Rory Gallagher the best thing to happen to Derry Football in 15 years says Shane McGuigan

Shane McGuigan describes Rory Gallagher as the best thing to happen to Derry football in 15 years and says Derry’s Championship summer doesn’t have to end with a first Ulster title in 24 years!

It’s fair to say Gallagher’s appointment in September 2019 wasn’t met with universal approval but any doubts were soon banished as the All Ireland winning coach oversaw an Oak Leaf resurgence that has yielded a first provincial crown since 1998. And McGuigan is adamant the journey doesn’t end here, paying tribute to the influence of a manager whose passion for the job is evident every time Derry play.

“It’s hard to put into words. Look, Rory is probably the best thing to happen to Derry football in the last 15 years and I don’t say that lightly,” explained McGuigan who hit 0-6 in the 1-16 to 1-14 victory over Declan Bonner’s men, “The man lives and breathes football. You have heard it all before but it is hard to put into words how much he cares about the players and about the team.

“He leaves no stone unturned but you also have to give credit to Enda Muldoon, Ciaran Meenagh, Ben McGuckin and the whole management team because they all play a huge part. Anything we want or anything they feel we need to work on, they do it. They do their due diligence and we are just lucky enough to have Rory Gallagher at the minute.”

Derry manager Rory Gallagher and County Chairman John Keenan celebrate in Clones on Sunday after the Ulster Championship win. (Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

In what proved a tactical, tense final, Derry were taken to extra-time before finally edging home thanks to late points from Brendan Rogers and Conor Glass with McGuigan pointing to the character of a Derry squad that simply refused to bow.

“It hasn’t sunk yet. I know that’s a cliché but it’s 24 years since Derry last won one and hopefully it won’t be another 24 years because that feeling is something special,” he added.

“Look, you have real personality within that team, it is second to none, honestly. In the second half Donegal came out and hit us for 1-02 in the first 10 minutes. They were the team with the momentum at that stage but we have plenty of leaders in the team.

Brendan Rogers was, well, he was Brendan Rogers! He could run all day for you but was really brave on the ball as well when they were pushing us and squeezing us hard. He was breaking lines. Chrissy McKaigue, Conor McCluskey, Conor Conor Doherty - look you could go on - Gareth McKinless, Conor Glass, we have leaders all over the pitch and they really stood up for us.

Derry captain Christopher McKaigue raises the Anglo Celt Cup after the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Final in Clones, Monaghan. (Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile)

“I think we learned a lot from last year and we didn’t want it to be another hard luck story and thankfully we got over the line.

“The scenes are unbelievable. For a long time a lot of people in Derry didn’t have a lot to hang on to. It is not as if they just wanted wins but the performances we were putting in weren’t good enough. We were a team that was settling for mediocrity but Derry are a proud county. The fans want 15 players that are always going to give their all for Derry and we have that in bag fulls now.”

The season hasn’t been all plain sailing for Derry with McGuigan admitting the players were aware people were questioning the panel after an Owenbeg mauling by Galway ended promotion hopes. They have answered those doubters now and McGuigan believes an Ulster title doesn’t have to be the summit of Derry’s ambitions.

“Yeah that Roscommon game and even the week after, Galway gave us a trouncing. People were seriously doubting us as a team but we regrouped after the league and went into a really intensive training period and that stood to us in the last 10 or 15 minutes of that final, even in extra-time. I think our legs stood to us. Peter Hughes (strength and conditioning coach) is a genius. The work he has put in with us, he is one of the main men and I don’t say that lightly. He is the best S&C man I have ever come across. The work he has put in with us really stood to us there.

“Look, I think we would be silly to want to end our summer here or end our season here and be happy with the Ulster title. I know I am not happy with an Ulster title, I want more and seeing the scenes on the pitch after that game only drives you to want it even more.”

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