Steelstown's Neil Forester wants to keep the good times going

Former Derry player Neil Forester wants the Steelstown Brian Og’s ‘train’ to keep moving forward as they prepare for Sunday’s historic Ulster Club Intermediate final against Tyrone’s Moortown.

Friday, 7th January 2022, 7:00 am
Steelstown captain Neil Forester lifts the Derry Intermediate Championship trophy back in November.

Forester says experiencing the happiness their Derry title brought to the community in November has reinforced his determination to keep the good times rolling at the club.

“I just want the journey to keep going,” he explained, “It’s not just about winning at the weekend, it’s about keeping this whole journey going and keeping the smiles on people’s faces as long as possible. It’s about promoting it in the city because there are so many incredible Gaels and we maybe haven’t been given the full respect we deserved down the years.

“This run in Ulster has given us a little bit of legitimacy. For me, the county title meant the world to me but it turns out once you achieve a goal the next one is there and you just want to grab it as well.

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“The journey the club has been on and how much we have suffered, not just me but people you have been around. You see people like ‘Scone’ (journalist Conan Doherty) in tears after the county final; seeing Aidan Cleary and Paul O’Hea, people that you have grown up playing alongside, making them happy is why we want to win because we have suffered so much.

“I have been in a lot of finals between Steelstown and county. I have lost more than I’ve won, so that’s maybe why I’m so determined to get over the line again on Sunday.

“This year was our fourth Derry Intermediate final. We had lost three and I have lost an All Ireland Minor final and three McKenna Cup finals with Derry so I know the pain of losing a final.

For me and some of the older boys like Ryan Devine and Kevin Lindsay, we just want to rack up as many wins as we can because we have to cram it in while the going is good.”

The 31-year-old revealed he takes great pride from the fact a city club is doing so well.

“It’s an absolute joy and a privilege to be a part of it. Seeing how happy it makes a lot of people and the messages you’re getting is unbelievable,” he added.

“There’s Gibby (Eamon Gibson), who took us the last two years when no one else wanted to take us, it’s class for people like him that we can deliver the success that he laid the foundations for.

“People like Brid Moore, who travels to every game, and your own family. Bringing the whole community together is fantastic. I think the most important thing about all this is that this is Derry city team. Maybe in the past a lot of Gaelic clubs in and around the city would have had people from outside Derry coming in and playing, but this entire panel of Steelstown players are all born, raised and played in Derry city.

“There’s nobody from like Antrim or Tyrone, this a homegrown team and very much a city team. Some great people put in years of hard work and those efforts are coming to fruition. People like Tony Jackson and Damien McMahon, who were fantastic coaches that we have had in the past. This is all their hard work coming through and maybe that’s why it means so much to everybody in our community as they have all been part of it.”

November’s Derry victory over Greenlough was Forester’s first championship medal at his fourth attempt with Steelstown but he revealed it didn’t take long for the player’s mindset to change after the county final.

“We have talked about how our mindset changed very quickly after the county final,” he confirms, “We thought the county final was going to be the highlight of the year and then once you have played your first match in Ulster we all realised that we want to make a serious attempt at this and our mindset changed.

“I know it’s all about enjoying the occasion but we have lost too many finals to be just going in Sunday’s final as ‘a wee day out’. We want to win it and deliver the trophy, especially because we have waited so long for one.

“We want to keep building momentum so we aren’t out just to take part and as much as you try to enjoy the occasion, we are there to perform.

“Coming through those massive games in the Derry Championship has given us brilliant mental preparation for the Ulster Championship and we have been able to go out and express ourselves.

“We have got stronger as the Ulster Championship has gone on which is fantastic because normally you are out now in pre-season but we are looking to try and get our best performances at this stage and some players have stepped up.

“Shane O’Connor was injured for a lot of the Derry Championship but he came on against Donaghmoye in the Ulster quarter-final and was unbelievable. Even the last day, Eoghan Heraghty was a great example as well. He hadn’t played a minute in the league or Championship for us then Marty (Dunne) gets injured and Eoghan steps up and is having an outstanding Ulster Championship. It shows the depth we have and it has been a joy to play in.”

Forester is in a unique position having coached many of his now senior team-mates when he was Games Promotion Officer and says they all want their longest season ever to stretch a few more weeks yet.

“I have trained and coached Oran McMenamin, Donncha Gilmore, Cahir McMonagle and Cormac Mooney, lots of boys who are now in the team, they were running around in U10 and U12 teams that I was coaching and now they are playing alongside me, so I know I’m definitely getting old,” he laughed.

“Jokes aside, it’s an absolute privilege to be playing alongside them because I saw them in the playground at Hollybush and Steelstown Primary Schools and now to be playing alongside them is a really nice connection.

“For us it’s still the same season and while everyone is talking about 2022, we are just focusing on this huge Ulster Final so let’s try and keep this train going. We just don’t want this journey to end.”