31 Jan 2016


It’s Thursday night in the heart of Ballinascreen parish and Tempo native Charlie McNally is doing what he does best. Chatting about football!  He is the owner of the appropriately named Hogan Stand Bar at the top of the Five Mile Straight.  On a lovely day the setting of Eagle’s Rock in the distance is postcard material and today Charlie’s will have passed it as he headed over ‘The Birren’ towards Celtic Park.
McNally has been in this neck of the woods for twenty-five years but after spells in London and New York he confessed it was ‘by accident’ that Ballinascreen was where he eventually settled.  After a decade working as a publican in the ‘Big Apple’ McNally was looking to follow this up when he returned to Ireland in 1991.
“I was living up in Trillick at the time.  I was looking for a pub and I bought the local paper and this pub happened to be in it.”  This coincided with the start of a golden generation in the early 90s for Derry and Charlie rhymes their honours and achievements off the tip of his tongue.  Jimmy Magee wouldn’t have a look in!
The renaming of the bar had nothing to do with Derry’s regular visits to Croker.  It was closer to his heart than that.  “I was always going to name it The Hogan Stand, my daughter’s Christening party was held at a bar called the Hogan Stand in New York.”  In fact locally to those in Moneyneana [or whatever way it’s meant to be spelt] it is simply known as Charlie’s.
One of the first things you notice is the array of Derry photos on the walls, images from battles between Derry and Down, with centre stage a picture of the 1993 All-Ireland winning team. There is a roaring fire on and the football chat is in full flow.  On the counter lie three newspapers, all with the sport pages open.  It’s the type of scene you will find in any Irish town or village.
Another item hung on the chair behind the bar is a Derry jacket and when we mention it Charlie laughs, “Hugh Peter [McWilliams] gave it to me, I wore it last week and I don’t think I’ll wear it for a while.  I get too much stick.”  He is now a fully-fledged ‘Screen man but as we delve deeper into McNally’s archives, he has never forgotten where he came from.
Fermanagh people will be glad to hear that Charlie has given pride of place above the fireplace to a framed photo of Fermanagh’s team of 2004.  He follows Fermanagh everywhere whether it’s division four or division one and last year he was one of the many supporters who applauded the Erne players after their epic battle with Dublin.
Jim McGuinness couldn’t fathom Fermanagh’s players and fans celebrating despite defeat but McNally had a different outlook.  “Everybody thought we were going to Dublin and not score maybe but we scored 2-15 and we thought this was great, scoring 2-15 against The Dubs.”  He also didn’t miss the fact of Fermanagh hitting nine wides against the breeze.  All those years of going to games the length and breadth of the country, he misses very little.  You’d want him in your quiz team, that’s for sure.
The Tempo man predicts the Metropolitans to retain Sam this summer with a tongue in cheek statement. “It’s hard to go by The Dubs; last year I said the team that beats Fermanagh would win the All-Ireland!”  When prompted about what has made the difference to his county’s fortunes, McNally points to the influence of Rostrevor’s Pete McGrath.
“He has nothing to prove in football and has had a big influence on the whole thing.” Charlie added. “We are very lucky to get a man like Pete. Down will surely regret not taking him back.”  For now however he looks forward to the Erne boss getting the best from their talisman Quigley but he knows they need more than that.  “McCloskey [Ryan] has been a great servant over the years.  There’s a lot of young boys coming in now, young McMahon [James], the Jones brothers and the Corrigans.”
In a recent interview Tony Scullion admitted that he had received a few phone calls from McNally about the impressive Derry performances.  Back in his younger days ‘Scud’ spent many a Sunday night working in the bar and knowing Charlie well suspected he was setting Derry up for a fall.  It’s not just Kerry men who play the ‘cute’ card you know.
During our chat Charlie is still singing the same tune, playing down Fermanagh’s chances.  “It’s a big jump for us, Derry coming down from division 1 and us coming up from division 3.”  He knows the football scene well and says the race for the Anglo Celt Cup is between Derry and Tyrone.  “Derry won’t be far away but I hope they come second and we [Fermanagh] win.”
With Gaels across the country debating the various proposed changes to the All-Ireland Championship, this Fermanagh man gave his opinion.  “The back door made the like of Fermanagh!  Just look at 2004 and going to the replay of an All-Ireland semi final.  We didn’t get it easy against Meath, Donegal, Armagh and Cork, but with no back door there’d be no fairytale.”
He is a fully adopted ‘Screen and Derry man at this stage, twenty-five years on and he’s a well known character in this picturesque corner of the Sperrins.  One of the best games he ever watched was Derry v Down in 1994, even though Derry lost to a late Ciaran McCabe goal.  McNally reckoned if there was a ‘back door’ that Derry team would have won at least another three All-Irelands.
Neither did he want a ‘Champions League’ format as he wants to see his beloved Fermanagh win an Ulster title before the provincials are done away with.  They came closest in 2008 and when I asked him what the best game he ever attended was, he immediately referenced the win over Derry in Omagh that summer.  He would have had some smile behind the bar that night!
McNally hadn’t met anyone from ‘Screen during his American adventure but four days before opening the Hogan Stand that changed.  While going into Healy Park for the 1991 Derry v Tyrone game, he got chatting to Ballinascreen man Brian Yarry [McWilliams].  When he informed him about his forthcoming business venture Yarry told him ‘I’m not a drinker, you’ll not see me’!
Since that day he has built up a great rapport with the locals.  From that 1991 game he remembers Seanie Meyler throwing the ball down quickly for a free, Derry took it quickly and it resulted in a late Damien Cassidy winning goal.  This level of detail is only found in enthusiasts like McNally.   That was twenty-five years ago and Derry fans will be hoping it makes for an omen ahead of 22nd May.
McNally will be supporting Derry that day no doubt, but today he will be in the stand at Celtic Park cheering on his native Fermanagh.  When he catches up with Hugh Peter and Pele [John Scullion] Charlie will be hoping the Erne County will have the bragging rights.  Regardless of the result, the fire will be on, the game will be dissected and the chat will be aplenty. 
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30 Jan 2016

