Glack manager Damien Tracey salutes his championship heroes!

Glack captain Niall McGowan receives The Joe Brolly Memorial Cup from Derry County Chairman, Brian Smith at Celtic Park on Saturday.
Glack captain Niall McGowan receives The Joe Brolly Memorial Cup from Derry County Chairman, Brian Smith at Celtic Park on Saturday.

Premier Electric Derry Junior Football Championship Final

Some post match interviews barely require a question.

'How do you feel?' seems more than a little inadequate as an opener to someone who was just ended a club's 38 year wait for a championship title.

But (imagination not being my strong point), Glack manager, Damien Tracey, how do you feel after defeating Drum to secure the O'Connor's a first county title since 1981?

“What can you say? It’s just unbelievable," laughs Tracey at a question which was answered before he even opened his mouth.

"It’s been almost a year since we took over. These guys have put in a lot of work and for it to end like this is just the icing on the cake.

"The team's been brilliant all year and the players gave us everything we wanted. In fairness, that final wasn’t an eight point game. Drum put a lot wide whereas we didn’t, but I wouldn’t have cared had we won by one point because 38 years is a long time to wait for this club.”

The Glack manager's sentiments are echoing what the scenes on the Celtic Park pitch already informed everyone more vividly than any answer could. This was special for Glack and while Niall McGowan's brilliant second half goal may have been the spark for Saturday's 1-14 to 1-06 victory, this is a win Tracey traces back to an unlikely success in the first game of a revamped Division 2 campaign.

“The difference this year is that the boys all came to training," he explains, "John, Aaron and them boys did a great job, but the guys just didn’t put it in for them they way they should have.

"We arrived this year and asked the players to give us nine months of pure, utter hard work and every one of them to a man gave it to us. That’s what has won this championship - hard work. That team had four or five championships in them and never got over the line. They were beat in five finals, about seven semi-finals, and that's heart of that same team there. This is down to pure hard work.”

When Tracey, alongside Willie Canning and Adrian McGilligan, agreed to take the reins at a club cursed by unfulfilled potential, they were facing into a revamped league structure that was throwing some decidedly big obstacles in the way of the county's traditional junior clubs. Some clubs shied away from the challenge but Glack embraced it from the first game and the seeds of a championship win almost four decades in the making were already being sowed.

“That gave us some great games," agreed Tracey,"You couldn’t pick practice matches like that. To get Ballerin in the first match and we beat them, we drew with Doire Trasna - they’re all very good teams.

"We held our own against Desertmartin and should have beat them, those games are unbelievable for the confidence. The lads came in after the Ballerin match and you would have thought they won a championship. It was just the start but they could see the levels they could achieve.

"I’m not just saying it, I think we could have competed in the intermediate grade this year. I’m not saying we would have won it, but we would have given a few teams a hard match.

"I’m delighted for everybody involved because there are so many people working in the background for years and years, and they don’t get the recognition they deserve but they will now.”

Those unsung heroes include the likes of the evergreen Jimmy O'Connor, still covering every blade of grass in the county, and Eddie McLaughlin, whose determination to secure a first county medal saw him fly back from his work in Belgium to star at midfield.

“Jimmy O’Connor’s out there at 37 years of age and he’s the fittest man on the pitch. Eddie McLaughlin has given 22 years and never got a winner’s medal, that’s his first - the same as Jimmy and James-Martin McLaughlin. Never mind next year, we have to get them back out next week for Ulster!" laughs Tracey.

"For this wee club to be playing in an Ulster championship, it’s what dreams are made of. You just can’t believe it. We never mentioned Ulster, but now come Thursday night we’ll be talking about it.

"There might be two or three of them who don’t make the training with the celebrating (laughs) but we won’t blame them. Ulster is bonus territory for us but you could see from the way they backed each other out there that they’re great lads and we couldn’t ask for any more.

"I’m just delighted to be part of this. We can do other stuff for them, but we can’t put the ball over the bar for them. They did it for all of us.”

Anyone driving through Ballykelly in the build up to Saturday's final couldn't help but notice the O'Connors' colours flying proudly in the breeze and this championship win was about more than a club, according to Tracey, it was about a community.

“We were at Glack this morning at about 11.20am and it was jammed. There was people there that I didn’t even know where from Glac. There were people I had never seen before and people I hadn’t seen in years.

"The local school on Thursday had a big open day and a few boys went up and trained the kids - everyone has been brilliant and it’s a great thing for a wee community like ours.

"It’s too long in coming, but it’s there now and sure they can’t take it away from us!”