"Steelstown will never let Brian Og's spirit die. He will be with them all the time."
THE PROUD father of the late Brian Óg McKeever cut an emotional figure on the rain-sodden pitch at Owenbeg on Sunday as Steelstown players, bearing his son's name on the back of their blue and gold jerseys, celebrated an historic Ulster Intermediate Football Championship victory.
It was a 'special' moment for Brian and his wife, Maire who watched on proudly from home, as Steelstown Brian Ógs, a club named in their son's honour just months after his untimely death in 2008, strive to keep the memory of the talismanic wingback alive.
After clinching that elusive first Derry Championship title back in November the players brought the Bateson, Sheridan and Lee trophy back to Steelstown chapel to celebrate Brian Ógs 13th anniversary mass on what was a poignant weekend of celebration. And the memory of the 17 year-old who died tragically after a battle with leukaemia remains an inspiration for everyone connected with the club.
As Steelstown blasted their way through Ulster, Brian Ógs name was being mentioned across the province, something which manager Hugh McGrath and his players took great pride and satisfaction from as his legacy lives on.
McGrath poignantly remarked afterwards about how proud the team was to not only represent Derry on the provincial stage, but also the inspirational Brian Óg, one of the county's finest prospects, who is never far from the players' thoughts.
After embracing Steelstown captain Neil Forester, who played alongside his talented son, and soaking in a memorable victory for the Ballyarnett Road club, a teary-eyed Brian declared his pride that the players will 'never let his spirit die'.
"It's a very special day," he smiled. "When I see Neil Forester and the boys that played along with Brian Óg, they've stuck at it. The young boys that have come into that team have a winning mentality. We were used to getting beat in finals but these boys don't want to get beat.
"That was a hard game and was very dour but they were fantastic. It's very emotional because we waited so long to get it. I never thought we would win Ulster," he admitted.
"After winning Derry they believed they were champions although they had to dig deep because they (Moortown) were a dogged team but our bench was strong and they are a very tight unit. The very fact it's 15 boys from the city, that's unreal."
He hopes the Brian Ógs success will inspire youngsters in the city to get involved with their local GAA clubs.
"Success breeds success and people want to play gaelic football now," he said. "That's what you want to see, young boys with the O'Neills ball and Brian Ógs jerseys."
Brian Ógs' No. 5 shirt he wore with such pride and distinction has long been retired as a mark of respect and his father knows the club won't allow his story or the fighting spirit he showed both on the pitch and during his battle with illness to be forgotten as he paid tribute to the players who dug deep for victory Owenbeg on Sunday.
"These boys will never let his spirit die," he said confidently. "He (Brian Óg) will be with them all the time. Neil Forester's speech after the Derry final blew me away. He's such a role model for all these young boys for the amount of time he puts into this club. He's a gentleman first but a great footballer and it's great we have boys like that representing this club."
Brian has been a generous sponsor and long-time supporter of the club. Indeed, his Maydown based company Hivolt Capacitors adorn the front of Steelstown's jersey and with his son's name on the back, he admitted it's nice to feel 'a small part' of the club's historic success and remarkable journey on the 35th year of its existence.
"It's only a small part I played," he said humbly. "It's boys like Declan Lyndsay and Tony Hunter and boys lining the pitch, they do all the hard work. I'm in a nice position where I can help out at times and it's great to be able to do it. But it's nice to see the Hivolt sign on the jersey and Brian Og's name on the back, so I'm very proud."
His wife Maire was unable to attend Sunday's game due to illness but she's been a huge supporter of the Páirc Brid club throughout the years and has been involved in several roles including Cultural Officer and on the Fundraising Committee.
She also played an influential role with Steelstown Ladies team and so Brian was keen to point out how the current ladies team have been the benchmark for the men's team this season.
"We were one point away from winning the ladies Ulster Final which is unbelievable. The ladies set the benchmark for the men. However, that win today will keep young boys wanting to stay on after the minors at the club which is fantastic for the future of the club."
Emotions were also high for former Steelstown chairman Michael Heffernan after the match as the players celebrated on the pitch and after suffering so much tragedy through the years following the death of Brian Óg and then ladies senior captain Charlene Griffiths who lost her battle with cancer four years later, the two former players weren't far from his thoughts on what was a poignant day.
"There are people who aren't with us today and they must be in heaven just smiling down," he reflected. "One thing about our club is that we will never forget the likes of Charlene Griffiths and Brian Óg," said the Kilkenny native. "Their memories are at the club forever.
"Charlene's memorial seat is there in front of the gym. Their jerseys are framed and there are picture portraits of them. The kids at our club all know who they were and that's one of the things I wanted was that they would never be forgotten. And they won't be. Well, not as long as I'm alive anyway.
"I just met Brian's father there a few moments ago and he was in tears, he was so delighted. He's so proud of what they've done. He's the main sponsor for senior football men and women at the club and he's put a lot of money into helping us to get where we are today because you don't get here without people sponsoring and throwing money at the club.
"This Ulster title is a testimony to the great work that a lot of people have put in over the years and it's great that so many are here today. People that maybe weren't well enough to travel to county finals and the earlier rounds of Ulster but they were committed to being here today and thank God they were because they will live with those memories forever."