A new dawn has come in Derry’s north coast

UNTIL this year, I had always believed that there were only two ways for a club to win a Championship.

In my book, clubs triumph either through the ‘Father and Son’ model or the ‘Praise the Youth’ system.

The ‘father and son’ tradition lies at the heart of the GAA’s culture. It provides the foundation and fuel for most rural clubs, the small communities that continue to dominate most competitions.

The oral tradition is central to all these parish clubs. Sons grow up listening to their father’s stories. Raised on a diet of yarns about the greatest defenders, forwards, fighters and cowards to have ever played for their hallowed club, they grow up seeking to emulate their fathers, uncles and brothers.

This is unquestionably the most potent and powerful force in the GAA. It explains why country clubs with small populations, and often very ordinary footballers, routinely beat bigger clubs with better players.

It maybe a cliche, but the ‘father and son’ clubs often win simply because their want is stronger. Victory is owed to both the training pitch and the fireside, the place where nightly conversations reveal the dark arts which can be employed whenever the situation requires.

The poor young ‘townie’ footballer really doesn’t have a chance when confronted with his country cousin who combines the zeal of a Mujahideen with the slyness of a card trick hustler.

How can the townie, who naively thinks that he going out to ‘play a game of football’ overcome this huge force of history and hunger? The answer can be found on the walls of many urban clubs that have managed to conquer their rural neighbours. These clubrooms will invariably have a plaque that states: ‘Mol an Óige is Tiocfaidh Siad.’

The adage has become as cliched as the off-the-ball punch that used to signal the start of championship games.

It means ‘praise the youth and they will come’. Study any senior team that has risen to the fore without any history of previous success, and you tend to find a series of underage sides that swept all before them.

The biggest problem facing many urban clubs is that there are no heroes to follow. There is no momentous year on which to build the folklore. This void creates a crisis of confidence, which can only be surmounted if players learn the habit of winning from a young age.

The country club holds no fear to the townie who grows up beating country clubs at underage level. St Gall’s, the current All-Ireland champions, are a case in point. The spine of the current squad played in teams that secured the grand slam, winning titles at U12, U14, U16, minor and U21.

Many clubs seeking to make the breakthrough at senior level now realise that they will only achieve that aim by obtaining success at underage level.

Hence the presence of a dietitian with one of the clubs competing in this year’s Feile! At this time of year when county finals are being played, I tend to bracket the victorious clubs as either ‘Father and Son’ or ‘Praise the Youth’.

That was until Coleraine won this year’s Derry Senior Championship. Coleraine don’t fit into either box. They defy any type of classification. Their story has no parallel.

It’s like Accrington Stanley winning the Premier League. Those unfamiliar with Coleraine Owen Roes will need some background in order to appreciate the magnitude of their achievement when beating Ballinderry in this year’s final.

The heartlands of Derry GAA are on the slopes of the Sperrins. Coleraine is near the north coast. Honda and Suzuki country. Popular for surfing, golf and caravans. Not Gaelic football.

Unlike in South Derry, where St Patrick’ Maghera and St Mary’s Magherafelt compete in the MacRory Cup, there is no football nursery near Coleraine.

Most of the current team went to Loreto Convent in Coleraine. A school where pupils have a reputation for their skill in passing exams rather than a football.

In fact, most of the current team are actually from Portstewart, which is a sizeable town. But the absence of an entrenched GAA culture in the area is reflected by the fact that there is no GAA club in Portstewart.

Furthermore, when Barry McGoldrick lifted the John McLaughlin Cup it didn’t come against a swathe of underage victories.

In saying that, Barry was on a team that won the North Derry U16 ‘B’ Championship.

It was a major victory for Coleraine at the time.

Three years ago, they were an intermediate club. The area is a GAA backwater.

There is no ancient history of success, no incredible underage success, no school like St Kieran’s Kilkenny providing a conveyor belt of talent.

So, how the hell did they do it? A friend from Portstewart put it very well. “It is basically Sean McGoldrick (the team manager), his four sons, and all their mates,” he said.

It might sound simplistic but that’s pretty much Coleraine in a nutshell, though it’s worth mentioning that Niall Holly, the team midfielder is a first cousin of the four McGoldrick brothers Barry, 25, Ciaran, 24, Sean Leo, 22, and Colm,19).

The club’s inexperience has proved to be one of their greatest assets. Other teams in Derry would suffer from an inferiority complex when playing Ballinderry, the former All-Ireland club champions who are a formidable combination of ‘Father and Son’ and ‘Praise the Youth’.

Coleraine were not weighed down by any baggage. Presumably, by not growing up listening to tales about some of Ballinderry’s more epic encounters, the Coleraine lads carried no trepidation into the game.

Ballinderry were simply the opposition. Nothing more. Nothing less. Displaying the cohesion, athleticism and frightening speed that has allowed them to rise to the top of Derry football, they won a thrilling game.

Afterwards, they took the cup back to their clubrooms. Neutrals who attended the function reckons there was ‘50 or 60’ supporters waiting for them. It was low key by normal standards.

But the attendance at the clubrooms and the behaviour of the players tells of a club that is so raw and so new that they were still struggling to absorb what had happened.

That could take some years. But the story will be told. In the fullness of time it will be told to the sons of the Coleraine footballers who made history in Celtic Park.

A new dawn has arrived for Gaelic football in Derry’s north coast.

Contact: p.heaney@irishnews.com

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