Mock Derry SFC Draw

Just to confirm this isn't actually the draw, just an idea to show the potential games it could throw up.  I don't want the CCC or Dermot McPeake starting to panic! 

With the Derry SFC going down the knockout route next year, imagine the excitement if this was the championship draw that was tweeted from Owenbeg next Tuesday night.

Preliminary Round
  • Glenullin v Claudy
Round 1
  • Ballinascreen v Magherafelt
  • Kilrea v Glenullin/Claudy
  • Greenlough v Newbridge
  • Dungiven v Loup
  • Lavey v Coleraine
  • Slaughtneil v Ballinderry
  • Swatragh v Glen
  • Banagher v Bellaghy

An Alternative Race for Sam

All-Ireland Championships

By Adrian McGuckin @shamrocksabu

With all the debate about championship structures, B competitions and who all has a say in the race for Sam, Ballinderry man Adrian McGuckin has put forward this structure.

It is based on three separate All-Ireland competitions that are linked into the provincial championships. The teams in the AN Other Cup and the winner of the Tommy Murphy Cup all have an opportunity to join the race for Sam.

He has laid it out into 3 All Ireland Competitions.  We have put scenarios and counties alongside it to see how it progresses.

  • Sam Maguire Cup -Overall winner of All-Ireland
  • AN Other Cup
  • Tommy Murphy Cup
Championship is played as normal to the provincial final stage

Provincial Winners go straight into Last 8, so at this stage we have an incomplete quarter-final lineup as shown below.

  • Derry
  • Mayo
  • Dublin
  • Kerry
  • TBC
  • TBC
  • TBC
  • TBC
The provincial runners-up go into last 12 – so at this stage the last 12 looks as like:

  1. Derry
  2. Mayo
  3. Dublin
  4. Kerry
  5. Donegal
  6. Galway
  7. Meath
  8. Cork
  9. TBC
  10. TBC
  11. TBC
  12. TBC

So we need four more teams, so that’s where the AN Other and Tommy Murphy Cups come in.

