Success is reigniting the fire of Derry’s long-suffering fans
Derry had all but grown accustomed to becoming also-rans in the Ulster SFC until they made a big breakthrough last year by winning their first provincial title in 24 years.
That out-of-the-blue triumph caused reverberations throughout the county, although the team’s failure to overcome Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final was a bitter disappointment.
Yet the old adage that success breeds success perhaps best encapsulates the current mood within the Oak Leaf county. The allure of capturing three titles within a fortnight is such that sport is now a predominant issue rather than an under-the-table topic.
With the county’s senior footballers having retained their Ulster crown, the minor football team will face Monaghan in the Ulster Championship final at the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds in Armagh on Sunday, while on Saturday week the county’s hurlers will square up to Meath in the final of the Christy Ring Cup.
Derry’s stunning progress may ultimately have been achieved by the players on the pitch but decisions taken away from the public spotlight have played no small part in steering the county into the limelight.
The appointment of immediate past chairman Stephen Barker as director of operations and the election of former chairman John Keenan for another term have served to stabilise and reinvigorate the county.
Johnny McGarvey’s appointment as hurling boss and the choice of former senior manager Damian McErlain to take charge of the minor football team have proven sound, while Ciarán Meenagh’s step up to fill the managerial role with the senior football team has been hailed on all sides.
Indeed, not many new bosses have their baptism in a provincial final in front of a packed stadium, but Meenagh passed that test with aplomb.
Now with Derry due to host Monaghan at Celtic Park on Saturday night (7.0) in their initial All-Ireland round-robin tie before crossing swords with Donegal and Clare, hopes are high that the county will once again be in the mix in the closing phase of the race for the Sam Maguire Cup.
In winning back-to-back provincial titles, Derry did not just take delivery of silverware – they reinvigorated a county that had virtually given up hope of success.
The response of the fans – and most noticeably the many family groups of followers – has been as significant as the input of the players.
The explosion of interest in Derry’s progress has impacted on the players to such an extent that a special bond appears to have been forged between them and their fans.
It’s perhaps best summed up by Brendan Rogers who has won a shoal of medals with Slaughtneil in football and hurling and is now cherishing his exploits in the Oak Leaf jersey as much because of the joy they are bringing to the public as for any other reason.
“Look, the football is getting the kids and their parents interested. It’s getting them out of the house together.
“It sounds so small maybe, but what this does to people’s lifestyles in your county, your community, is unreal,” stresses the amiable Rogers who has already attained something akin to folk-hero status in the county.