Gerard O'Kane

Gerard O’Kane – Time for Derry to come together

IN the last few weeks, as the Derry Championship has been in full flow, there could have been a hashtag created called #Rorywatch.

From what I gather, Rory Gallagher has been spotted at nearly all of the championship games so far.

The championship has been quite competitive with Banagher providing the shock story, winning their first two games to get through to a semi-final having lost all 11 league games. I’d imagine Rory and his backroom team will have seen enough over the previous month to be optimistic of continuing the upward trend in terms of National League football for Derry.

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Their main aim at the early part of the season will be to get promotion from Division Three and depending on any Derry clubs’ success in the Ulster Club Championship series, this is a realistic goal.

Regarding the appointment itself, a lot has been said and written over the last few weeks and about the process but the net result is that Derry have got themselves an experienced manager in Ulster football and a backroom team which from the outside that seems to be one which the players are largely happy with.

This should be a starting point for the rest of the county to get behind the county side.

I’ve only met Rory Gallagher fleetingly over the past few years so I can’t profess to really know him and the same can be said for Ciaran Meenagh. I played with Enda Muldoon for eight or nine years in the Derry set-up and against him for a lot longer, so I have a fair idea of the qualities he will bring. While I’ve never worked with any of them in a footballing or coaching capacity, the reports that you get from different people is that the players are keen to build on the positive season last year with the
defeat to Laois the one major blip.

In reality, what else could the management team have done last year? They went through the league with an eight-game winning streak and they pushed Tyrone in Ulster with even the most ardent of Derry fan not expecting a win given Tyrone have been in four of the last five All-Ireland semi-finals.

The Saturday evening defeat to Laois was quite disappointing but it’s like the old view that if you go to a restaurant and get nine good meals and then the 10th one is poor, people tend to remember the bad one as opposed to the nine before it.

That is what Derry’s season is remembered for. Only time will tell if the appointment is to be a successful one for Derry football. On the pitch there is potential to work with, Derry having had a relatively successful run in the Ulster Minor and U-20/U-21 competitions as of late.

The end goal for any management team should be to leave the team in a better place than when they took over – winning silverware along the way is a bonus. There are only a core of four or five teams who can set out with a definitive aim of winning their respective championships and outside of that the rest can maybe be seen to have it as something to aim for as opposed to expecting to win it.

Derry would be in the boat of having something to aim for which is a starting point if nothing else. After that it’s hard to give a definite realistic goal until the time comes as other factors like unavailability of players and injuries may put paid to any longer term aims.

Now that Derry have an outside manager, it would be a good time for everyone to pull together both on and off the field. Having been at the coalface for 15 years and also living with my father who was county chairman for six years, and then going back to being a club player only and Derry supporter, I would have a broad spectrum of how it all runs and the ups and down both that the public sees and behind the
scenes.

Anyone who has ever volunteered at club level can testify to the work involved so if you can imagine this but multiply it 10-fold – that gives you an indication of what is involved to keep it all going. It’s no secret that there is a level of apathy towards the Derry team and or the county board in general no matter what happens.

You will always get people who point out the negatives and the begrudgers. That happens so I would just roll with it and take it with a pinch of salt.

In recent years the county board have taken the approach of sharing both the county games and the club games around the county. While it’s good to bring the games to different parts of the county, ultimately it’s the players who are most important and the games should be played where they feel most comfortable, and not use the location as an excuse of not showing support.

Compared to other counties, Derry is logistically not that big with Ballinderry probably being the furthest from Celtic Park. Games have regularly been moved to Owenbeg from Celtic Park and this still isn’t enough to please some people. At the end of the day if you want to support your county team, an extra 20- or 30-minute journey being used as a reason not to go smacks of someone just looking an excuse.

When all is said and done all we can hope for is that the management can harness some of the substantial talent which has been on show over the last few weeks, that the board can back them, that the players themselves realise that a county career can be over very quickly so to give it their all and that the supporters realise that no one is going out on purpose to play poorly or deliberately let the team down.

It takes a lot to tie all these four strands together and become successful and very few have managed this but hopefully 2020 will be a brighter one for Derry