Steelstown will build on Championship success promises manager Hugh McGrath
Steelstown manager Hugh McGrath says they are determined the make the most of their historic first championship title and believes the effects of Saturday’s victory over Greenlough will be felt throughout the club.
Cahir McMonagle’s late free secured the Sheridan, Bateson and Lee Cup after a 0-9 to 0-8 victory and prompted an outpouring of emotion from players, coaches and supporters who soaked in a moment that has been 34 years in the making.
And with the Brian Ogs Ladies qualifying for the Ulster Intermediate Final on the same day, Co. Down native McGrath is hoping a first win for the men in what was their fourth Intermediate final can prove the catalyst for even bigger things in the future.
“Words cannot describe this,” explained McGrath, who originally hails from Saul, “I could try all I want and I wouldn’t be able to do it justice but you will see around our club for the next couple of months, even though it is the winter period, the place will be buzzing. You’ll see it everywhere. Next weekend at our underage training, you will see a crowd like you’ve never seen before and we will make the most of it because times like these don’t come around too often.”
McGrath, who has been player, coach and manager with the Brian Ogs since his arrival in Derry 16 years ago, was a member of Paddy Campbell’s playing panel the first time Steelstown reached the decider in 2010. One year later he was in charge as the city club secured a first ever foray into senior football where the club spent two seasons before dropping back to the Intermediate grade.
McGrath had stepped aside by the time they lost the 2016 and 2020 championship finals but those disappointments merely added fuel to the fire for players like Neil Forester, Marty Dunne, Kevin Lindsay, Ryan Devine, Mark Foley and Mickey McKinney and with McGrath back at the helm this season, fate decreed it would be on the weekend of Brian Og McKeever’s 13th anniversary that the championship drought was finally ended.
“You can’t put that into words,” added McGrath, “With the week that it is and Brian Ogs’ anniversary, the nature of the defeat last year and the defeats that we have had in finals in years gone by; throw into the mix a stalwart like Kevin Lindsay getting hurt in the semi-final and missing the final and you do start to think, ‘Is this going to go for us or not?
“I think the manner of the victory shows what this group of players is all about. Nothing is going to put them down, nothing is going to put them on the back foot, they always have a belief that they are going to get over the line. Thankfully in the end we did and the trophy is coming back to Steelstown.”
The final itself was far from a classic, both sides showing signs of nerves but on Championship final day the result is the only things that matters according to McGrath.
“We said at the start of the week, no one will remember how we played or who scores what, that will be in the scoreline at the end and that’s all that matters,” he added, “We are very good at certain things and when we deviate from those things it can become a difficult game, and we did deviate at times in the final but that’s going to happen under pressure and in front of a big crowd.
“The weight of not having won one was growing but you saw the character of the group, even the lads that came in, nobody detracted from it. In fact the likes of Rory Maguire coming in, that just makes you stronger. For us, we are just happy to get over the line and trust me, we will enjoy this, not just the players but the whole club.”
Steelstown went into the final five minutes one point down before captain and talisman, Neil Forester, took the game by the scruff of the neck, firing over a brilliant equalising point and setting his team on the front foot for the home straight.
“You can be as defensive as you want, you can try and mark out opposition players all you want - and with the couple of star forwards like Greenlough have you have to try and do that - but at some point you have to say you want to go and win the game.
“For us, getting Neil to drive forward, just as he had in the latter stages of the Castledawson game, freeing him up to do that, was be the best way to try and win the game and thankfully it worked out that way.”
Steelstown will now meet the winners of the Donegal final, which will be replayed this Saturday between Dungloe and Clouganeely, in the Ulster Club Championship.
“I haven’t even given it a thought,” added the Steelstown manager, “We will enjoy the win first. Ulster is a couple of weeks down the line so we will enjoy this victory and start to look at it a bit further down the line.”