26 Nov 2015


Ryan King's last kick of the 2014 season was one he will never forget.  Not only did the defeat to Limavady relegate his beloved Faughanvale to the junior ranks but even though he didn't know it at the time it tore his cruciate ligament.  The pain of defeat was much more painful that the state of his knee. 
Playing in an Ulster Final is a special occasion in anyone’s life but when you make a comeback from injury it has to be that bit more satisfying.  Standing in the corner of the Faughanvale clubhouse Ryan King gave us an insight into what drove him back.  The journey back from injury can be a lonely one and will test the character of anyone.   
“It happened in the Limavady game when we got relegated, it was actually the last kick of the game but it’s wasn’t diagnosed until January.  The MRI didn’t pick it up and I knew it wasn’t right so I went to Belfast for a second opinion and I got the worst news possible – that my cruciate was gone.  That was January and on 30th March I got my operation,” King outlined. 
Six and a half months later Ryan King enters the fray in the drawn county final against Drum.  “Joe asked me to come on board as part of the management and to keep me involved.  It’s good crack being along the sideline but it’s not the same as playing.  It’s harder to watch than play.” 
King started the last game against Templeport and outlines the influence of the younger players.  “I started at full forward and ended up around midfield where I am used to and it’s great to be back.  It’s great to play alongside these young lads, they are carefree, they are full of energy and drive everybody on.” 
As you scratch the surface we soon find out what really drove King on during his rehab.  He was very much on a mission.  “I was part of the team that got relegated to junior and I was determined to be part of the team that got us out of it.  That was my big drive I wanted to give a hand in any way I could.” 
King’s preseason was slightly different from the rest.  “I was attending Colm O’Neill [physio] in Bridgend and every Friday I went to the cruciate rehab class in Altnagelvin which then progressed into wee drills at the side of the pitch and eventually back into contact.”  That’s Ryan King’s story and it shows what can happen if you want something bad enough. 
King is at one end of the scale, he is one of the older generation but highlighted the input of the younger players.  One of younger crop is full back Michael Sweeney and the photo of him in the clubrooms wearing the red and white of Derry shows the regard he is held in around the ‘Vale.   
When you chat to him you can see that carefree approach, the exuberance of youth.  After the county final Sweeney admitted he had never even heard of Brackaville [first round opponents].  Since that his outlook on the Ulster championship has changed. 
“After winning the Derry championship the management drummed it into us that we were not there to make up the numbers.  At the start of the year we set out our goals of promotion, the Derry championship and Ulster and at that stage Croke Park would be one game away. Then we ticked off our goals as they came.” 
Sweeney’s insight tells us the difference setting goals made.  “Last year was a bit of a kick up the arse and everyone knew we needed to do something this year.  In the past we were just papering over the cracks and sailing by, sitting mid table in intermediate not pushing to get promoted or to go anywhere in the championship.  When the championship day came everyone tried their hardest but we had no aims set out of what we were going for.” 
Sweeney may be young but he has his head screwed on and can see the different approach and the rewards it can bring but insists the management are central to the success.  “They must take a lot of credit, with the two boys [Shay Murrin and Michael McLaughlin] coming in from outside and Joe’s a link with players and management.  They are all used to winning and with the young boys coming through used to winning.” 
“It brings more of a winning mentality to the club and everyone wanted to do well this year and win whatever was put in front of us.  In Ulster every match is a big match and when you win those games you know they were hard fought for.” 
Looking ahead to Sunday Sweeney is expecting more of the same.  “I don’t really know much about Rockcorry; I was chatting to boy who was at the last match and they are a big physical side.  I haven’t seen any videos yet but the management will have.  Monaghan football is on a high at minute with the county winning Ulster, Scotstown are in their final and Monaghan junior football teams been in most of the finals.  It will probably be the strongest team we have faced so far and another big game but hopefully we can get over the line.” 
As he concludes his interview and heads to training he gave us a quick insight into the Gaffer.  "When Joe is playing you wouldn’t know he was the manager; he’s just a leader within the team.  He doesn’t shout across at Michael or Shay.  He leaves it to them during the match, trusts them and can get on with playing his game.” 
On Sunday Michael Sweeney will lineout with number three on his back, full back and part of the new generation of footballers.  At the other end of the pitch will be Ryan King, the miracle man back from the dreaded cruciate scourge.  Both men are generations apart showing the perfect blend of youth and experience in this team.    
Sweeney recognises this.  “There are young boys running around after games with flags looking up to us the way I used to look up to older players when I was that age.”  On Sunday Sweeney and King will run out of the tunnel together at the Athletic Grounds – different ages, different paths but both with a common goal.  The club championship is special and Faughanvale are embracing it. 


