Watty Grahams: Can a team come from nowhere to win an Ulster Club?

The club from the football-mad town, synonymous with the excellence of the local St Patrick’s school in MacRory and Hogan Cup competitions, finally had the big one to crow about when they won a maiden Derry SFC
Watty Grahams: Can a team come from nowhere to win an Ulster Club?

Glen’s Donal Convery, Danny Tallon, and manager Malachy O’Rourke celebrate at the final whistle after Glen beat Slaughtneil in the Derry SFC final at Celtic Park in Derry last month. Picture: Inpho/Lorcan Doherty

On November 7, the gates of Heaven were blown open by the footballers of Watty Grahams, Glen.

The club from the football-mad town, synonymous with the excellence of the local St Patrick’s school in MacRory and Hogan Cup competitions, finally had the big one to crow about. Something all of their own and they didn’t even have to break out the rosary beads for the closing stages.

For the guts of a decade, Glen have been looking a few miles up the road at the continual excellence of Slaughtneil, but by half-time in the final they had the issue settled. In time added on they already had a lead compiled but a ball over the top was flicked on by Conor Glass before Brendan Rogers had the chance to meet him. Danny Tallon showed poacher’s instincts to net it, leaving them 1-6 to a miserly 0-1 up at the break.

From then on, with Malachy O’Rourke on their sideline, all Glen had to do was keep the ball in the fridge.

Their supporters wrung everything out of the day and the days to follow. But for a time before and after, the community has been plunged into an extended period of mourning.

This week, the club were offering no official comment as so many club people have passed away and — understandably — they didn’t want to elevate anyone above others.

The death of Francis Lagan, principal of St Mary’s Glenview primary school was the most shocking, killed when a tree came down on his car as he was driving last Friday. His wife Louise and two of their four children were in the car with him and escaped.

Only 40 years of age, Lagan had a profound effect on many of the current senior footballers in the club as a teacher and underage coach.

The day before his funeral, Glen supporter Jamesy Gribbon was buried. On the same day Anna Murphy — a former Glenview teacher and founder of the camogie club — was buried.

Even the day of Lagan’s funeral, the Glen club were out in force for a second funeral of Camillus Logue.

Others to have been lost to their club is a horrifying toll; Francie McLaughlin, Declan McFalone, Gerry McLaughlin. Bronagh O’Connor and Peter McKenna.

Prior to Glen playing their first match in the Ulster club away to St Eunan’s Letterkenny, the players stood in respect for Niall and Donna Mallon who lost their newborn son Tiarnán Seón.

After the concession of an early goal, Glen produced an aggressive press to melt St Eunan’s pressure and nibble through their lead, eventually taking the lead in the dying moments after a short kickout from Shaun Patton was returned to the goalkeeper, prompting a free from referee Sean Hurson.

In the clubhouse afterwards, Eunan’s spectators couldn’t process what had just happened to them. Club chairman John Haran had been part of multiple forays into the Ulster Club, and can see certain traits in this Glen team.

They meet Scotstown this Sunday in Celtic Park. As soon as Glen came out of Derry, they were installed as favourites for the Ulster Club. Scotstown, a doughty outfit indeed, are priced at 2/1 for this quarter-final.

“People do get caught up in the hype but the facts are that everyone knows this is a good Glen team and they probably should have won a Championship before this year. But this is their time. They have a lot of quality players,” Haran maintains.

“I know Kilcoo are still about, but they are not on the same pedestal as Crossmaglen were in their prime.”

The perception around Glen is flavouring the conversation. One look at those in charge has a certain effect, as much as Scotstown’s main players are going to be aware of what the Glen management bring to things.

“I think the Malachy O’Rourke thing comes into it too,” explains Haran.

“People see that he is in charge, this is the dream team, himself and Ryan Porter, an intercounty management team in charge of a club team and they have won so many county and Ulster minor and Under-21s, and this is the best group of players that have ever come through their club. All that is set.

“If you stood back and looked at it, you might say that it is the first time they have won the Championship. It’s their first time in Ulster against seasoned teams like Scotstown, more than likely Kilcoo in a semi-final, possibly Dromore in a final, it is a hard, hard road.”

Can a team come from nowhere to win an Ulster Club?

It’s not unheard of. Scotstown know a thing or two about that. In 2018, they had won five out of six Monaghan titles, and still they were caught in the final against Gaoth Dobhair who came like a comet that year, defeating Crossmaglen in the semi-final and carrying that momentum through to the final against the Oriel outfit.

But look further down the roll of honour and what you see are teams that have earnestly paid their dues in their domestic Championships before emerging from their province; Slaughtneil and Ballinderry in Derry, Crossmaglen. St Gall’s.

Until you come to a complete outlier. Prior to 2003, the Loup hadn’t won a single Derry title stretching back to their solitary triumph in 1936. They went all the way to Ulster glory that year.

And the man in charge back then?

One Malachy O’Rourke.

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