Northern Ireland news

New book reveals how gardai quizzed Derry board official after Henry Downey punched in '93

Derry captain Henry Downey prepares to raise the Sam Maguire Cup in 1993
Connla Young

Gardaí were called after former Derry captain Henry Downey was punched by a county board official just weeks before the county claimed its first All-Ireland title, a new book has revealed.

Details of the incident are confirmed in the book about the life of GAA legend Eamonn Coleman published this week.

The 59-year-old died after losing his battle with cancer in June 2007.

He guided the Oakleaf County to its first and only senior All-Ireland title in September 1993.

Now for the first time The Boys of '93 – Derry’s All Ireland Kings lifts the lid on the controversy that surrounded Derry’s All Ireland preparations and the eventual sacking of the county’s most successful ever manager.

The exposé reveals how less than a year after being crowned All-Ireland kingpins, the Derry County Board sacked the Ballymaguigan man in a move that stunned the GAA world.

To this day many in Derry believe the move destroyed county's chances of winning more All-Ireland titles at a time when there was a deep well of talent.

The autobiography - come sports memoir - is written in Mr Coleman’s own words from a series of interviews carried out by his niece and god-daughter, Belfast-based former journalist Maria McCourt.

All proceeds raised from the book will go to cancer charities in Ireland.

Mr Coleman worked on the book with his niece before he died and it delivers a personal account of how the seeds of Derry GAA’s subsequent underachievement were sown even before he guided his county to its greatest triumph.

Journalist Maria McCourt pictured with her uncle and godfather Eamonn Coleman in 2000

It has now been revealed for the first time that the then county treasurer Jim McGuigan, who died in 2011, hit captain Henry Downey a punch in a row over tracksuits.

Former Derry GAA treasurer Jim McGuigan

The incident took place in a hotel after Derry had played Meath in challenge game ahead of their famous semi-final victory over Dublin in ’93.

Mr Coleman reveals that it was a turning point for his relationship with the county board.

“The row had broken out over tracksuits for the players,” he said.

“Downey had arranged to get boots for the boys and was asking McGuigan as treasurer to sort out gear.

“Pi**ed off that McGuigan didn’t seem prepared to sort it out, Downey had made some craic or other: ‘F**k sake, Jim, you’re only the county’s treasurer; it’s not your money we’re after.’

“That’s how it started and although I’d no way of knowing it, that punch was a sucker blow for me.”

The former Derry mentor reveals that Downey, who just weeks later would lift the Sam Maguire Cup, then called in the gardaí.

“After the meal was finished, unbeknownst to me, Henry called in the guards,” he says.

“They arrived after I had left for home and spoke to McGuigan in the car.

“No charges were made and as far as I was concerned, that was that.”

Mr Coleman also reveals how he managed to keep details of the incident from hitting the press and so avoiding negative publicity ahead of the All-Ireland final.

Members of the team later agreed to ban Mr McGuigan, who at that time had been county treasurer for almost 30 years, from the team bus to the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin.

Mr McGuigan was allowed to join the victorious team on their bus as they travelled north with Sam Maguire a month later.

Former Derry manager Eamonn Coleman lifts the Sam Maguire Cup in 1993

Despite their history-making exploits, the shadow of the fall-out hung over the squad when they returned to National League duty weeks later.

Henry Downey and others refused to tog out for a game against Mayo after Mr McGuigan walked into the changing rooms.

He was later asked to leave the changing room by Mr Coleman.

Months later Derry were knocked out of the Ulster championship in a first round clash in a game many believe was one of the best played in modern times.

Mr Coleman and several members of the squad later spent the summer of ‘94 in America while Down went on to claim the All-Ireland title – their second in three years.

While in America Mr Coleman received a call from then county chairman Harry Chivers informing him he had not been reappointed to the manager’s role.

Coleman reveals he was later “gutted” and “stunned” to learn that his former assistant Mickey Moran had been appointed to take his place.

The book reveals how the GAA in Derry went on to rip itself apart in a bitter row that to this day continues to spark fierce debate.

Eamonn Coleman’s son Gary, who played in the ’93 final, also provides a fascinating insight into how the row impacted on the playing squad at the time.

He reveals how he clashed with the new management team in the wake of his father’s departure.

** The Boys of '93 – Derry’s All Ireland Kings will be officially launched at Waterstones in Belfast city centre this Friday between 6.30pm and 8.30pm. Henry Downey and GAA commentator Joe Brolly will speak at the launch. There will also be a launch at St Trea’s, Ballymaguigan on Thursday September 20 at 7pm, where Gary Coleman and Henry Downey will be guest speakers. Prominent GAA figures will also be attendance at both events.


Looking forward to launching this with @IAP_MERRION on Friday! Join us from 6.30pm to hear guest speakers @JoeBrolly1993 and Henry Downey give their take on this compelling posthumous memoir of the legendary Eamonn Coleman by @scoutfinchreads

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