It’s fair to say that Gallagher’s September 2019 appointment didn’t meet with universal approval, but all doubts were soon dispelled as the All Ireland winning coach oversaw a resurgence of Oak Leaf, which produced a first provincial crown since 1998. And McGuigan is adamant the journey doesn’t end here, a tribute to the influence of a manager whose passion for the job is evident every time Derry plays.
“It’s hard to put into words. Look, Rory is probably the best thing that has happened to Derry football in the last 15 years and I don’t say that lightly,” said McGuigan, who went 0-0 in the 1-16 to 1-14 win over Declan Bonner’s men :6 met. “The man lives and breathes football. You’ve heard it all before, but it’s hard to put into words how much he cares about the players and the team.
“He leaves no stone unturned, but credit also has to be given to Enda Muldoon, Ciaran Meenagh, Ben McGuckin and the entire management team because they all play a big role. Anything we want or they think we need to work on, they do. They are doing their due diligence and we are fortunate to have Rory Gallagher on our side right now.”
In a tactical, tense final, Derry was forced into overtime before finally making it home thanks to late points from Brendan Rogers and Conor Glass, with McGuigan pointing out the character of a Derry team that simply refused to bow.
“He hasn’t sunk yet. I know it’s a cliché but it’s been 24 years since Derry last won one and hopefully it won’t be another 24 years because that feeling is special,” he added.
“Look you have a real personality on this team, it’s second to none honestly. In the second half, Donegal came out and scored us 1:02 in the first 10 minutes. They were the team with the momentum at that point, but we have a lot of leaders on the team.
“Brendan Rogers was, well, he was Brendan Rogers! He could run for you all day but was also very brave on the ball when they were pushing and pushing us. He broke lines. Chrissy McKaigue, Conor McCluskey, Conor Conor Doherty – look, you could go on – Gareth McKinless, Conor Glass, we have leaders all over the place and they really stood up for us.
“I think we learned a lot from last year and we didn’t want it to be another losing streak and luckily we got through the goal.
“The scenes are incredible. Many people in Derry didn’t have much to hold on to for a long time. It’s not that they only wanted wins, but our performances weren’t good enough. We were a team that settled for mediocrity, but Derry is a proud county. The fans want 15 players who always give their all for Derry and we now have that in abundance.”
The season has not been easy for Derry as McGuigan admitted the players knew people were questioning the panel after a failure by Owenbeg by Galway ended promotion hopes. They have now answered those doubters and McGuigan believes an Ulster title need not be the pinnacle of Derry’s ambitions.
“Yes, the Roscommon game and even the week after that, Galway slammed us. People seriously doubted us as a team but we regrouped after the league and went into a really intense period of training and that showed us in the last 10 or 15 minutes of this final even in overtime. I think our legs were with us. Peter Hughes (strength and conditioning coach) is a genius. The work he’s done with us, he’s one of the most important men and I don’t say that lightly. He’s the best S&C man I’ve ever met. The work that he put into our company really convinced us.
“Look, I think we would be stupid if we wanted to end our summer here or end our season here and be happy with the Ulster title. I know I’m not happy with an Ulster title, I want more and seeing the scenes on the pitch after that game only makes you want it more.”
These are special times for Derry, says Brendan Rogers after maiden Ulster win in…