Belfast Telegraph

Then and now: Gribben his all

Roddy made a massive contribution

By Micheal McGeary

RODDY Gribben became familiar with the glow of sporting success during a lucrative spell in the colours of Newbridge and Derry spanning the 1940's, 50's and 60's.

But he also endured the frustration of going only a limited distance in pursuit of a cherished sporting goal.

That was in 1944 when Derry won the Ulster Junior Football Championship by overcoming Armagh in the decider.

The title was most welcome - but the opportunity to play in the All Ireland semi-final had to be forfeited because of the travel restrictions imposed in relation to the Second World War.

"It was only after we won the Ulster final that the realisation dawned on us that we were not for Croke Park," smiles Roddy. "It would certainly have been a great thrill for us all to have played there but it just wasn't to be."

Indeed, Roddy ventures to suggest that Derry would have fancied their chances in the All Ireland series.

"I am still convinced to this day that we had a very good side. We had players like Jack Convery, Joe Hurley, Charlie Moran and others in there. I played at midfield alongside Mickey McNutt from the Sean Dolan's club in Derry city and he was a superb player," recalls Roddy.

The half-forward line in that side - Pat Keenan, Francie Niblock and Laurence Higgins - were all from Magherafelt.

"They were well used to playing together and this kind of cohesion proved a big bonus for us in the Ulster championship," explains Roddy.

In 1945, he found himself in the Derry senior team - he never played under-age or Minor football - and within the next five years he found himself garnering honours on a regular basis.

Two Dr Lagan Cup medals, a National League accolade and a Dr McKenna Cup gong arrived - and Roddy maintains that the Derry players felt like superstars!

"We were all fairly young and just loved being involved. I well remember that National League triumph in 1947. We beat Clare in the final and afterwards we were told that we were the first team from the Six Counties to land the title. There was a certain satisfaction in that," reflects Roddy.

While he was winning Derry senior championship medals with Newbridge almost for fun - he landed six in all - he had to wait until 1958 before he landed his most prized honour.

"That was the Ulster senior championship title in 1958. We had outstanding players in our side and we had been maturing along the way, " explains Roddy.

He had a dual role that year as player and manager.

"I just happened to fall into the managerial role. I had been captain of Newbridge when we were winning a few things and the job with Derry just sort of evolved from that," says Roddy.

"But to be honest it was easy. When you had players like Jim McKeever, Phil Stuart, Sean O'Connell and others in your side, they did not need much managing."

Derry went on to beat Kerry in the All Ireland semi-final before losing to Dublin in the decider.

Roddy was also selected for Ulster during his tenure in the Derry side, landing a Railway Cup medal.

"I enjoyed being involved with Ulster. You got the chance to play with some of the biggest names in the sport - I was surprised and delighetd to have been invited into the squad," admits Roddy.

The Gribben surname dominated the Newbridge teamsheet in the 40's and 50's with Roddy often lining out alongside his brothers Willie, Owen, Mickey, Hugh Francis and Henry. They underpinned the side and helped to make Newbridge a potent force for a long time.

Roddy remained as Derry player/manager for two years but had no real desire to expand on this role.

"I was happy to be involved for that couple of years but I never really wanted to become a manager as such.

"I was asked a few times to become involved but I had family and work commitments and they had to come first even though I was always passionately fond of football," says Roddy.

He stepped down from the Derry senior squad in 1960 and overall gave over 20 years service as a player to Newbridge, the club which he helped to project onto the sporting map and which to this day is synonymous with the name Gribben.

No time like the present

THOSE who knock current football standards might well be advised to give Roddy Gribben a wide berth.

Now a retired farmer but still an avid follower of Derry, Roddy believes that the game is faster and more attractive nowadays.

And he cites last Saturday's AIB All Ireland Club final as a case in point.

"There is great emphasis on fitness and flair - I like that," he muses.

He and his wife Anna have a family of seven - Marie, Ann, Paul, Roisin, Catherine, Roger and Una.

And, it almost goes without saying, Paul and Roger inherited their dad's love of football.

"Maybe their best days as players are behind them now," he smiles.

The family as a whole take a deep interest in Derry GAA affairs and Roddy himself is very much a sports buff.

"I enjoy all sports on television, particularly gaelic football and rugby," he explains.

He has served as chairman of Newbridge in the past and was at the helm of operations when the club completed work on their playing complex and hall.

"It was probably viewed as an ambitious project in those days but we wanted to provide something for the future.

"We felt that we should have a community focus and the response we got was superb," points out Roddy.

He has also been heavily involved in propogating the work of the Credit Union movement.

"I became involved initially many years ago and found myself being asked to go to meetings in different places like Greenlough and elsewhere where branches of the organisation were being formed. I have always been an admirer of the concept of the Credit Union and I am very pleased to see the way it has helped people down through the years," says Roddy.

Indeed, he has done much to foster the community aspect of the Credit Union Movement as a whole.

He enjoys walking and is a familiar figure in his own neighbourhood.

"I suppose I have always been used to the outdoor life having been involved in farming. I still enjoy meeting people and having the craic. There is always something going on here just as there is in other communities - it's what helps to keep us all ticking over," smiles Roddy.

His positive attitude, warmth and integrity have surely helped to make him an Oak Leaf icon.

Belfast Telegraph


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