The AN Other Cup is played out between the 16 teams who finished highest in league but who didn't qualify for their provincial finals.

  • The winner (Tyrone) and runner up (Roscommon) would then go into the last 12, leaving two spaces left to be allocated.
  • In the AN Other Cup both beaten semi finalists play a 3rd place play off. The winner (Armagh) takes the 11th slot in the last 12.
  • The loser of the 3rd place play-off (Westmeath) is eliminated from the All-Ireland Championship.
This means 11 have qualified for last 12 and that’s where the Tommy Murphy Cup comes in.

The Tommy Murphy is played off amongst the 9 teams who have the lowest league placing and who didn't qualify for their provincial final.

The winner of the Tommy Murphy Cup (Antrim) then enter the race for Sam, which could look something like this.

Last 12 Games (Qualify for Sam Maguire Cup)
  • Donegal v AN Other Cup Winners (Tyrone)
  • Cork v AN Other Cup Runners Up (Roscommon)
  • Galway v 3rd Place team (Armagh)
  • Meath v Antrim Tommy Murphy Cup winners

All-Ireland Quarter Finals

4 Provincial winners v Winners of Last 12 games

  • Most teams are playing MEANINGFUL football at level where they can compete with a title at the end off it.
  • A MASSIVE PRIZE in qualifying for last 12.
  • Everybody gets competing in the all Ireland competition.

29 Jan 2016

Derry aiming to bounce back

Derry have made four changes for the visit of Fermanagh on Sunday in Celtic Park (2.15).

As expected Conor McAtamney starts in place of Brendan Rogers at midfield after an impressive showing against Tyrone.

With Fermanagh's star player Eoin Donnelly stationed at midfield this sector is going to be vital.

The other injury victim Enda Lynn is replaced by Conor Kearns at wing forward.

The other two changes are somewhat tactical.  Danny Heavron is listed at corner forward with his brother Shane the one losing out.  

The older Heavron [Danny] is noted as a wing back or sweeper, so it looks like Derry are going to mimic Fermanagh's setup and hit them on the break.  Che Cullen could then be left free but with Derry's goal and penalty threat it is unlikely he will push up on Danny Heavron.

The other change sees Neil Forester come in for Mary Craig with Chrissy McKaigue lining out at full back where he will lock horns with Erne talisman Sean Quigley.  

Danny Heavron will provide the protection in front of McKaigue with Forester, McKinless and McFaul all given licence to counter attack - hopefully not all the same time as McKinless will have to keep and eye on Ruairi Corrigan.

In the other matchup either Ciaran Mullan or Karl McKaigue will be tasked with picking up Tomas Corrigan, who now plays his club football with Plunketts in Dublin alongside the Brogan brothers.

Pete McGrath has named nine of team that lost last year's All-Ireland Quarter Final against Dublin. There is only one change from the McKenna Cup defeat to Tyrone with Damien Kelly coming in at wing back for Paddy McGovern.

Derry Team
  1. Thomas Mallon (Loup
  2. Karl McKaigue (Slaughtneil)
  3. Chrissy McKaigue (Slaughtneil)
  4. Ciaran Mullan (Eoghan Rua)
  5. Neil Forester (Steelstown)
  6. Gareth McKinless (Ballinderry)
  7. Ciaran McFaul (Glen)
  8. Emmet Bradley (Glen)
  9. Conor McAtamney (Swatragh)
  10. Conor Kearns (Magherafelt)
  11. James Kielt (Kilrea)
  12. Benny Heron (Ballianscreen)
  13. Danny Heavron (Magherafelt)
  14. Cailean O'Boyle (Lavey)
  15. Ryan Bell (Ballinderry)
Fermanagh Team
  1. Chris Snow (Ederney)
  2. Michael Jones (Derrygonnelly)
  3. Aidan Breen (Tempo)
  4. Che Cullen (Belnaleck)
  5. Declan McCusker (Ederney)
  6. James McMahon (Roslea)
  7. Damien Kelly (Tempo)
  8. Eoin Donnelly (Coa) - CAPT
  9. Conall Jones (Derrygonnelly)
  10. Barry Mulrone (Devenish)
  11. Ruairi Corrigan (Kinawley)
  12. Paul McCusker (Ederney)
  13. Ciaran Flaherty (Belcoo)
  14. Sean Quigley (Roslea)
  15. Tomas Corrigan (St Oliver Plunketts/Eoghan Rua)