Regardless of Sunday’s result Faughanvale have a vision for their future.  In ten years they want to be back in the senior ranks challenging for the John McLaughlin Cup - named after one of their founder members.  The passport for that journey lies in the youth. 

It’s a bold statement but as Club Development Officer Conor Nicholl explains you need to have targets.  We asked him where he saw Faughanvale in the next decade.  “On Sunday an Ulster title would be brilliant.  For some boys in this club it has been years in the planning when you look at young boys we have in the team.”
“Our long term plan is to get back to senior.  Our ground is John McLaughlin Park and we want to take the John McLaughlin Cup here.  That’s what we want.  Is it going to happen? Well if it doesn’t it won’t be for the want of trying.  We are going for it.  If you don’t set a target you won’t reach it – that’s the long and the short if it.”
Nicholl has been involved in many roles in the club over the years but quickly plays down his input.  He paid tribute to the enthusiasm and drive of chairman Eamon King.  “Eamon is here most nights and does whatever needs done.  He works away in the background and porobably isn’t here because you boys [the media] are here.  That’s the sort of him.”
Nicholl is a reluctant interviewee but he had little option as he was coordinating the PR campaign with Declan McGuinness busy focussing on his playing role for Sunday.  Nicholl doesn’t mind – he is happy to do whatever needs done.
He also recognises others who have put the club where they are.  “We are 82 years old and we don’t forget the men who helped purchase our club grounds in 1981, they are still involved in our club but the next generation is where we want to go.”
The current senior team didn’t just appear.  There was planning there as well.  “We started a youth policy with Paul Bradley ten years ago – we took boys at U6 and U8 and ten of them young fellas now are part of our senior panel.”
“We had a lot of children and we saw there was an interest and that it was gaining.  We had always been able to field well at youth but had never gone that younger age before.  We had always been playing at U12 and U10 but it was then as a club we made a decision to go younger and start at primary school.”
Nicholl knows the youth end of the club well, he managed the minor team this year along with Shane O’Neill.  “In the minor ranks the likes of Sean Bradley, Michael Devine, Eoin McElhinney and Oisin Quinn – they were the start of it, they are our first batch through the system.”
The club’s path back to senior ranks took a speed wobble last year.  “We knew we had these young players coming through.  The plan was to consolidate our intermediate status and build for senior with the likes of Joe [Gray], Stephen and Ryan King.  We didn’t plan to be relegated but we made a conscious decision as a club that we weren’t going to lie down to this and since then it has been shoulder to the wheel stuff.”
Despite the senior team being in the spotlight the club’s social media channel is full of information of primary school coaching.  “We hope these children will filter into the plan for playing senior in ten years. At half time in the junior final we played U8 and U10 blitz. Our young players look up to our senior players.  They are their heroes and they too will want to fill that shirt.  The photo after the match had a load of children in it.”  These young people are part of the future but for now the Ulster Final is giving tremendous satisfaction. 
Nicholl concludes, “It’s the best season in clubs history without doubt. For Faughanvale to be in an Ulster final – to even say that.  Men down the years would have given their right eye for this.  Looking back we had high times in early 90s – playing division one against the Lavey team that went on to win the All-Ireland and we ran them close in league game.  Our teams then were doing well.  Now it’s about the young people, it’s the buy in and the support of the community.  Long may it continue.”
On Sunday the players will get their buzz when they run onto the pitch.  It is their high.  If the result goes to plan it will be a day to remember.  For those behind the scenes, for Conor Nicholl, Paul Bradley, Eamon King, Shane O’Neill and the many others keeping this bandwagon on the road – it will be every bit as sweet. 
 John McLaughlin’s journey to Faughanvale is for another day but nothing comes without dreams or planning and in that regard the ‘Vale are in safe hands.


