Doire Colmcille turn page on new chapter

Pairc Colmcille nestled just off the Glen Road in Derry City.
Pairc Colmcille nestled just off the Glen Road in Derry City.

It may seem like a small detail, but the history section of the Wikipedia page of Doire Colmcille was last updated in June 2008.

That period, roughly a decade ago, is one which is marked in the mind of the club’s Games Promotion Officer (GPO), Matthew Maguire.

“We had a successful Ladies team,” he recalls.

Una Harkin, Shauna McCallion and Paula Fleming had represented Derry in the All-Ireland Ladies Football final at Croke Park, but it was a crest of a wave which soon dissipated. The club had lost numbers at underage following a successful decade of producing men’s and ladies’ footballers during the 90s.

“Sometimes we’d have had just five kids at training,” says Maguire. “But we trained the kids anyway because that’s what a GAA person does. You keep going.”

With training held nomadically all over the city, from council fields to St Columb’s College pitches and Celtic Park, Maguire reasons that the cohesiveness needed to retain the interest of children and parents in Gaelic games was just too thin on the ground.

“I think parents just got fed up with the uncertainty,” he says. “Having to travel all over the city and maybe not knowing where they were going in advance was far from ideal. It was a stage that some started to believe that having our pitch was never going to happen. We were without that hub that is central to all GAA clubs.”

Now into his third year as a GPO for the club, Matthew is seldom seen without his black and amber colours on show. Carrying out weekly PE classes in St Patrick’s Pennyburn, Holy Family, Model Primary, St Anne’s, St Eithne’s and St Joseph’s Boys primary schools, the 26-year-old also runs after-school coaching sessions as well as primary 4 classroom support at the Pennyburn school.

“People say to me: ‘Why are you always wearing club colours?’

“But the answer is simple. I’m here representing the club. The reason that we do this in schools is to represent Doire Colmcille and build its playing population.”

With over 30 children in each of the U6 and U8 age groups, Colmcille are now back on a par numbers-wise with most other clubs in the county. The club fields at every age group up to U14s where it currently has over 20 at training on a regular basis. At U16 and U18 it is currently engaged in an amalgamation project with city rivals Seán Dolan’s. “That’s the void we’re now trying to fill,” explains Maguire of the period a decade ago where the club almost toppled over the proverbial cliff.

“We’ve taken part in every ‘Go Games’ and county blitz over the past few years and the numbers are good,” he says.

It’s all about building a systematic process of producing players for Doire Colmcille according to Maguire. Sporadically, the club has unearthed a few gems so there’s no reason to suggest the sustained strategic effort will not bear fruit.

“Dean Curran started the Ulster U21 final for Derry last year,” explains Maguire. “We also had Ulster schools’ success with St. Joseph’s. That reflected our U16 and minor situation because the school team was more of less a combination of ourselves and Dolans. Tiernan Hutton is now coming through the various Derry underage panels so that’s part of the new wave as well.

“We had Brian (O’Donnell - Sean Dolan’s) in there involved in the coaching as well in St Joe’s. It was a real joint effort which shows that, at that particular age group, the talent was there. It was perhaps just a case of numbers for each club.”

The success of St Joseph’s has made people sit up and take notice says Maguire.

“This wasn’t St Columb’s reaching a MacLarnon final. This was St Joe’s. People were saying, ‘Where did that come from?’ It has certainly given both clubs great heart. If we can keep doing what we are doing at the lower age groups and retain the numbers, then I believe the future is very bright.”

If 2008 was seen as something of a watershed for the club, then 2015 is when the tide began to rise again.

Club chairman Mark Higgins and GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghaíl officially opened Páirc Cholmcille on 13 June, 2015. It was the ceremonial end to years of toil and persistence and the beginning of something new.

“It’s not just a pitch,” explains Maguire. “It keeps our club at the centre of the community. That’s something we never had before. It’s not just the games, because not everyone is into sport. We have language classes and music and everything else that maybe other clubs take for granted.”

The club, as a hub of the community, was never more evident or essential than in 2015 following the tragic passing of flame haired defender Caolán McCrossan following a year-long battle with cancer. He was just 13 years old.

A Year 10 pupil at St Columb’s College, a member of Oxford United Football Club and a Doire Colmcille player, Caolán’s passing provoked a stream of emotion and subsequent fundraising with the club able to play a central role alongside the rest of the community to raise money for CLIC Sargent, a leading cancer charity for children, young people and their families.

Three years on and the pitch is now a hive of activity at Lowry’s Lane. Through Maguire’s work, the club has its school links which are fuelling its numbers.

With the news this week of the development commencing at Doire Trasna, there’s an energy beginning to emerge from the city’s GAA fraternity. An affinity between clubs born of a shared experience and common set of challenges now exists.

It’s a movement which Matthew Maguire puts a little more succinctly when he says: “People need to realise that the GAA doesn’t stop at Dungiven. The exact same thing exists here.”

Slowly and quietly Doire Colmcille has begun to find its confidence and, more importantly, its place nestled in the heart of the community.

It’s nearly time to write a new chapter in the club’s history.