GAA Football

Different doesn't mean less: The Eoghan Rua story

Eoghan Rua, Coleraine celebrate on the final whistle after claiming their second Derry SFC title on Sunday. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

THE first year Eoghan Rua played senior football, they found themselves up against Banagher.

Cormac Trolan was their pocket battleship in defence. He was designated the big jobs. In the changing room before the game, Sean McGoldrick delivered the news.

‘Cormac, you’re picking up Mark Lynch today’.

‘Right, right’.

And on he went until he found a moment’s humdrum in which he could turn to his team-mates and ask: ‘Who the f***’s Mark Lynch?” His team-mates had to point him out.

That’s part of where the idea that they’re just a bit different comes from.

Trolan and Mark Mearns were mainstays in the defence in 2010, but they weren’t about for long after it. Trolan’s an airline pilot now, living it up in Dubai, and Mearns is an architect in London.

When they went, Eoghan Rua missed them. Their playing pool was so small that they were the difference in winning and waiting. It wasn’t until Liam McGoldrick and Ruairi Mooney pushed through and the team reshaped that they finally replaced the pair of them.

And yet all the other pieces remarkably remained intact, eight years on.

If you draw a straight line from the loughshore to the Glenshane Pass and another from there to Derry city, you’ll find 15 of the county’s 16 senior clubs either on or within a couple of miles of it.

Except Eoghan Rua. They sit right up on the north coast, their home far closer to Portstewart than to Coleraine.

The pitch, only opened at the beginning of this decade after years of nomadic existence, was the brainchild of Brendan Mullan, a native of Glenullin and father of players Declan and Ciaran.

He looked out on to the hill at his possession and reckoned a pitch would fit nicely.

Brendan was one of the blow-ins that came from GAA stock and, at some stage across the last three decades, arrived in and around the Triangle area of Coleraine-Portstewart-Portrush.

Declan Mullan, whose father Brendan is a Glenullin native but owns the land on which the Eoghan Rua club put up its new pitch at the beginning of the decade. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Of the 17 players that Sean McGoldrick has regularly used in this year’s championship, there is only one whose Triangle lineage runs back even as far as a parent.

Sean McGoldrick himself is a St Teresa’s man from the Glen Road in Belfast originally, but moved to Coleraine in the early 1970s, where he met Schira, a native of Derry city.

Ironically, Coleraine being on the east of the Bann and heavily unionist meant it won the battle for the new university ahead of Derry in the late 60s. To think that it spawned a great GAA club would surely have a few spinning in their graves.

Sean McGoldrick, who still works at the university simply because he won't retire, Hugh Mooney, Vinty McMahon, Brian Daly and Joe Passmore were among those that came in search of study or employment, met the women and stayed for the football.

McGoldrick’s long-time compadre on the line, Sean McLaughlin, is a Foreglen man originally, one of the Brineys. He owns the Springhill Bar in Portstewart and has long been a north coast native too.

Ryan McGeough, the madcap goalkeeper with the bright gloves and the soccer shorts and the randomly numbered kickouts, spent the week of the county final driving fundraising efforts that pulled in close to £10,000. He can be traced back to Armagh, as can Barry and Paul Daly.

Their father Brian was along with Kevin Mullan, Vinty McMahon and Sean McGoldrick in starting off the underage coaching in Dominican Hall, where they stayed for years until the facilities fell into such disrepair that they became unusable.

After some debate over whether to stay in Coleraine or move closer to the Port, they commandeered the hall at St Joseph’s school. Every night of the week from September until the time changes back, there’s something going on in there under the auspices of Eoghan Rua.

And Sean McGoldrick is generally in the middle of it. Not content with coming up on two decades in consecutive charge of the senior team, he doubles up as the long-serving U16 manager and joint U8 hurling manager. He’d go along to senior hurling matches and act as a humble water carrier.

He spent much of last week apologising that he hadn’t been able to get posters finished to advertise November dates for the coaching because he’d been a bit preoccupied.

Whether the preoccupation was the county final or trying to get teachers arranged for Irish classes, it’s hard to know.

The parentages of the players can all be traced out of the Triangle, yet the players themselves have become Eoghan Rua through-and-through.

But above all, they’ve become great friends.

They were reared out of each other’s houses. Played football together the whole way up. Won nothing, but enjoyed it.

And then it all started to come together. A bit of this team, a bit of that team and suddenly they were out of junior, through intermediate via an All-Ireland final, and into senior football. Then, champions. As quick as that, it seemed.

Half the 2010 team went off around the world together and they’re still playing yet.

That friendship is the great secret of this industrial strength glue that’s kept a team together for a full decade.

They’ll keep trying to drip-feed an odd man like Barry Daly, who came in this year at 21 and had a great summer that he capped with his match-winning early goal on Sunday.

There is a recognition that they won’t be as strong in five years’ time as they are now, and that it could be a while after before they’re back near a championship winning level.

Breaking the town is, and will be, a struggle.

At the St John’s, St Malachy’s and St Colum’s primary schools, they had events to mark the final in advance.

Club chairman Gerry McAleese has long beaten the drum for the club in St Malachy’s, where he’s vice-principal and where Tyrone star Niall Sludden taught for three years and did his best to spread the gospel.

But it remains a staunch soccer town, the strength of which has been emboldened by Coleraine FC’s resurgence under the now-departed Oran Kearney.

Anyone with any passing connection to Eoghan Rua was in Celtic Park on Sunday, and it still barely totalled a couple of hundred.

But other clubs from not dissimilar backgrounds have spent winters polishing their underage trophies, yet been unable to hold it all together long enough to win at senior level.

It’s one thing to have a good crop of players, but another thing entirely getting educated young men to stay about home for so long, to keep them at an unfashionable game and dedicated to the level where they can not only beat the best, but be the best.

If and when the sun sets on this Eoghan Rua generation, they can be content with the legacy of having squeezed every single drop out of themselves.

For that reason, 2018 is better than 2010.

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