Meyler set to fulfil his dreams

The difference between winning and losing is at times marginal but the contrasting emotions are there for all to see.  Sammy Bradley’s late winner for Slaughtneil broke Omagh hearts under the Armagh floodlights on that November night in 2014.  
Pic - teamtalkmag.com
The sound of Ciaran Brannigan’s whistle saw Omagh players sink to their knees.  One of those broken men that night was Conor Meyler but the emotions last weekend were oh so different.

Last Saturday evening as Mattie Donnelly led his side out for the second half of the McKenna Cup Final, number 25 Conor Meyler took left and trotted towards the D’Alton Park end.
Tyrone had it all to do but when Noel Mooney threw in the ball nobody in the ground would have envisaged the effect the Omagh man would have on the game.

The energy he brought to the game was vital as Tyrone got back into the game.  Winning just over half of their own kickouts, Tyrone had to make every possession count and in this department Meyler was a class above anything on the park and will be a useful addition as they plot their championship path this summer.

His father Seanie was a terrific servant of Tyrone football and Meyler junior is very aware of the proud tradition of playing with the county.  “Every day you put on a Tyrone jersey you’re honoured to be on the field. 
There is a proud tradition with Tyrone and you have to avail of the opportunity and growing up that’s what you want to do.  You want to play for Tyrone and any chance you get you have to try and take it.”

During his post match interview he is firmly focussed, looking straight ahead with his game face still on.  As the rest of the Tyrone panel filter past him heading for the bus they are trying to unsettle him.  No chance!  He is still in the zone and hoping to make the panel and is aware of those snapping at his heels.

“At the minute the squad is really really tight and I’m just happy to get a bit of game time and try to prove another point to Mickey to try and make the panel.  At the minute competition for places is serious, everyone is working really hard in training.”

Even though he wasn’t listed on the official squad on Saturday night Sean Cavanagh is still in the vicinity, signing autographs.  The children look up to him and so too does Meyler.  Cavanagh (213 appearances) and skipper Mattie Donnelly (69) are experienced campaigners and the young Omagh man is hoping to impress them.

“What the older players have done in training and from watching them it’s rubbing off.  The younger boys coming on wouldn’t be where they are without them older boys.  They really do look after us, they spur us on and we look up to them as role models. We try to impress them as well as Mickey.”

Meyler covered every blade of grass in the Athletic Grounds and played a huge role in winning the game but he still values the senior members of the panel.  He emphasises how important it is to play to the final whistle. 
“You’re looking up at Sean Cavanagh, Mattie Donnelly and these boys.  They’ve won so many games in their time in the last 5 or 10 minutes.  Young boys can only do so much; you need the leaders to really spur you on.”

That said, the younger crop coming in from last year’s U21 panel have given the Red Hands a fresh impetus and Meyler pointed out the importance of last year’s U21 success in their development towards senior. 
“With the U21s last year we won a lot of games very late on so obviously we know that when you put on the Tyrone jersey you’re never dead and buried until the final whistle”.

Three times during the interview Meyler references ‘putting on the Tyrone jersey’ and the importance of it.  This Sunday he will wear the number twelve jersey and no doubt the GPS unit will be in overdrive tracking his every move.
As he takes a seat in the familiar surroundings of the Healy Park dressing room he will have sole focus on the Cavan game.  Somewhere in the back of his mind there will be another burning desire though.
He will crave to pull on a starting jersey on 22nd May in Celtic Park. The modern game is about energy and mobility and the flame haired Omagh man fits the bill.

