Derry midfielder Conor Glass pays tribute to Martin McGuiness as proud Oak Leaf GAA fan

Standing in the Clones sun surrounded by thousands of Derry fans all soaking in an Ulster Championship victory must’ve felt lightyears away from the cold, dark Saturday night in October 2020 when Conor Glass made his Derry senior debut in front of a paltry few people in Celtic Park.

Derry defeated Longford 2-14 to 0-12 that night but with promotion already out of reach, the spotlight was centred almost exclusively on the No. 24 shirt, or more precisely the tall, red haired Glen midfielder who was occupying it after re-joining the Derry panel only 72 hours previously following a five year stint in Aussie Rules with Hawthorn.

Glass admits he wasn’t quite sure what he was getting himself into when Rory Gallagher helped coax him back to inter-county football so soon after returning from 'Down Under'. Weight of expectation was nothing new for Glass with most of the county waiting to see the impact of a player whose glittering underage career brought three county and Ulster club minor titles with Glen, two Mac Rory Cups and a Hogan Cup with St. Pat’s, Maghera and an Ulster minor crown with Derry. #

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And it’s fair to say, he hasn’t disappointed, proving one of the final pieces of the Gallagher jigsaw that has been building toward Sunday’s Ulster success arguably since football returned from a transformative Covid lockdown period for the game against Longford. Fate? Glass has his doubts but he admits he didn’t expect success to arrive so quickly.

Derry fans keep the flag flying during Sunday's Ulster senior football Championship final in Clones. (Photo: Ulster GAA)

“I definitely didn’t think it would happen this soon,” explained the 24 year-old, “Albeit I knew the boys from school and underage football, I still didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. Coming from a professional set-up like it was in Australia, Rory Gallagher has obviously done a massive job with the boys, and it’s not just him, but the County Board in general. Stephen Barker has been absolutely massive in doing everything and it’s a credit to those boys. Everything they do behind the scenes lets us just go out on the pitch and show what we have learned over the past weeks in training.”

Glass could be forgiven for thinking this football lark was easy but he knows better. Although Sunday’s victory did bring back happy memories of a 2015 congratulatory handshake from one of Derry’s biggest fans, the late Martin McGuinness.

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“ I don’t know what all this fuss is about, it’s not that hard, is it?” laughed Glass, “No, obviously there’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes and I’m just lucky to be a part of these groups of players. Growing up being part of Mac Rory teams, and the underage teams with Glen, even the minor team that were here in 2015, it’s something special.

“I’ve said it before but the last time I climbed those steps in Clones was 2015 against Cavan, lifting the minor championship, and there was one man at the top of the steps that I shook hands with and that was Martin McGuinness. Obviously he’s not here now but I know he’d be a proud Derry man at this moment.”

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Derry manager Rory Gallagher hands out last minute instruction to his team before Sunday's Ulster Championship Final. (Photo: Ulster GAA)

The midfielder’s defensive awareness and ability to launch forward has been a critical weapon for Derry, highlighted by his superb insurance point in Sunday’s final and Glass believes there is no better way to lift the title than by having beaten the best teams in Ulster in the form of Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal.

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“There was no better way to do it really. As the old cliché goes, you try to take each game as it comes and we did that pretty well this year. I think it shows the professionalism and the character of this group that we were able to focus each week and put in a good performance and that’s a credit to all the players and the management so, yeah, it’s a happy day.”

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