Faughanvale v Rockcorry Preview 


One of the characteristics of a good leader is not asking someone to do something you would not be prepared to do yourself.  Other important characteristics are to inspire and build up relationships where people will want to follow you.  Leaders also need to be able to delegate responsibilities to those they can trust.

This is pretty much the way Faughanvale’s management team works.  As a fellow player Gray is in the trenches with them during the hour and never shirks responsibility.  He has a proven track record of pulling Faughanvale out of countless battles over the years.  This is where the inspiration comes from.  Then once the ball is thrown in he trusts Shay Murrin and Michael McLaughlin to steer the ship – that’s the delegation part of Joe’s leadership.  

Another member of that management team is Ryan King who battled his way back into it after a serious injury and was determined to chip in with any contribution he could offer to turn things around.  These four men are the heartbeat of the new look Faughanvale and on Sunday two will be in the dugout and two will be on the battlefield.

Last Friday night Shay Murrin wasn’t on press duties, he was away organising training, he now lives in Faughanvale but is a native of Killybegs where he led his club to the 2013 county final.  This is the type of man Joe Gray was thinking about when he was assembling his backroom team.

“I’ve got a brilliant management team and I knew before I took the job I needed a real strong management team because when playing a match there is only so much you can see.  You have to trust boys on the sideline to make decisions for you and in Shay and Michael [McLaughlin] I have that in abundance.”

Michael McLaughlin is originally from Sean Dolans and currently coaches the St Columb’s McLarnon team.  When we caught up with him at the weekend he gave us a tremendous insight into the Faughanvale boss.  “I came to speak with Joe Gray at the start of the year and when you speak to a man like him you recognise that, number one he is Faughanvale through and through and secondly he wanted this club driven forward.”

“Myself, Joe and Shay sat in this very room last December and trashed out our plans and it was great as it was three minds well connected.  The players didn’t know me or Shay from Adam so it was a case of two fresh faces and three new voices. We started training in Inspire [in Limavady] with the conditioning work.  The boys had never started preseason like that so it was different and the boys bought in from the start.”

So what is it like when one of your management colleagues is a player?  McLaughlin laughed as he revealed that Gray on a few occasions had to account for his on field performances.  "He’s been at the wrong end of the tongue a few times during games and been asked why he’s standing where he is standing but we are very lucky to have a Joe Gray.  He is an intelligent footballer and should have been playing county football only for soccer exploits.”

As our conversation develops we learn more about how they are getting the best out of their players.  “Me and Shay do the coaching but Joe is the real reason for our success.  He is the man carrying the burden telling boys they are starting or not.”  However, it is the manner that makes the difference and McLaughlin explains.

“The club are lucky he took this on, people respect him.  He is a local hero and he asks you do to something in that mild manner, never aggressive or loud.  When he asks you to do something you just do it – that’s the kind of respect people have for him.”

Michael makes it all sound easy but Joe confesses that management is still a tough job.  “It’s not easy when you have to drop boys that have been my best mates and played with me all through my career.  It is by no means easy but I be honest and tell them what I feel is best for this club and the players have respected that,” adds Gray.

Gray knew that they had to put in a strong foundation at the start to transform their fortunes.  “We met at the start of the year and thrashed out all what happened.  Everyone had their say, we parked it under the table and said how we were going to make this year better and kept it all positive since.”

“We were never getting ahead of ourselves, the priority was to get back into intermediate football and from day one that was our priority.  Once we got promoted we put it to bed and looked at the championship run.  Now we are in an Ulster final we’ll give it a go.”

The Ulster series has brought freshness.  “There is an enjoyment factor playing teams you don’t usually play as we are used to playing the other teams in Derry. It gives us a chance to get around the various county grounds and a wee trip on the bus and it all adds to the excitement and the occasion.  The supporters are also really enjoying the whole experience and they get behind us.” 

