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A united front is the secret to duo's success


By Declan Bogue

When you catch up with Terry O'Hanlon, the chairman of Eoghan Rua Kilcoo, he's rushing from site to site in central London, where he runs a squad of bricklayers. The job involves a few days in England and the odd weekend. But not this one, when his club take on Slaughtneil in the preliminary round of the Ulster Senior Football Championship tomorrow.

The fact that he is chairman of the club - with the present history-making edition of the Magpies their flagship enterprise - says something about his appetite for work.

Nestled in flush against the Lough Island Reavy Reservoir, Kilcoo may just be one of the most picturesque folds of the Mourne Mountains.

The parallels with Slaughtneil are many.

You want to know the secret of Kilcoo's success and mention that O'Hanlon's son Darragh, the joint-captain of the senior team, said after the Down final win: "Every night you go down to our field, you can't even get parked in the car park there are that many people down."

That sets off Terry's internal getting ahead of yourself alarm.

"I don't want it to be about me," he explains about this piece. "I want it to be about our club and everybody in the club, not about me or certain individuals. The man who sells the tote, who opens up the changing room, the man who does the gate, we want them to feel as important as the senior players."

It was never going to be 'Keeping Up With The O'Hanlons' anyway, but message received as he explains how they don't plan for their annual jaunt in the Ulster Club Championship, but certain steps are taken.

Before the Down Championship, for example, a travelling party of 16 gathered to face a Four Peaks Challenge. They conquered Slieve Donard on a Thursday evening before heading for Mweelrea in Mayo on the Friday, swinging over to Lugnaquilla in Wicklow the day after and wearily cresting the highest of all at over 1,000m tall in Carrauntoohil on the Sunday.

Their number included club volunteers and senior players. The venture raised £25,000, a portion of which will be donated to Daisy Lodge, the children's cancer home in Newcastle.

If there is a secret sauce with Kilcoo, it's about getting buy-in from all directions.

"I think the secret is to create the atmosphere within the club, to bring everybody on board," states O'Hanlon.

Social responsibility comes with the territory. Very soon, work will begin on a £650,000 project that will become the new community centre for the parish, owned by the GAA club, but with all comers and societies welcome.

"I think we try to keep our club more attractive than other things that are going on around us. We try to insulate ourselves away from everything else," O'Hanlon says.

"We try to keep everybody involved and we maximise everyone, to the best of our abilities."

It's a similar story in Slaughtneil.

You pick up the phone to their chairman, Sean McGuigan, and catch him returning home after spending a midweek morning refereeing a school's camogie match.

Ask him how he manages the multi-faceted beast that is Slaughtneil and he surprisingly responds: "Smaller clubs have to work harder. You don't have the same numbers and you feel for Ogra Colmcille and clubs like that.

"I referee them and since the black card came in, you might look over at the subs bench and there is only two or three. And then you say to yourself, 'Sean, you may keep that black card in your pocket'.

"I am just a chairman of a really good club. It could have been anyone else. Ten, 12, 15 years ago, we couldn't get past the first round of Championships. It's phenomenal what Slaughtneil have done this past five or six years."

If there was a turning point, it was the establishment of 'An Carn', the community centre that includes an Irish language school, shop and history trail. A sense of place took hold that has exploded.

But it requires willing workers without ego.

"I shouldn't be bragging," says McGuigan in that way of his that is anything but bragging. "Our secretary is Oliver McCusker, who is married to my daughter Shauna. He is the sort of man whose name you never hear mentioned. I couldn't be chairman of Slaughtneil if he wasn't there.

"Even dipping the generator for oil and keeping the oil in, it isn't his job, but he makes it his job. Filling out team sheets for Sunday's match, every team needs a good secretary like that."

McGuigan's own daughter Denise, a midfielder with the camogie team that won the All-Ireland in February past, is the treasurer.

So the last question to ask is how many hours are put into the running of these clubs?

O'Hanlon baulks and says: "It's very, very hard to do that. You couldn't do that. I wouldn't like to do that anyway. I like to do it because I enjoy doing it. You can't measure hours or time within our club. A lot of people give a lot more time and hours than I do."

And McGuigan?

He says: "I don't know. I don't think of it like that at all. I love working for Slaughtneil and I love my refereeing. It's some family, the GAA."

It sure is.

Kilcoo vs Slaughtneil

Ulster SFC First Round:

Pairc Esler, Newry, Sunday, 2.30pm

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