Jamie McGonigle hoping to celebrate a Derry double with Oak Leaf Minor brother Kian
JAMIE McGONIGLE hopes to be celebrating on the double this weekend as the Derry City striker has a vested interest in Sunday’s 2020 All Ireland Minor Football Championship Final.
The excitement has reached fever pitch in the McGonigle household ahead of Derry’s clash with perennial All-Ireland Minor finalists Kerry in O’Connor Park, Tullamore where Jamie’s 18 year-old brother Kian and 17 year-old cousin Adam will feature in the biggest game of their promising, fledgling careers.
It’s a momentous occasion for the young Oak Leafers who have shown tremendous spirit and character to pave their way to an All Ireland decider less than four weeks after resuming last year’s unfinished campaign - 18 months after it was postponed due to Covid restrictions.
It’s been a rollercoaster since Derry’s one point victory over Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final when the Championship resumed on June 28th. And there was little time to enjoy the celebrations of being crowned Ulster champions after a courageous victory over Monaghan in Omagh as Martin Boyle’s team faced into an All-Ireland semi-final against Meath seven days later.
The Royals were rolled over in impressive fashion in Newry where Matthew Downey (0-8), son of 1993 All Ireland winning captain Henry, pulled the strings in the 1-14 to 1-07 victory. Now free-scoring Kerry awaits in Tullamore but Jamie explains the magnitude of the occasion won’t get to his ice-cool brother Kian who has played a key role in Derry’s memorable journey.
“It will be a huge occasion but I don’t think he’s nervous. I was chatting to him about it and he’s more relaxed than anything trying to see how many tickets he can sort for people,” he laughed.
“Kian is that laid back,” smiled Jamie, who will be hoping to lead Derry City’s attack against Shamrock Rovers at Brandywell on Friday night to kickstart the weekend. “Even the manager said that he was nearly too easy going for his liking,” he laughed. “But that’s just the way he is. He’s just confident in his own ability.”
And the Dungiven teenager has plenty of reason to be confident having produced a sensational point blank save to deny Monaghan’s Connor Eccles a certain late goal and ultimately ensure Derry were crowned provincial champions. He’s been a calming presence in goals for Derry throughout but Jamie explains his younger sibling isn’t one for basking in personal glory.
“He definitely has (played a big role) but a lot of other players played their part as well of course. He’s that humble. People were saying to him after the Ulster Final, ‘brilliant save’ and ‘well done this and that’ but instead of saying ‘thanks’ or whatever he just said ‘ah sure it just hit me in the head’.
“I was telling him that he still had to be in that area and make himself big so it was a great save,” added Jamie who played gaelic football for Dungiven right up to senior level before turning professional.
Kian’s journey to the final has been an interesting one as the former midfielder-turned goalie had to be coaxed back into the sport by a club coach after a two year absence during which time he represented local soccer club Dungiven Celtic. He returned to Dungiven minors between the sticks where he caught the eye of the County selectors and suddenly finds himself on the cusp of All Ireland glory.
“At underage he played midfield and only really went back to Gaelic last year because boys were asking him to go back,” explained Jamie. “He jumped in nets again and ended up being brilliant and now he’s Derry minor keeper.”
Gaelic football runs in the blood of the McGonigle family with Jamie’s cousin Adam also lining out for the Minors on Sunday at cornerback. The Glen, Maghera clubman is the son of Barry McGonigle who won the Tom Markham Cup in 1989 and reached the semi-final the following year, losing at the hands of eventual winners Meath. So the McGonigles come from a bloodline of winning tradition and Jamie believes his cousin is cut from the same cloth.
“Adam is the exact same as his da,” said Jamie. “He just gives you 100 per cent all the time. He doesn’t pull out of nothing and just goes flying into tackles, he’s that sort of boy. There’s no fear in him.”
It will very much be a family occasion for the McGonigles in Tullamore but such is the demand for one of the 500 tickets, Jamie will have to settle for watching the final in front of the TV at home with the rest of his family.
“I can’t go to it now because Derry were only allocated 165 of those tickets and whatever way it works out it was something like four per player. So with my ma and da and younger brother and sister going, that was four already. So we’ll just have to watch it on TV. It’s one of those occasions, that if Derry were to go on and win it, you would want to be there.”
Jamie had been practising his shooting skills against his brother over the last few months and while it’s disappointing he won’t be at the ground, Kian is determined to bring the title back to Derry and continue the celebrations.
“Yes it is disappointing because if we were to win the All Ireland, it’s something you want your family there for,” said Kian. “But given the times we are in, unfortunately that isn’t possible. The main target is to win and if so then we can have celebrations at home after that.”
It’s been a tough schedule for the Minors and it will have been physically and mentally challenging but Boyle’s troops need just one more big performance to be crowned champions.
“I’m not feeling nervous but definitely excited with the opportunity to play in an All Ireland final,” added Kian. “At the end of last year it didn’t look like it would happen, definitely not. There would have been a lot of difficult obstacles to overcome and with Covid no one really knew how things would pan out.
"In terms of being physically challenging, it would only have been the training for myself as a goalkeeper. But for the lads playing outfield it has been an unbelievable shift and thankfully they have come up with the goods so far.”
Meath was the toughest test so far but Kerry, who scored 3-21 in their semi-final win over Roscommon last weekend will pose a bigger threat. And Kian is braced for a tough evening against a team making a sixth All-Ireland Minor football final appearance in seven seasons.
“We know Kerry are a scoring side but with that they are different to Meath. Meath were more defensive-minded but the way Kerry like to play could make it an open game. But Martin Boyle has been a massive influence to the group and he will have made all his preparations. The training sessions are brilliant. He is confident in the whole squad’s ability and that itself gives the team an extra lift. The mood has been brilliant as it always has been, it’s a great group of lads.”
It promises to be a memorable weekend for the McGonigle clan and Kian is hoping it’s a double for Derry.
“It would be the ideal scenario for a double win this weekend. It’ll be an exciting few days, that’s for sure.”