Looking ahead to Sunday Joe is as excited as everyone else.  “I know what it would mean to myself, it would probably be the best achievement of my career.  You can always dream and hope.  I will never hold the boys back from that, if you don’t have dreams then you have nothing to drive you to win.”

Rockcorry will prove a tough nut to crack and according to Michael McLaughlin they provide pace, acceleration and power.  “We saw clips of their county final and they never do anything in 2nd or 3rd gear, they always appear to be in top gear.  I know it’s a cliché but you can’t go into a final if you’re not are going to take things right from the off.”

When they gather in the huddle before Sunday’s game the final instructions will be given.  The work and planning will all be complete.  Ryan King will head to the edge of the square, Gray will take up his familiar position on the ‘40’ with Michael McLaughlin and Shay Murrin heading towards the sideline.   It will be almost twelve months since they hatched their plan.  Now it is time to go to work.  They all know their roles and all trust each other.

19 Nov 2015


Pic - Mark Doherty
It was a very happy and proud Slaughtneil captain Proinsias Burke (pictured) that we caught up after the game.  In his speech he recognised those who helped them achieve their success. "I'd like to thank Francie [Burke], Jazz [Kevin McEldowney], Bun [Bernard Cassidy] and Mark Lowry not just this year but all that all the people have done for us since we were six."

Clearly it is a very unified Slaughtneil group but with all the games in all the codes they are so familiar with each other.  "It means everything to us, this team has been playing together since we were six years of age and to win the minor double is very special and hopefully we can go on a represent Derry not just in the Ulster Hurling tournament but also at St Paul's," added Burke.

Conditions were difficult but midfielder Conor McAllister hinted at the Emmet's preparation.  "It obviously wasn’t ideal but trainings lately have been done in these conditions and the boys were well accustomed to them by this stage."

McAllister also expressed his satisfaction at the end of a fruitful season. "It means everything to us.  At the start of the year we set ourselves a target [the double] and we have now accomplished that.  Now hopefully we can progress and do well in both Ulster campaigns."

We also got the view with selector Bernard Cassidy (pic below) who was involved in many of Slaughtneil's minor triumphs over the years and he paid tribute to this year's crop.  "The result today [the double] was something very few U18 players throughout Ireland have achieved.  These players are very special and are a credit to their families and the  club.  It's great times for us Robbies."


T MACKLE MHC Final - Slaughtneil 2-16 Ballinascreen 0-8

Slaughtneil cruised to their fifth minor title in six years with a controlled performance to see off Ballinascreen at a rain swept Owenbeg on Saturday afternoon.  It also completed the minor football and hurling double, their first since 1999 and helps keep this amazing run of success going.

Proinsias Burke with the cup
(Pic Mark Doherty)
Ballinascreen were out of the blocks very quickly with a point from corner forward Aaron Bradley inside a minute.   Slaughtneil captain Proinsias Burke levelled soon after from the first of his six frees.  Conditions were dreadful with driving rain making footing and handling very difficult meaning both management teams having to patrol the Owenbeg pitch with towels to keep the sticks dry.

Ballinascreen dominated the early stages but Mark Glass was commanding at full back as he repelled a few dangerous 'Screen attacks.  At the other end Liam Cassidy spurned a goal chance after a dinking run.  Slaughteil were wasteful on many occasions but the main thing was they were creating them.  

Slaughtneil manager Francie Burke's messages from the line were clear, he was urging this forwards to be one the move and to hug the sidelines and use the open spaces of Owenbeg to good effect.  Brian Cassidy and Shane McGuigan interchanging roles between wing forward and the edge of the square and Ballinascreen had no sweeper in place to fill that gap.

Like in the semi-final win over the Lynch's this tactic paid dividends.  When the first goal came it was a long Jerome McGuigan ball that was flicked to the net by Shane McGuigan setting the Emmet's on their way.  Shane McGuigan added two points and brilliant catch and run by Conor McAllister won a free which Burke tapped over and Slaughtneil were 1-4 to 0-2 ahead.

