My GAA Life

My GAA Life – Derry’s Fergal McCusker

Name? Fergal McCusker

Which teams did you represent?

Watty Graham’s, Glen, my club, from about eight years of age. I represented Derry from 1986 as a minor to 2000 with the seniors.

What is your current involvement with the GAA?

Probably very similar to a lot of other people of my vintage, I help out where I can, whether that’s helping to organise a gala dinner or golf day or parking cars at our pitch on championship day. I managed our u-10s, u-14s and minors for a number of years and am currently a coach with our u-6s and u-8s.

What was your greatest moment in the GAA?

Probably the obvious one, winning in ‘93 was the pinnacle so far.

What was the most surprising moment in your career?

Training with bricks circa 1989 under Tommy Diamond and Seamus McCloy

Who was the best player you ever played with?

Anthony Tohill. I didn’t fully realise how good he was until I finished playing. (Eamonn) Coleman was asked by a journalist if he thought Tohill was a better player than Meath’s John McDermott, he replied “well, McDermott’s a fair footballer but you never see 1-6 in brackets after his name.” For size, power, athleticism, skill and then his free-taking on top, he was certainly the player of my generation and arguably Derry’s greatest ever.

What was the best score you ever saw in a game you were involved in?

Eunan O’Kane, Clones 1989, Ulster Minor semi-final. Derry were gone, he’d been introduced as a late sub and proceeded to have a hand in 2-2 to rescue the game. Derry went on to win the All-Ireland that year with a fair sprinkling of that team involved four years later in ’93. I played with Eunan on MacRory teams in St Pat’s and he was probably the most talented player I played with. His goal that day was sensational.

Which manager made the biggest impact on you and why?

Eamonn Coleman, a visionary. He was picking All-Ireland Derry teams in his head in ’86 before anyone in the county had any notion that we could play and compete at that level. Had that unexplainable charisma that you just didn’t want to let him down in any circumstances. For a supposedly uneducated man he had a superb command of the English language and was a great communicator. Knew the game inside out and a Derry man to his very core; it was unforgivable what happened to him in ‘94 when he was sacked.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received about playing?

Stay away from the big boy with the ginger hair,” wise words from Liam McElhinney at my first Derry training in 1988 in reference to his fellow clubman, Brian McGilligan.

What was the best thing about playing in your era?

We enjoyed ourselves. We trained hard and football was very important to us all but we also knew how to let the hair down at the right time (and I suppose, with hindsight, sometimes the wrong time as well).

What was the worst thing about playing your era?

Steaks after the match were always burnt to a crisp. National League was pre-Christmas and sideline balls and free kicks were off the deck.

When did you know it was time to call it quits?

I didn’t! In our day there were no self-indulgent ode’ to oneself announcing your retirement. You simple weren’t good enough anymore and the mini bus just stopped calling at the end of the lane. Although I still keep an aul pair of Puma Kings in the boot of the Datsun, just in case. I played on with the club until I broke my leg, I was 36 when that happened, a league game against Lavey at home. Brian Mullins told me when he managed us that you should play as long as you physically can because you’re a long time not playing.

What interesting or funny story may readers not know about you or one of your former teammates?

Nothing that would translate or could be committed to print in a reputable publication such as this one.