Derry legend Mark Lynch says Ulster title is icing on the cake after cancer recovery
Amid the scenes of Banagher celebration in Healy Park on Saturday, one man's quiet smile stood among the crowd of jubilant players and supporters.
Former Derry football captain Mark Lynch is not one to seek the limelight. He's always preferred to do his talking on the pitch, the sort of player team-mates, managers and supporters look to when games are in the mix. It's been that way throughout a brilliant county career that started with Derry minors' 2002 All Ireland win and lasted for 15 years in the senior Oak Leaf shirt for which he never gave anything less than everything he had.
But Banagher has always held his heart and success with the St. Mary's has been all too fleeting for one of Derry's true modern greats.
And yet there he was, surrounded by the family and friends of his beloved Banagher, soaking in a day Mark admits he never thought he'd see. And certainly never thought he'd be a playing part of.
Two years ago the Oak Leaf legend was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He's admitted he was very lucky to have caught it early but after a successful operation and chemotherapy, Lynch came through. That episode would have finished the careers of most and while he admits the decision to return to playing wasn't a foregone conclusion, standing in Omagh with an Ulster Club medal gripped tightly, there was no need to ask how he views his decision to return now.
"It has been a strange 20 odds months that I've had but it's nice to be standing here soaking this in," smiled Lynch after St. Mary's 2-11 to 0-12 victory over Lisbellaw, "Every game I'm getting is just a bonus. I'm really happy and very glad I came back out. I never expected this I suppose, but it's a lovely icing on the cake.
"It's just a very, very nice feeling. Just to win with all your friends, boys you grew up with, is special. Obviously at this stage we have tasted the Intermediate title in Derry before and while we were always taking it game at a time, but once you get closer and closer, it was something that was sitting there for us and something we really wanted to go and grab and achieve.
"We felt it would be a special achievement for everyone and it's very nice to win it. t's mad to think we are going to the All Ireland Club series and it's nothing I could have expected this time last year but as the year went on and we started to win games and build confidence, it's amazing where momentum can carry you."
Banagher's victory was as historic for the county as it was for the Feeny club who became the first club from Derry to lift the Ulster Intermediate championship title.
"That's a nice thing to have and just adds to it," added Lynch, "Again, we were just hoping. We don't win too much as a club so it was a nice feeling to be that team that got over the line for the club and for the county.
"The girls have represented us so well in camogie in Ulster over the years and we had a wee stint in it with the football a few years ago so it is nice for us to get there and show our true colours at this level and come out on top."
Banagher's run to the Derry and Ulster titles has been built on superb defence, a facet that was again evident in Healy Park after Brian Og McGilligan's 28th minute goal brought them level just before half-time.
"We've been very strong but we are coached very well all year on it," added Lynch, "It comes from everybody, the whole way out. If the forwards stop the ball, slow down the ball or take a bit of pace off it, it obviously makes it easier for the back six in there. Then you have the Roes in there, the Farrens and the rest and they all love a battle and are brilliant at it. They have pulled me out of many a hole so I'm very thankful to have them in there alongside me.
"It was a brilliant take (from Brian Og for the goal). A horrible bad ball from me in," laughs Mark, "But he took it brilliantly and finished it so well, roofing it. That's what we have in this team. I have the unfortunate bother of having to mark him most nights at training and it is complete torture.
"No, Brian Og is a superb player, a superb athlete. He is a real leader in this team and he showed it today."
Banagher's experience proved critical after they hit the front in a second half in which Ciaran Lynch's goal put the seal of a victory no one in Banagher will ever forget.
"We took our scores at the right time and that momentum was building for us in the second half," explained Lynch, "They had a couple of chances, no doubt, and we were sniffing that out. Gabriel got a brilliant tackle in at one stage, a great hook. Small things like that gave us a real lift and pegged them down a bit.
"Once you get that bit of a lead you are able to manage it better on your own terms and we have great leaders who have played at a high level, boys like Darragh McCloskey, Ruairi McCloskey and others. These boys kept us right and thankfully it worked out for us."