Steelstown and Forester set record straight on Derry city GAA clichés

He told the county. He’s informed Ulster. Now, having set the whole country straight from high up on the Hogan Stand, Neil Forester is hoping Steelstown’s remarkable All Ireland triumph will finally put an end to the tired old clichés about GAA in Derry city.

By Michael Wilson
Monday, 7th February 2022, 6:36 pm
Updated Monday, 7th February 2022, 6:38 pm

Forester has more than most invested in urban Gaelic Games having coached and nurtured the city’s young players for more than a decade and he’s seen plenty of dark days. Sunday, October 19th, 2016: Forester has just seen his second Derry county final slip away. Exhausted, inconsolable he still made time to speak to the media, though he needed a seat to get his head straight.

He’s watched other hugely talented team-mates step back without the county medal they deserved but deserve, as Clint Eastwood famously reminded us, has nothing to do with it. A third final defeat in the 2020 Derry decider might have broken lesser men, lesser squads but Forester sensed in the influx of young talent a new beginning for Steelstown and perhaps for Gaelic Games within the city. To that end Sunday is not the end of a journey for Forester, it’s the start.

“I remember that conversation very well because I was that exhausted from the game and we were having a wee seat in Owenbeg,” smiles the Brian Ogs captain underneath the Hogan Stand and with the Kieran O’Sullivan trophy safely tucked away in his bag.

“Look, even last year when we lost to Greenlough and you are thinking, ‘Oh my God am I going to finish my career and have nothing to show for it’ and all those old clichés will be rattled out about the city. From going from winning nothing for 15 years to now winning three championships, one of them being the All Ireland at Croke Park, is absolutely crazy.”

So did the disappointments ever make Forester contemplate his future in the game?

“You love the sport too much and love getting out and playing,” he smiles, “It’s lovely when you get together with a group of incredible men that are in our changing room. Even the likes of Gibby (Eamonn Gibson) as this just didn’t happen this year, it’s not like we just came out of nowhere. Gibby put in serious work when no one else wanted to take us, as did (Paul) O’Hea back in 2016 so we have been slowly building and those players have been coming through.

“Our underage structures are solid but a lot of work has gone into it for 10 plus years and when you see people like Brendan Hughes, Paul McMenamin who have coached a lot, to be honest there are too many to name down the years but then all that hard work comes through and seeing these young boys gives you that extra push.

Steelstown’s captain Neil Forester passes to Eoghan Bradley during Sunday’s final against Trim in Croke Park. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2206GS – 027

“Cahir (McMonagle) has been remarkable. (Diarmuid) Baker has been superb. You normally think, ‘Ah corner-backs at intermediate level, there’s maybe a wee weakness’ but instead we have an absolute weapon in Baker. Foxy (Oran Fox) was given a chance this year by (Hugh) McGrath and he absolutely grabbed it with two hands and has been rock solid; again getting good turnovers. He’s the ‘Irish Pirlo’ that’s like a fine wine, he’s been unbelievable.”

Forester is now hoping the squad can remain together and build on their success, establishing Steelstown as a force in senior football.

“Donncha Gilmore doesn’t know anything but winning so we should be alright,” he laughed, “I don’t think he’s ever played chess before but he’s probably a grand master because he can do bloody everything. He’s walking around saying, ‘It’s Croke Park I’ve just won another All Ireland this year and it’s not a big deal!’(laughs)

“Look, hopefully this group can stay together as it’s always going to be hard keeping everyone together. I’m sure everybody is thinking, ‘We’ve accomplished so much’. It would be nice now as a club to try and establish ourselves as a senior team. That’s obviously a tough task in Derry. We’ve seen that ourselves getting out of Derry and all of a sudden we’ve won Ulster and All Ireland titles. To me that shows the standards of Derry football and it’s incredible.

Steelstown’s Eoghan Bradley gets off a pass under pressure at Croke Park on Sunday afternoon last. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2206GS – 030

“I would like this group to stay together for as long as possible. Some of us are probably closer to the end of the road but there’s a lot of really talented young boys coming through as well. People like Baker and McCarron starting to grow into the leadership roles, which is fantastic, so hopefully we’ll be in safe hands and aim for staying in senior for a few years to come.”

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