Things got even better for the Emmet's with Brian Cassidy hitting a brilliant goal from a narrow angle showing great skill after winning possession from a long delivery from Sean O'Doherty.  Liam Cassidy could have had a third goal moments later but for a terrific save from Matthew Doyle, the 'Screen goalkeeper was excellent throughout and was assured in his handling and stickwork despite tricky conditions.

O'Doherty scored the first point of the second half for Slaughtneil and they had a goal chance moments later Brian Cassidy having his shot blocked by 'keeper Doyle, Cassidy was alert to the rebound but was off target.  

This appeared to spark 'Screen into life with points from Eamon Donnelly, lively corner forwards Marty and Aaron Bradley.  Michael Kennedy was in for a goal chance but it was blocked by a combination of Slaughtneil defenders and the same player had a goal disallowed in the first half.

From 'Screen's point of view their mini revival didn't produce enough scores to break the Slaughtneil stranglehold on the game.  They were going to need goal and with Slaughtneil being wasteful with quite a few chances it could have changed the complexion of the game.
Then came  a six minute spell of Slaughteil dominance which put them well and truly in the driving seat.  Three points from Shane McGuigan, once apiece from Brian Cassidy and wing back Sean Cassidy in quick succession opened up a 2-11 to 0-6 lead with over fifteen minutes still to play.

Three further frees from the flawless Burke and fine effort by Brian Cassidy out on the wing rounded off the scoring and ensured it was Slaughtneil who go on to face Down champions Ballygalget in the Ulster Championship.

After the game Derry Treasurer Pat Brennan presented the Cup to Slaughteil captain Proinsias Burke.

Slaughtneil: Francis McEldowney, Ciaran McGuigan, Mark Glass, Keelan Feeney, Jerome McGuigan, Ruairi McCartney, Sean Cassidy (0-1), Proinsias Burke (0-6 frees), Conor McAllister, Brian Cassidy (1-3), Conan Hunter, Sean O'Doherty (0-1), Liam Cassidy, Shane McGuigan (1-5), James McCloskey.

Ballinascreen: Matthew Doyle, Jason Wilson, Peter Lagan, Caoilte McAlinden, Sean Brunton, Eoghan Gilmore, Ciaran McBride, Ronan Murphy, Eamon Donnelly (0-5, four frees), Ruairi McWilliams, Anton Scullion, Michael Kennedy, Martin Bradley (0-1), Paul McCrystal, Aaron Bradley (0-2).

Referee: Gearoid O'Neill (Banagher)


One the front of their prospectus, St Mary's like any other school in the country outlines it's mission, it's values and in the impressive foyer of their building on Limavady’s Irish Green Street the words 'Living Faith, Inspiring Learning, Shaping Futures' are there for all to see under the school crest.   

Education is an important vehicle on life’s journey but the whole school experience is of equal value as young people develop their social skills, team work and resilience, all vital as they make the steps towards their chosen career. 

Very often it is the extra-curricular activities our pupils will have the fondest memories of, with sport and team sports in particular playing a huge part in moulding our young people.  
St Mary’s Limavady currently have an enrolment of around 650 pupils and have recently made a further commitment towards the development of Gaelic Games in the school and the local Wolfhounds GAA club.  Derry player Chrissy McKaigue has joined the staff and this coincided with the school’s first ever Ulster Colleges title, the Gerry Brown Cup.   

This follows on from the work done previously by Stephen Keown, Tommy Campbell, Des O’Connor and Sean Mullan, Catriona Hull, Jackie Walsh and Siobhan Connolly.  They all have had their input into the lives of the children passing through their hands.  Another man McKaigue knows very well is former teacher Mickey Moran who guided St Mary’s to an All-Ireland Vocational School final in 1984.  That was then but McKaigue has given us a great insight into what is happening on the ground now. 

McKaigue takes up the story giving us an insight what is going on in Limavady.  My role is Sports and Gaelic Games Co-ordinator within the Limavady area. My aim is to promote GAA within the primary and secondary school network. I organise and facilitate all the games and help out with the underage structures at Limavady Wolfhounds.”   

