GAA Football

Where are they now? Derry All-Ireland winner Gary Coleman takes a walk down memory lane...

Neil Loughran

Age: 46

Club: St Trea’s, Ballymaguigan

Position: Wing-back

When did you play for Derry? 1990-2002

What do you do nowadays?

I’m a postman near 30 years. It’s tough at the minute with that heat because those vans are pure sweatboxes, but I suppose it’s better than the wind and the rain.

Are you still involved in Gaelic football?

I’m managing Stewartstown Harps in Tyrone.

What do you remember about your first game for Derry?

I came on as a sub in the National League against Cavan at Breffni Park, and I was marking Ronan Carolan, their big player at the time.

I did quite well, then the next day we played Mayo in Ballinascreen and I started midfield again with Brian McGilligan. He’s a big brute of a man and there’s me beside him, I hadn’t even started weights at the time. Midfield didn’t last too long after that.

Daddy [Eamonn Coleman] was involved with the Derry minor team that won the All-Ireland in ’83 and we won the All-Ireland in ’89, so you had players from those teams, then Lavey won the All-Ireland Club, so you knew there was a good team coming.

What was it like playing under your dad?

Daddy ate me on the football field, he ate me on the way home… daddy was very sore on me.

It wasn’t until his second spell [from 1999-2001], when I was one of the senior men, that he maybe realised he had been sore on me and he wasn’t as bad.

But he just knew how to push my buttons. I remember one time Ballymaguigan were playing a championship quarter-final or semi-final against Newbridge. We drew with them the first day and I never got a kick.

Before the second game he was reading the paper and he said on his way out the back door ‘good luck today’. He hadn’t spoken about the game before that. Then he popped his head back in and says ‘if you play like last week, don’t come back’, and he went on out the door.

He knew I’d be raging. We went out and beat Newbridge and I scored 1-5.

What’s your best memory from your playing days?

I know people criticise it, but I loved the Ulster final in 1993 [when Derry beat Donegal on a miserable day in Clones]. People say big men don’t like the heavy ground, well I was gliding through it that day. I was marking Declan Bonner and there’s no doubt in weather like that, it’s a defender’s day.

It was either that or the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin – that was the real All-Ireland final for me. At half time we were five points down, looking at the same old scenario where Derry teams go to Dublin and get stuffed, but it was now time to show their character. We kept coming back and then Johnny McGurk got the winner at the end.

That team had a great bond. Now you have starred games in counties – in those days it was players taking the decision not to play for their clubs. Those were all great clubmen, but we said ‘we’re making sacrifices for Derry’.

Daddy used to get a bit of stick, people thinking he was stopping the players playing, but the players made the decision.

I was 21 years of age in 1993 and I just remember thinking I want to do this for daddy – for him to be the first Derry man to bring home the Sam Maguire. A wee brickie from Ballymaguigan. I wanted it more for him than anything.

Gary Coleman had a tough day at the hands of Mickey Linden in the momentous Ulster Championship meeting between Down and Derry in 1994

And the worst?

Definitely Down at Celtic Park in ’94. Everybody talks about the classic game… I don’t think any Derry man can talk about a classic in ’94.

We lost our Ulster and All-Irelands, that was us gone, and I took a roasting that day. I was marking - well I was trying to mark - Mickey Linden but I couldn’t get near him. The boys at work 25-odd years later still keep me going.

Another day was the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final when we were five points up on Galway, we thought we’d them beaten.

That would’ve been the comeback of all comebacks – daddy coming back to the job was only part of it but to win the All-Ireland again would have been extra special.

Who is the biggest character you played with?

Dermot Heaney. We played together at St Pius’s and Dermot has a very sarcastic wit about him. A great player, an underrated player, and a very funny person.

Are you glad you played in your era rather than the modern day?

As a half-back who could run, I would’ve loved playing today, but I would never give up what we had in ’93 for today’s football, no way.

Any regrets?

I’ve no regrets. There’s better players than me throughout Ireland who have no medals, no All-Irelands, so I thank God I achieved all that. The only thing, and it’s not my regret, was I regret what the Derry County Board did because they destroyed that Derry team when they took daddy out of that job.

But history has shown what they did was a massive mistake. They thought they could do it without the wee bricklayer from Ballymaguigan.

Interview by Neil Loughran

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