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Derry ace Kevin McGuckin will go down a club legend

In the vaults of YouTube there is a clip of Ballinderry Shamrocks bringing the Andy Merrigan Cup home in 2002.

After the journey back from Thurles after beating Nemo Rangers in the All-Ireland final, two pipers lead the players back into the village, over Ballinderry bridge. Holding a lug each of the trophy are Adrian McGuckin junior and Niall McCusker. Just behind them, arm in arm with his comrades is Kevin McGuckin, looking as fresh today as he was then.

It's a virtual impossibility to write a story on Ballinderry and not mine the McGuckins seam for an anecdote; and so we begin in Clones, almost a fortnight ago when the Shamrocks are due to face Scotstown.

Ballinderry club secretary Pat McGuckin, who played for the club until he was 40, "didn't want to quit the game, football mad," according to son Kevin, hands out the jerseys. He tidies up the team sheets and takes care of all the admin duties. Then as the team leave the dressing room and turn left onto the pitch, Pat turns right.

Out the gates and up the town for a stroll. He won't stand and watch the game. Can't do it, not Championship football, anyway. Instead, he wanders the towns of who his club are playing and stays in touch with Kevin's mother, or his wife Deirdre as to how events are unfolding.

If they are safe, he might make his way back. But this year's county final against Ballinascreen "might have been the first time he saw the final whistle blow in a county final."

People have their ways. Kevin reckons Pat's 'thing' might have coincided with when he started playing. By now it is an established tradition. "It's bound to be terrible," imagines Kevin, "but that's what he does.

"It's a funny one because he will come to the league games and do umpire. He will stand roaring and shouting like everybody, maybe get into it too much. So maybe it's good for myself and everybody else that he is not at the Championship games. He might get on your case!"

This is Kevin McGuckin, former Derry captain we are talking about here, in case there is any confusion. His normal position used to be full-back but this year he has been in midfield more often.

Kevin 'Moss' McGuckin is one of his closest friends and "probably" a far-out relation. He is a midfielder by trade and the nickname? Well ... "He lives on the Moss Road, so ... Very inventive! He got Kevin 'Moss'."

When their schedule allows, the two Kevin McGuckins might whisk the wives away, or they may be travelling together to a stag-do, and they produce their passports – and it's a panic.

This year there hasn't been an idle weekend. They emulated the men of the early '80s, including father Pat and uncle Adrian, in winning their third consecutive Derry Championship and from then on it's been full steam in the Ulster club. There's youth in the side, but it is overwhelmingly backboned by the side of 2002.

Enda Muldoon, Conleith Gilligan, Darren and James Conway, Mickey Conlan, Martin Harney, Kevin Moss, Darren McGeehan, Pat Crozier and Stephen Scullion all bridge the divide between this edition and the one of 11 years ago.

McGuckin's motivations have changed too, as he explains, "It does feel like a long time ago since I was 21 and winning the All-Ireland. Didn't think as much about it as I should have had. I was a student in Belfast at the time, running about. Everything was great. I think I would appreciate it a lot more now. We were probably thinking more of the actual celebrations than the actual games at that time!"

From Ballinderry came a decent career for Derry. He was corner-back on the team that won the 2008 National League with a final win over Kerry in Parnell Park, but getting back to county standard was probably an even bigger achievement. In 2007 he was the Derry captain, in the shape of his life and never playing better. He was due to get married in the lull of late April between league and Championship, but then disaster struck when he broke his leg in a nothing last-round fixture against Louth.

He went down the aisle to wed Deirdre in crutches and a moon boot. That night, in the Hillgrove Hotel in Monaghan, he skipped around the first dance in a pair of carpet slippers. Stories to definitely tell the grandchildren about.

He hopes to mint a few more though. While he says Pat never quit until he was 40, he says he has never felt better and his appetite has never been greater at 32, as he explains.

"When you are feeling good and playing rightly you have to love football. When you are in the Ulster club, it's great to see the lights on in Ballinderry and you would definitely miss it if you didn't have it.

"But I am no different to any of the rest of the lads. We are all good mates, a good wee unit. Everybody gets on.

"I couldn't be without it and I wouldn't want to be without it. I have no intention to step away yet now, but it does get more difficult too."

Demands get greater as life becomes more responsible. He is an accountant working in Magherafelt and he and Deirdre are family now, with Faye, Donnacha and Pauric.

Soon he will be bringing children through the ranks just as Pat brought the present squad through under-12. But for now, they have Kilcoo to occupy themselves.

Their replay win over Crossmaglen impressed McGuckin. "They are a well-built, physical outfit. You know by looking at them that they are a side that have done their work."

There is a vim to the Shamrocks now though. Along the elder statesmen they have Ryan Bell developing nicely. The two McKinless boys have been serious additions and there's Aaron Devlin too.

With families like the McGuckins, they will never be far away.

Belfast Telegraph

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