Paul and his friend played a half each and Mourneview won 10-0! Despite the result, Paul was taken with the idea of playing in a team in an organised League and joined White Hart, playing in Division 2 of the North West League. He later moved back to Kevlin and the 1974/75 season was to prove one of the most memorable in Paul’s whole career. Playing up front in a classic big man/small man combination, Andy Hyndman told the teenager to stay close by him and feed of the knock-downs he would provide. The successful partnership contributed to Kevlin retaining the Mercer League and the 17 year old Paul scored the only goal in the Mulhern Cup Final against Killymore Rovers to seal the double. Another great memory from that season was travelling in the back of George Henderson’s orange Mini to Rathfriland to play for the Fermanagh & Western Representative team with many of the greats from that era. The players all received a wallet as a memento. The wallet was a treasured possession of Paul for over 40 years and a number of years ago he gave it to his brother-in-law in Boston who had admired it on a number of occasions, a decision Paul now regrets as he says he has never been able to get as good a wallet again.
Shortly after their double triumph, Kevlin United merged with Omagh Town and Paul began a fulfilling career in the old ‘B’ Division. It could not be described as a successful career in terms of silverware, but in every other measure it was. Paul was the record goalscorer for the club, scoring 150 goals. After around 8 seasons playing in the ‘B’ Division, Paul found himself getting less and less playing time at the higher level and turned out for the Reserves in the Fermanagh & Western. He left Omagh Town and joined Shelbourne, who after winning the Mercer League three years in-a-row, started the 1985/86 season under Hugh Crawford playing in the Northern Ireland Intermediate League, winning the title in their first season and finishing runners-up the next year. In his third season, Paul took over as player/manager, taking the next step in his career.
At the end of this season, he was approached to return to Omagh Town as manager for the 1988/89 season to prepare the side for entry into the Irish League two years later. It proved to be another landmark event as under Paul’s charge, Omagh Town defeated RUC in the Smirnoff Cup Final at Stangmore Park, Dungannon to win their first ever trophy at this level. In 1991, Maxi made history as the manager of the team in their inaugural season at the top level of local football. However, behind the scenes things were not going well and Paul, having met with the Chairman to agree the way forward found that the club had already spoken to another manager and he immediately resigned. A move back to Shelbourne and a resumption of his playing career resulted in 2 Mercer League titles and a Mulhern Cup in 4 seasons. Paul has fond memories of this time in his career playing with Mickey O’Sullivan, Dom Baxter, the Donnellys and the late Snibber Jamison. Paul considers Terry Bonner as probably the best and most underrated player he played with in his time, having the great mix of skill, speed and a great football brain. At that time, opportunities for players living in the west were limited, but Paul is convinced Terry could have played at the highest level. He would also cite John Craig of Enniskillen Rangers as one of the toughest opponents he faced, as a player the great rivalry between the two teams coupled with the respect each had for the other are in his opinion one of the many reasons he fully enjoyed and appreciated his time in the game. In fact, in reminiscing about the game in this area, Paul is effusive in his praise of the camaraderie and friendships formed and nurtured amongst teammates and opponents, something he states the League should be proud of. As with most players and clubs, Maxi recounts the odd occasions when he or the club would have fallen foul with the authorities, but in hindsight would accept that this was only because they were the transgressors.
Locally, Paul will always be linked to Shelbourne and it is one of his regrets that the club is no longer in existence. He recalls the struggles of the last few seasons and how himself and Mickey O’ shared the workload of managing, administration, putting up nets, washing kits to try and keep the club afloat; as Paul reflects it was much easier when he started as there were less outside distractions for players and all you wanted to do was train during the week and play on a Saturday, then enjoy a few pints with you team mates.
It has been a pleasure for me to compile this short synopsis of the career of Maxi, and I think it is clear to see his contribution to our local game and why he is so widely admired and respected by all those who crossed his path over the last 50 years.