GAA Football

Adrian McGuckin recalls Derry's All-Ireland U21 final triumph

Adrian McGuckin is pictured third from the left on the back row in the Derry team that won the 1968 All-Ireland U21 Football Championship.

AS MONAGHAN aim to become the latest Ulster winners of the All-Ireland U21 Football Championship, Kenny Archer talks to a man who was on the first team from the north to triumph at that level, Derry's Adrian McGuckin...

 

FOR a man who's helped many players achieve so much, notably with St Patrick's, Maghera and Jordanstown, Adrian McGuckin was unaware of his own place in history.

Told that he was being interviewed as a member of the first ever Ulster side to win the All-Ireland U21 Football Championship, he replied: "I didn't even know that. There you go."

Yet, he immediately rejected any suggestion Derry's triumph in 1968 didn't mean that much to the players: "Aw, it did, it was a big competition, it was massive to win for us."

Certainly, Derry had big wins along the way, including an 11-point success over Monaghan in the Ulster final, 10 points against Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final and six over Offaly in the decider.

However, none of this came as a surprise to McGuckin, because of the calibre of his playing colleagues: "We won the All-Ireland minor title in '65 and that team was loaded with exceptional footballers - myself excepted!

"Most of us went on to play senior football in the next year or the year after. That minor team, I think I was the second youngest, I was 16. We won the Ulster U21s in '67, the final was in Dungannon, if I remember correctly, and Mayo beat us in the semi-final, in Mayo.

"We'd have been severely disappointed in that, we'd have thought we had a good enough team, even at that stage, to go on and win it. In '68, we really felt we had a team - most of the Derry [senior] team was made up from that ['65] minor team and U21 players."

Asked to name the stars of that side, Adrian reeled off them all: "John Somers, Matt Trolan, Tom Quinn, Mickey P Kelly, Malachy McAfee, Tommy Diamond, Seamus Lagan, Gerry O'Loughlin, Tom McGuinness - these players all went on to play for years on the Derry senior team -  Mickey Niblock, legend of a man, went to America shortly after that, then back to Cork, the inimitable Eamonn Coleman, John Joe Kearney, Seamus McCloskey, Kevin Teague, myself."

In truth, Adrian forgot one name - we'll not reveal which one - thought hard and then said with a laugh: "Whew. He'll not be happy."

Yet, almost half a century on, the memories remain sharp: "Sean O'Connell trained us for the minors when he was only 27. The impression that he left on us, he was a role model for us: the training that he did, the way he lived his life, the way he talked to us. Just an absolutely brilliant footballer. A man years ahead of his time."

The U21s were played during the summer and McGuckin recalls: "There was a professionalism about it. Going back to the minors in '65, that was something special.

"The priest at the time around Swatragh was a Fr Shiels and his preparations and professionalism were incredible. We wouldn't have had a car at the time or even think about having one, but a taxi pulled up at the door every night to take you to training in Ballinascreen.

"After training, you went to a place called Timoney's for sandwiches and a pint of milk laid on for you. Going to Croke Park for the semi-final and the final, there was nothing but the best for us."

However, those days were different too, with parents not necessarily even at games, never mind running onto pitches. Still, Adrian remembers fondly his mother did see him in the All-Ireland semi-final, although not through her own choice: "In those days, there were no neutral venues, so Kerry came up to Ballinascreen for the semi-final.

"We were beating them handy enough, but Dr Brendan Lynch, who would have been the top player then for the Kerry seniors, hit a real purple patch and pulled it back - but we went on to win it.

"I remember playing quite well that day. It was a nice day and a big, massive crowd at it. It was the only day my mother ever saw any of us playing, would you believe? She just never went to matches, but I had a sister in hospital and my father went to the hospital first before coming on to the match, so my mother had no choice! I remember being all pleased."

The demands of farm and family meant his father did not make it to that 1965 minor final, though: "We had a television and the whole parish always came to our house to watch these matches.

"My oldest sister told me recently that she remembers my father walking up and down the lane carrying my brother Terence, who was only a baby at the time, not really watching the match. I'm sure Terence got some rocking that day!"

Back to 1968 and that win over Kerry took Derry to the final against Offaly: "It was a wettish day, we were in control the whole game.

"It was played as a standalone game, so it wouldn't have been a massive crowd, unlike that minor game, which was packed to the rafters and you thought this was what football was going to be like for the rest of your life.

"In 1965, I remember coming into the changing rooms with the cup, we were on the same side [of Croke Park] as Galway, and looking in and seeing how they were all nervous-looking. Whenever you're young, you never had nerves, you were wondering what those boys were worried about.

"In '68, I remember all the supporters on the pitch afterwards, but I think we just came back up the road again that evening. There wasn't the same celebrations as there had been with the minors three years previously.

"That was incredible - we stayed over on the Sunday night. An Ulster, six counties team winning the All-Ireland then was practically unheard of, Down was the only team that had done it. [Derry were Ulster's first All-Ireland minor winners since Armagh in 1949]. It was a good minor team, the final was shown on RTE, and a lot of people took to us.

"Coming home, from through Dundalk there were people beeping us - we went in taxis as well, there was no coach. Coming into Tyrone, there were bonfires around the roads and from Moneymore to Maghera. The crowd in Maghera meeting us was unreal… I think that was only about my second time in Maghera."

It wouldn't be the last, and Derry football would be very thankful for that.

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