GAA Football

The quiet man: Sean Leo McGoldrick on emotional success with Eoghan Rua

Sean Leo McGoldrick celebrates with his brothers Ciaran (left) and Colm (right) on the final whistle in Eoghan Rua's Derry SFC final win over Lavey. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

AS Sean Leo McGoldrick carried the ball into open space, he knew he held his club’s destiny in his hands.

Just as his goalkeeper Ryan McGeough was placing the ball on his tee for the kickout after Lavey had cut the gap to two points in the Derry final, McGoldrick asked the referee how long was to go.

‘Thirty seconds’, came the reply.

Eoghan Rua keep the ball until their human metronome shows up on the Lavey 45’ with his trademark precision timing.

From there, he made absolutely sure. Carried it until he could carry no more, and then dropped it inside the near post on the terrace side.

He wheels away, winding his two fists up in an uncharacteristically emotional show of celebration.

The whistle sounds. He looks drained and overcome, like a man half contemplating sinking to his knees and crying, but wanting to find his brothers, his friends. His Da.

It had been a big weekend. His wife Mary gave birth to a baby boy the evening before the county final.

Baby Odhrán McGoldrick arrived a bit sooner than expected and, as he loitered around the labour ward in Antrim Area Hospital for 13 hours, Sean Leo was getting anxious that he wouldn’t miss either big event.

Mary was adamant that he wouldn’t miss the football in any case, but their baby boy was delivered at 6pm on the Saturday.

“As it came closer to the [Saturday] evening, I thought it might happen come until the next day. We weren’t too sure what would happen.

“But Mary was adamant that, whatever happened, I was going to the match. She’s very understanding that way.

“Thankfully everything went well and I got a bit of sleep. I was home about 11pm and a nice clear head for the match. Everything went well, that made it easier.”

His reaction to the clinching score was so out-of-kilter for the quiet man.

Yet celebrations were very much on the teetotaller's mind as he mingled through the crowd that followed Eoghan Rua on to the Celtic Park pitch.

He’s intent on savouring it, to the point of photo-bombing if he has to.

“It’s a big day. You’re here seven, eight years and you don’t know if it’s going to happen again. I’d asked the referee on the last kickout how long was left and he said 30 seconds, so I knew it was over.

“A bit emotional, definitely, with everything that happened. It’s nice. A nice feeling.

“I probably didn’t enjoy 2010 enough to be perfectly honest with you. Young, a wee bit immature, and you don’t know if it’ll happen again. That’s probably the reason for the over-exuberant celebrations.”

The McGoldrick house has become one of Ireland’s most famous sporting homes. Not just the home to Sean, Schira and their eight sporting offspring, but a second home to the growth of Eoghan Rua.

The Mullans, the Dalys, Lagan, McGeough, Lenehan, the lot of them have become the tightest of mates over the past two-and-a-half decades.

Football was the stanchion of it all. In a soccer town with a rugby flavour, the GAA remains a minority sport in many ways. And yet here they are, top of the tree again in Derry, eight years after their first.

In addressing the crowd at their clubhouse later that evening, Sean McGoldrick made reference to how the traditionalists tipping Lavey to win despite Eoghan Rua’s win over Slaughtneil at the quarter-final stage was “an indication of how the GAA community in Derry look on ourselves as almost being almost non-GAA.”

No-one, even Sean McGoldrick, is immune to criticism. From their surprise 2011 quarter-final defeat by The Loup through to Sunday week ago, there’s been a small faction that felt he’d hung on too long, that they’d become too defensive.

They’ve had their answers this summer. When Slaughtneil offered them man-to-man combat, they took it and won at it. When Ballinascreen tried to nail the doors shut, they broke them down. When Lavey brought the early whirlwind, they settled and controlled.

“I don’t know, who knows if he’ll be here next year?” said the former Derry wing-back of his father, a former Antrim player himself.

“You hear wee bits and bobs throughout the year, and you just don’t know. It’s nice to win for them, because the two Seans [McGoldrick and McLaughlin] are brilliant.

“They put a lot in, and there’s probably an under-appreciation in some quarters of the work they put in, and the time they put in, and the effort that it is to manage a team and everything else.

“It’s a big achievement for them too. Football’s changed in the last seven or eight years, and it’s a credit to them that we’ve managed to come back and get over the line.”

Sean Leo’s a father-of-two now. His race looks run at inter-county level, with the demands having seen him opt out of the Derry squad for 18 months before he made a surprise return ahead of last summer’s Ulster clash with Donegal.

That won’t be repeated in 2019, but the 30-year-old will be a mainstay of the Eoghan Rua cause for a while to come yet.

“Club football doesn’t get harder. I’ve a good wife behind me, and club football’s enjoyable because you don’t have to travel. County football’s just difficult with travelling and weekends away.

“Club football, you’re out there and you have your five brothers with you, your oul boy’s floating around, your mates, and it’s a different atmosphere.”

Part of why they won the big chalice back was to remove their focus from it alone. The John McLaughlin Cup was their sixth trophy in two years.

But there was equally an admission that, in order to be seen to have fulfilled their potential, they had to win another senior championship.

“We decided two years ago that we’d try and win a few competitions, it didn’t matter if it was a league or the Dr Kerlin Cup or whatever, because that’s what you enjoy.

“Thankfully in the last two years we’ve managed to win four or five trophies, and it creates a good vibe.

“There’s a couple of trophies left we haven’t won. It’s been a good two years. But as I said to the managers, there’s always this reaction that if you don’t win the John McLaughlin, as in what’s the point in winning these other trophies, but we’ve changed our attitude a wee bit.

“We’ve gone into every competition with a wee bit of humility and tried to put out good teams to try and win every competition, because ultimately you play this game to try and win things.”

The Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were all to be enjoyed. Ulster could wait a while.

But once they settled, there will be have been a hurt that bubbled back to the surface. They were wiped off the pitch by Burren in 2010, the Down champions producing a blistering display in Newry. The 10-point margin flattered only the Derry men.

The Seamus McFerran Cup has left Derry for just one winter since Ballinderry’s year in 2013, and facing a virgin Cavan champion, Castlerahan, allows Eoghan Rua to wear the shoe on the other foot this time.

That Burren performance eight years ago isn’t a sore spot for McGoldrick. So little was expected of them then, especially against one of the traditional heavyweights of Ulster club football.

There’s a pathway there and, as the team that dethroned the reigning holders. And should they have to earn it the hard way, Eoghan Rua will make sure there’s respect for them.

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