DERRY GAA: Forester’s pride at historic Oak Leaf captaincy

Neil Forester (pictured in action against Armagh) became the first Steelstown man to captain Derry when he led the Oak Leafers out against Down on Sunday. (
Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye)
Neil Forester (pictured in action against Armagh) became the first Steelstown man to captain Derry when he led the Oak Leafers out against Down on Sunday. ( Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye)

It wasn’t the result he wanted but Neil Forester will never forget the day he became the first Steelstown player to captain the Derry senior football team.

It was special too that Forester was wearing the No. 5 jersey - the same number worn by the late Brian Og McKeever at the Ballyarnett club - on a day he says he will never forget.

To even captain your county once, I can’t put it in words. It means so much to me, especially as I’m the first man from Steelstown to captain the county.

Neil Forester

“It was just a huge honour. The messages I received this week were unbelievable from every friends, from Facebook, from Twitter....everything,” revealed the half-back.

“I have been blown away by the amount of messages. To even captain your county once, I can’t put it in words. It means so much to me, especially as I’m the first man from Steelstown to captain the county.

“I found out on Wednesday night and had a big smile on my face the whole night. It came out the next day and the messages started coming through. It was unbelievable.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t get the win. A lot of people travelled up from Steelstown, so I’m gutted for them that we didn’t get the win.”

Since making his Derry debut in the 2012 McKenna Cup under John Brennan, Forester has been part of the Derry panel without ever nailing down a starting 15 spot but he’s doing his best to change that.

“We have a lot of boys to come back, like the Slaughtneil contingent. Never mind the captaincy, I’m just happy to start, no matter where it’s at. All I want to do this year is cement a position in there.”

Forester did his chances no harm at all with a typically energetic display against Down as Derry continue to build toward a crucial league opener against Clare on February 5th.

“You need a good start in that league, especially now because we want to be promoted,” added Forester. “We were disappointed last year. We had a really good start, won our first two games, had the break but just didn’t get back up to the level we needed to and we only scraped through with a few draws.

“It is important that we get a good start but when you hit that we break, it’s equally important to maintain that focus and we will hopefully will have learnt that from last year.”

The Steelstown man admitted Derry will have to rectify their tendency to start games slowly as, for the second week in a row, Sunday saw them forced to chase a game.

“It was the same in the Armagh match. It’s coming down to boys making their debuts and getting a bit jittery. This is a team very different from last year. We know we’re slow at starting so maybe it’s just taking us a bit of time to gel.

“We were six points down but came back which shows serious character and heart to even get back to a point by half time, even though we were giving away a lot of silly possession.

“The very first thing we said (this year) was that it’s our Derry team and we decide the characteristics of that team. We never gave up, which we showed last week. We had a slow start last week and a slow start today, but we plugged away and gave everything towards the end. Okay, we made mistakes but it’s the McKenna Cup and we have young boys still learning. I think there are a lot of positives going forward for us.”

With Queen’s arriving at Owenbeg on Wednesday night, Derry require Down to lose against Armagh to retain any hope of a semi-final McKenna Cup spot and Forester remains a fan of the competition in which he made his debut.

“You need the McKenna Cup to get used to the pace of the game. Some of the young boys said that game was faster than the Armagh game but we will learn from the three games and if we get an extra one then happy days.

“Everything is focused towards Clare at the end of the day. I think we can take a lot of positives. We’re disappointed not to get a draw at the very least but I think there are lot of positives for such a young team.”