When Stephen Barker slipped into his new role as chairman of the Derry GAA board just two years ago, things were perceived to be at a rather low ebb in the county.
Significant success on the field of play had continued to prove elusive, the onset of the Covid pandemic had stifled activities to a large extent and successive football team bosses had been unable to transform the Oak Leaf side from also-rans to a potent force.
Right now, though, progress is very much the name of the game on all fronts. The county football team has achieved promotion to Division Two of the Allianz League, the All-Ireland minor title is safely under lock and key, Steelstown have won the Ulster Club Intermediate football title, Banagher have collected the provincial intermediate hurling title, and Slaughtneil are in the All-Ireland Club hurling semi-finals and in Saturday’s Ulster Senior Camogie Club decider.
With football boss Rory Gallagher having been handed a new three-year term, it would seem that the county’s stock could soar.
And if Barker’s term in the chair has been marked by a revival in Derry’s fortunes then the indications are that he will aim to take things to a new level now that he has just become the county’s first Director of Operations.
In this role, he is expected to become a driving force in terms of the growth and development of GAA within the county. Barker has given the Moneymore club outstanding service as a goalkeeper and it is with the club that his qualities of leadership and commitment initially came to the surface.
His imprimatur has been stamped on virtually every element of progress made to date within the Oak Leaf County but he is certainly not prepared to rest on his laurels going forward.
Quite the opposite, in fact. It is understood that Barker harbours ideas and concepts that he is keen to put into practice but right now he is particularly keen to see the Covid-19 threat recede not just in his own county but throughout the island.
Derry have not won the Ulster senior football title since 1998 and this will be a prime goal on the field of play, although every other code under the GAA banner will continue to be afforded every encouragement in the county.
Derry’s All-Ireland minor title triumph has prompted senior boss Gallagher to blood players such as Matthew Downey and Lachlan Murray in the McKenna Cup, Michael McShane is strongly focused on getting Slaughtneil into the All-Ireland Club hurling final and there is an early undercurrent of optimism that could perhaps play a part in easing Derry into Division One of the Allianz Football League.
Barker’s new role means that the Derry county board must now set about the task of electing a new chairman.
There is the possibility that John Keenan, who has served a previous term as chairman, may be returned to the hotseat.
Meanwhile, Tyrone joint manager Feargal Logan maintains that his team were “given a wake-up call” by Cavan in going under to Mickey Graham’s side by 1-17 to 0-5 on Tuesday night in the McKenna Cup.
“We will just have to lick our wounds and get ourselves ready to face Armagh on Saturday. They won’t be easy having already beaten Cavan too,” stated Logan. “We were given something of a wake-up call.”
Tyrone are the holders of the McKenna Cup but they fielded only four starters from their All-Ireland-winning line-up at Kingspan Breffni on Tuesday night.
It is expected that a tranche of more familiar faces will be
restored to the team for Saturday’s game against an Armagh side that looked sprightly in beating Cavan in their McKenna Cup opener.