Lives Remembered

Colum Rocks: Modest Loup man who guided golden generation to success

Colum Rocks enjoyed remarkable success with underage teams at St Patrick's GAC, Loup

"Colum it all started way back with you. The club cannot replace the likes of yourself. But by God we will not forget you."

The heartfelt tribute paid by St Patrick's GAC, Loup goes some way to capturing the impact of Colum Rocks (65) on his Co Derry club and community.

Starting with an under-10s team in the mid-1980s, Colum led the young footballers to county championships at every underage grade, including an Ulster minor title in 1993.

The following year he was part of the management team that saw Loup promoted to Division One for the first time in the club's history after winning the intermediate championship.

And while he never took charge himself at senior level, no-one was prouder that him when many of the players he mentored won an historic Derry Senior Championship in 2003 before being crowned champions of Ulster.

The club said he was a "massive figure" who "brought about a whole new thinking into developing and nurturing our young players".

And Colum Rocks achieved it all with the simple, modest approach he took to everything in life.

He was the youngest of 11 children who grew up sharing a single room in a stone house with a tin roof on the Belaghtry Road between the Loup and Ballinderry. His homeplace was actually technically within Ballinderry - a source of some good-natured jibes down the years.

His childhood, like most in those self-sufficient times, involved helping look after the family's few pigs and chickens and after his school days at Ballylifford PS and St Patrick's College, Maghera he began work in local factories.

 Colum Rocks in younger years

Colum would go on to spend a quarter of a century as a site foreman with Carrickfergus-based company JP McWilliams followed by a decade with Whitemountain in Toome, until retiring with arthritis at the age of 60.

In recent years he also helped his son Aidan at his bar in Ballyronan, Johnny Fox's.

Colum had spent the last four decades living in the lough shore village, having married Ballygawley woman Marian Marlow at the age of 20 after they met at a local talent show.

He played a bit of football with Loup, then a small junior club, but his underage coaching grew out of involvement in a youth club in the area.

Colum had a natural way with the youngsters as well as a keen eye for footballing talent, and was blessed with a talented crop to work with.

Colum Rocks with nephews and grand-nephews Aaron, Jason, Paddy, Matthew, and Jack Joe

They included his nephew Ronan Rocks, Paul McFlynn and Kevin Ryan from Ballyronan, with other future stars such as Johnny McBride and Ciaran Hegarty brought in from surrounding areas. His brother Eamon was among those who helped out.

But what was perhaps most remarkable about Colum, apart from the incredible success his teams enjoyed, was that he did it all without any of the fall-outs or politics that often accompany competitive sport.

He was one of those people everyone seemed to like, and in turn never seemed to have a bad word for everyone.

He lived simply for his family, work and football - as well as the odd game of bowls - and one of his favourite sayings summed him up: 'If you've nothing good to say about someone, don't say anything at all."

Colum was diagnosed with prostate cancer not long after retiring, but underwent treatment and enjoyed a couple of good years in remission before being given only weeks to live in January this year. He fought on until October 26.

He is survived by his wife, daughters Katrina, Claire and Julie, son Aidan, and siblings Hugh, Claire, Margaret and Donna.

His month's mind Mass will be celebrated in the parish hall opposite St Patrick's Church, Loup at 7.30pm on Monday.

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Lives Remembered