Steelstown chairman Paul O'Hea believes Ulster title win would 'raise the bar' for city clubs

PAUL O’HEA believes Steelstown’s first taste of Ulster Intermediate Championship football was enough to convince the club’s players they belonged there and he believes a first provincial title on Sunday would ‘raise the bar’ for every club in the city.

By Simon Collins
Saturday, 8th January 2022, 7:24 pm
Updated Saturday, 8th January 2022, 7:26 pm
Steelstown chairman, Paul O'Hea (extreme right in blue coat) pictured cheering on the Brian Ogs during their Ulster semi-final victory over Butlersbridge
Steelstown chairman, Paul O'Hea (extreme right in blue coat) pictured cheering on the Brian Ogs during their Ulster semi-final victory over Butlersbridge

The 2002 Oak Leaf All-Ireland Minor champion and McLarnon Cup winner knows what it takes to win the big occasions but defeat in the 2010 Derry Intermediate Club Championship final to Castledawson is emotional ‘baggage’ he’s had to carry for over a decade.

O’Hea went on to guide the club to the 2016 Intermediate decider against the same opposition but again fell at the final hurdle - another moment which still rankles with him.

And so as one of the ‘old brigade’ who raced onto the pitch at Ballymaguigan to celebrate wildly as the Brian Ogs finally ended a 34 year wait for that Derry Championship title with victory over Greenlough last November, his ‘out-pouring of joy’ was understandable.

O’Hea has represented Steelstown in almost every capacity having captained the senior side, assumed the role as Public Relations Officer before taking over as manager alongside his good friend Eamon Gibson in 2016. At the club’s 2021 AGM before Christmas he was ratified as chairman, taking over the reins from Eddie Friel and has been deeply entwined in the history of the Ballyarnett club.

Victory on Sunday against Tyrone champions Moortown at Owenbeg would be deeply satisfying for the local pharmacist who believes the players will be feeling ‘liberated’ after that historic Derry championship win having knocked on the door for so long.

“People say that Ulster has been a bonus and getting over the line was definitely a big thing in Derry but once they tasted Ulster football, when they went into that first match, okay the match was close in the end but the performance was there to convince them they can compete,” said O’Hea.

“We have good players and they’re relishing it. They’ve never had the chance to do it before so they’ve stepped up, embraced it and they’re just going for it.

Pau O'Hea pictured in action for Steelstown against Forglen during his playing days.

“They’re playing with a lot of confidence and speed and they’re very fit. They’ve all looked after themselves well and you can see that in the performances, especially in the second half where they come out very strong. Hopefully they can keep that going.

“But I do think it’s been liberating to a certain extent to get that first win in Derry and hopefully we can keep pushing on. We’ve got a chance now in the Ulster Final. Everybody is looking forward to it and hopefully Sunday will be a big occasion for the club with good support there. If we got the win it would be amazing.”

Steelstown have racked up an incredible 9-39 in their previous three Ulster ties against Cloughaneely, Donaghmoyne and Butlersbridge but O'Hea doesn't expect Sunday's decider to be a free-scoring affair.

"Finals are always a bit more cagey, they're always closer and there's never much given away. We'll have to see on the day if we can get over the line but it's certainly not something they're going to be afraid of. They will go and enjoy it and attack the day essentially.

Steelstown players and coaches celebrate their semi-final win over Butlersbridge.

"It's two of the best teams who make the final and there's always an element of feeling each out and they're never usually as free-scoring as the preceding matches. I don't care what the score is as long as we come out the right end of it at the end of the day.

"We'll be doing things to negate their strong points and they'll be doing things to negate ours. We'll see how it plays out. One of the good things we've shown is that we have multiple players who are stepping up each week. It's not just the forward unit but the backs are combining really well and it's been really satisfying to see the second half performances from a defensive point of view as well. Without the ball we've been working real, really hard to limit teams.

"I'm looking forward to it and everyone's buzzing around the club. Hopefully we get a good performance on the day and see where it takes us. Hopefully Sunday will be a big occasion for the club with good support there. If we got the win it would be amazing."

With the ladies senior team also crowned Derry Intermediate champions, it’s been a remarkable campaign for the Ballyarnett club and O’Hea is delighted the men’s team have prolonged the season.

“The last few months have been fantastic. There’s been different stages at the club, we’ve hit different milestones but the last few months have been fantastic. Within the space of a week or two we had the girls win back to back Derry senior championships and then the senior men get over the line in the Intermediate final.

“Just to get to the stage of winning the championship, it was such a relief to win it. There was obviously an out-pouring of joy but the last few months after that to go through Ulster, at each stage, with each match the team has grown that bit more. The younger players have stepped up again and it’s been a fantastic building of performances.

“Sunday is obviously going to be a big challenge but it’s fantastic for the club to look forward to an Ulster final. Training through the winter and Christmas time is new but what more would you want than to be out playing and performing in meaningful games in January that the club has never got to before?

“We’re representing Derry and it’s a lovely change to be playing for an Ulster title in the middle of January rather than trudging back out for pre-season training.

“We will all just be so delighted if they can get the win. It would be massive for the club, massive I think for the city and would raise the bar a bit. I want all the city teams to be challenging each other and doing well. If we can be the first to make that leap, then brilliant but we want to see the others coming on too and pushing things.”

O’Hea was saddened that his good friend and former senior team-mate Marty Dunne won’t be between the sticks having played in every one of the club’s finals since 2005.

“Even if you go back to 2005 and the club’s first final, the Junior final where we were beaten (against Glen thirds), Marty would’ve been playing there. I was suspended but Marty played and I feel sorry for him that he won’t make it.

“He’s been the senior keeper for over 20 years and it’s disappointing for him to suffer a knee injury in the last minute or two of the Intermediate final and miss the run to Ulster. If anyone deserved it, it was him and I would’ve loved to see him playing. I’m sure it will be hard to look on, having been between the sticks for so long.

“The boys that get to play, it will be such a privilege and I’m sure everyone is just buzzing about it. They’ve been flying in training by all accounts and I’m sure they will be well ready for it."

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