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Derry GAA chairman John Keenan: County are restoring pride with run to Ulster Championship final

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Derry boss Rory Gallagher has been getting the best out of his side. Credit: INPHO/John McVitty

Derry boss Rory Gallagher has been getting the best out of his side. Credit: INPHO/John McVitty

©INPHO/John McVitty

Derry boss Rory Gallagher has been getting the best out of his side. Credit: INPHO/John McVitty

Sometimes the final score in a match can carry considerably more weight than mere confirmation of a team’s progress in a particular competition.

The most recent example of this was provided last weekend when Derry overcame Monaghan in the semi-final of the Ulster Senior Football Championship.

Yet even though this cold statistic (3-12 to 0-17) in itself stamped the Oak Leaf side’s passport into a provincial final against Donegal, it carried rather more currency in the eyes of Derry officials.

For the past 24 years — since Derry’s last Ulster final triumph in 1998, to be precise — a number of those same officials have been forced to bat away criticism on issues ranging from managerial appointments to what was perceived to be a rather too heavy emphasis on the club scene.

Right now, though, current Derry chairman John Keenan and recently-appointed Head of Operations Stephen Barker are in no doubt as to just what the team’s renaissance means in a wider context.

“Let’s tell it as it is here. What that result last Sunday triggered was not just a place in the Ulster final for us but a restoration of pride within the county which is great,” maintained Keenan.

“We have been onlookers as other counties have picked up silverware but now thankfully we are back in the frame with a chance of winning the provincial title. It’s great to see this pride in the jersey again.”

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As the build-up to Sunday week’s eagerly-awaited provincial decider at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones intensifies, Keenan confirmed that people will be travelling home “from right across the world” to see the match.

Derry supporters were certainly out in force for last weekend’s semi-final bringing an extra layer of colour and atmosphere to the clash at the Athletic Grounds.

If Keenan has been a driving force in Derry’s rehabilitation, then the county’s Head of Operations Barker could be said to personify the true spirit of the GAA.

He may have been endowed with what could be construed as a grandiose title but a few years ago, while also serving a term as chairman, Barker was only too happy to fulfil the role of reserve goalkeeper for Moneymore in their surge into the Derry Intermediate Football Championship decider.

But right now the possibility of the Anglo-Celt trophy being paraded through Oak Leaf territory fills him with hope, yearning and pride.

“Rory Gallagher has certainly worked wonders for us to date — don’t forget, we came close to reaching Division One just a matter of weeks ago — and I honestly believe that there is more in this side,” asserted Barker.

“There is no better man than Rory to get this from the players, too.

“They would all go through a brick wall for him, to be honest.

“When you look at the huge contribution our longer serving players such as Chrissy McKaigue, Conor Glass, Brendan Rogers, Gareth McKinless, Benny Heron and Shane McGuigan have made to the cause and then you take on board the input of the relative newcomers to the squad, you see that there is a tremendous overall balance within the side.”


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