McKaigue also pointed out his link with Wolfhounds chairman Sean Bradley.  “Ultimately my role is to help unlock the potential in Gaelic games that a town the size and talent of Limavady has.  The club have been integral to the schools GAA development in the sharing of their premises for training and games.” 

 “The school is blessed to have a state of the art sports hall and fitness suite. We also have a sports pavilion that has excellent changing facilities and two full size pitches.  The future of the GAA in St Mary’s is really positive. We have an excellent leader and principal in Mary McCloskey. She has been tremendous in support of me and my work. We realise the power sport has in developing our pupils into leaders in society and  really value Gaelic games and our students appreciate the opportunities they get in playing Gaelic games for the school.” 

McKaigue speaks highly about his experience of the Ulster Colleges scene in his days in St Patrick’s Maghera and highlights the benefits of Limavady moving into that grade. “The main advantage is more games as we compete in both Ulster Colleges and Derry Vocational schools. The main problem for me in GAA as a whole and particularly at underage is the training to games to ratio. The more games we as a school can provide will generate more interest and ultimately help the development of GAA in the area.” 

The main feeder clubs for St Mary’s are Glack, Drumsurn, Limavady Wolfhounds, Faughanvale and Magilligan.  In other big counties like Kerry and Tyrone many of their top players come from Intermediate and Junior clubs, in Derry this has never been the case.  How can this change?  

McKaigue explains, “The biggest challenge for me is trying to establish a stronger culture of Gaelic games within the Limavady and surrounding area. There perhaps is a lack of belief within the area about their ability in Gaelic games because many of the pupils don’t come from traditional powerhouses of GAA clubs. The exposure to Ulster colleges and the competition against some of the top schools around Ulster has shown that some of our pupils and teams are as talented as anyone else in Ulster.” 
Gerry Brown Winners
(Pic Derry Journal)
Last season when Limavady brought home the Gerry Brown Cup, they defeated St Ciaran’s Ballygawley, a school that has produced many top players for both Errigal Ciaran and Tyrone.  Also last season the senior boys were pipped in the final of the O’Doherty Cup by Holy Cross Strabane.   

Historically most of the county’s college success has come from St Patrick’s Maghera, with other schools coming along with their turn at the top but McKaigue reckons getting other schools to match the Maghera consistency is the key to Derry’s GAA. 

As a county we will flourish if we can get more post primary schools playing Ulster Colleges A and B football. The vast majority of our pupils at St Mary’s are coming from Junior and intermediate clubs.  Getting exposure to Ulster Colleges football on a consistent basis means the local clubs will benefit and ultimately Derry GAA as a whole would also reap the rewards.” 

“It takes time to build up a standard of playing at that level.  I believe St Marys have the structures in place to making inroads up the levels of Ulster Colleges.  For example this season our Year 11 boys will compete at Grade B Ulster Colleges. For a school with our student body size that is a remarkable achievement.”  With the club scene almost wrapped up for the season some players won’t see a ball until early next season and any development may have been lost by the next season comes around and according to McKaigue this is where schools come in.  “The post primary school network is paramount to GAA development within the county.  It gives the pupils the chance to compete and train throughout the year when their clubs are finished. The more games and coaching schools can provide means more exposure to GAA and as a direct result the local clubs will also benefit from this.” 

This week St Mary's are preparing for the Derry U16 semi final against St Colm's Draperstown and McKaigue will be busy organising pitches, referees, kits and getting his St Mary’s Limavady charges together.  School life will go on, coursework will be taken care of but Mrs McCloskey and the GAA fraternity will hope that in the not too distant future another Ulster title will come to St Mary’s.  Sean Bradley of Limavady will realise the value it will bring to the Wolfhounds with new Derry Director of Football Brian McIver also keeping an eye on developments. 

The Gerry Brown may not have the media profile of the MacRory, McLarnon or Mageean Cups but if Ulster Minor titles are to become a more common occurrence and another visit of Sam is on the horizon then tiny acorns will need to grow into great Oaks.  In the meantime McKaigue will continue to harness the next crop of Limavady children and as their school motto suggests – shape their future.