Tyrone Team: Michael O’Neill, Aidan McCrory, Justin McMahon, Cathal McCarron, Niall Sludden, Rory Brennan, Tiernan McCann, Colm Cavanagh, Mattie Donnelly, Cathal McShane, Peter Harte, Conor Meyler, Lee Brennan, Connor McAliskey, Ronan O Neill.


28 Jan 2016


This week the GAA’s leadership made a move giving all referees the power to amend the additional time allocated at the end of our games. How many times have you left a game citing that your team’s comeback was cut short as you felt there wasn’t the required time added on?

With Stephen Cluxton up kicking frees, Anthony Nash trotting up to take a penalty or a manager making a couple of late ‘tactical substitutions’ to kill the momentum of a game, something had to be done.  

As games tick towards a conclusion the board held up by the fourth official is eagerly sought after.  It adds to the excitement.  Has the board went up yet? 

This season referees have been given a license to add on time for three main categories. 
  • Goalkeepers or Defenders coming up to take attacking frees and penalties (usually takes around 20 seconds) 
  • Substitutions (usually takes around 20 seconds) 
  • The use of Hawkeye in Croke Park only (usually takes 30 seconds) 

The figures above are approximate but are based on research.  Bearing this in mind, we have outlined a potential situation that could occur this season if Dublin are playing Kerry. 

In the 2nd half of the game there are: 
  • 3 Kerry substitutions – 60 seconds 
  • 4 Dublin substitutions – 80 seconds 
  • 4 Stephen Cluxton frees – 80 seconds 
  • 1 instance of Hawkeye – 30 seconds 
In the above example 4 minutes 10 seconds will be added to the normal time for stoppages.  With time almost up and if the referee has one minute of injury time, there will be six minutes on the fourth official's board.  

 A lot can happen in six minutes when there are tired limbs, concentration levels dropping and players making poor decisions in the heat of battle. 

Like all rule changes, they will  take time to bed in and for referees, players and supporters to get used to it.  

These changes were coming, it was only a matter of time.  Will it curb Beggan or Cluxton coming up to hit frees? It'll depend on the context.   

If it is a kickable free with Monaghan a point down, Malachy O'Rourke will no doubt instruct the Scotstown man to head forward and have a go.  If a team is a point up and under pressure it may make a manager think.   If they go for it and miss, then they have to absorb another 20 seconds of pressure. 

The referee will always round up his time to the nearest full minute. So if there are 3 minutes 50 seconds to play and the free brings it up to 4minutes 10 seconds then the referee will round this up to 5 minutes.  So the free has effectively the free has added 70 seconds on to the clock.  Can your team hang on?

It will make for more good debate at grounds across the country.

Derry Championship Draws

The draw for the Derry championships will be made next Tuesday night (8.15) in Owenbeg.  This year there will be a more interesting angle with the senior football championship reverting to straight knock out.

Last year Derry and Ulster Champions Slaughtneil lost to Lavey in the round one but the Emmets followed Loup's 2009 path and won the John McLaughlin Cup via the 'back door' route.

This year the safety net has gone and there is interesting addition.  Glenullin who were relegated last season have applied to join, bringing the total to seventeen teams so a preliminary round will be required.

The Intermediate championship will again have a different group format that will replace the previous qualifier system.

McCullagh to lead Oak Leafers again

Derry Hurling manager Tom McLean has confirmed that Banagher man Sean McCullagh (on left of picture) will skipper his side again in 2016. 

"Sean did an excellent job last year and we are keeping him in the role."  McLean is rebuilding his squad after losing fifteen of the panel that contested last year's Christy Ring Final.

With the football squad starting their NFL campaign this Sunday, Damian Barton has yet to pick his leader for the season.  It has been muted that Barton doesn't get too cauight up in who he chooses to lead his teams.  He echoed this in an interview after the first McKenna Cup game. 

He told the assembled press that all his players need to step forward and lead by example."Sure they should all be captains.  They all have to accept the responsibility of managing it out on the pitch.  The personnel we have are very quiet players so that’s something we need to develop within them as well. The communication aspect so we’ll keep working at it."