THE passing of Shea Hamill has robbed the Ballymena community of one of its best-loved sporting figures.
Shea, who died suddenly at home last Wednesday, was an instantly recognisable figure, particularly in football circles where his reputation in coaching and management was known not only locally, but throughout the Province.
All Saints church in Ballymena was packed to capacity on Saturday morning for Shea’ funeral Mass where mourners – who included current Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill and former world boxing champion Eamonn Loughran – were told of Shea’s “leadership” and how he “left a mark on people’s lives”.
Having come originally from the Larne area, Shea had moved to Ballymena following his marriage to Mary.
He still retained a great fondness for the east Antrim area and taught for many years in St Comgall’s in Larne.
Shea’s love of football saw him involved in the game at all levels, from schools to local junior football right up to the Irish League, the highest level of the game in this country.
Shay had spells in charge of Larne and also took charge of Chimney Corner in three separate spells.
He also had a long association with Ballymena United, holding positions including reserve team manager, assistant manager, caretaker manager and head of the club’s Youth Academy set-up at different times.
He was assistant manager to Alex McKee when United won the Irish Cup in 1989 which, up until this season, had been the Sky Blues’ last major trophy success.
Alex recalls: “Shea and I seemed to gel together as a team.
“The pair of us worked together at Larne, Chimney Corner and Ballymena United. We were always bouncing off and we had success and good times at all of those clubs.
“He was a tremendous man who was held in the highest of esteem,” added Alex.
Linfield boss David Jeffrey, the most successful manager in modern-day Irish League football, cut his managerial teeth as assistant manager at Larne under Shea’s guidance in the mid-nineties.
“I enjoyed working with him and I have many fond memories of him.
“He was an upstanding man of great integrity and he gave me a great deal of encouragement in my early days in management.
“I am very sorry and sad to learn of his untimely passing. My thoughts and prayers, sympathy and condolences go to his family circle,” he added.
Most recently Shea had been coaching local junior side All Saints Old Boys, who he helped win their first Ballymena Saturday Morning League title in their history last season.
Club official Paul McCann paid a heartfelt and moving tribute at Saturday’s funeral service which prompted warm applause.
Paul said: “A lot of you knew Shea as a great football man and an excellent coach, but to us that were so close to him he was much more than that.
“He was like a father figure to each and every single one of us at All Saints, the compassion he showed us in times of need, the shoulder to cry on he provided for us when we were feeling down, the joy and craic he shared with us when we were celebrating winning trophies or even just matches, the banter he had with us on team nights out, the slagging and ribbing we gave him, conversely the slagging and ribbing he gave us and above all else the love he had for us all - these were all attributes that made him be loved by so many, not just by his family or by his team mates, but also by almost everyone that came in contact with him.
“A team member posted a message on Twitter saying ‘Finished every training session with a hand shake, measure of the man’. Well this was so true, and he lived his life by this.
“Outside of football, every single farewell from Shea was filled with love. Never ever did I see anyone leave Shea’s company or Shea leave someone’s company without an “Okay, safe home, take care and God Bless”
“Or if it was one of his family members, he never once wished them goodbye or goodnight without a great big kiss and the words “I love you”.
“He was such a big family man who was so full of life and love and he shared this family ethos and love with us all at the football club.
“Shea’s passing has left a massive void in so many peoples life, and it has been very hard hitting for everyone, but we all know how much Shea loved life and so I’m sure Shea’s message to everyone would be stern and clear at this awful time, and that would be to celebrate his life rather than mourn his death,” added Paul.
Shea was also a devoted supporter of Glasgow Celtic and had been at Parkhead the previous weekend to watch the Hoops’ victory over Hearts.
He also combined his admiration for the Dutch methods of football coaching with regular trips to Holland, where they knowledge he brought back from trips was imparted to local youngsters and players.
I was fortunate enough to have known Shea both in a professional and social capacity for the best part of my working career.
As a journalist, he was tremendous to work with; as a person he was one of the most affable characters you could meet, a man whose enjoyment of life was unquenchable.
Quite often I would have walking through town on my way to work, past a coffee shop when I would have heard knocking at a window, turned around and there was Shea, sitting inside, waving out at me with that familiar beaming smile.
Similarly, any telephone conversation I had with Shea – the last of them just a couple of weeks ago – would invariably end with Shea asking me ‘well, what’s happening at Ballymena?’ - an indication of the love which he retained for the club.
Following Saturday’s Mass, interment took place at St Patrick’s Cemetery, Crebilly.
Deepest sympathy is extended to Shea’s wife Mary, daughters Ciara, Marguerite and Mary Kate and the wider family circle.