GAA Football

Lavey goalkeeper Ciaron O'Boyle revels in redemption

Lavey keeper Ciaron O'Boyle against Glen during the Derry Senior Football Championship semi-final played at Owenbeg on Sunday. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

IT was an evening that nobody in attendance will ever forget.

Sunday, September 12, 2010. They were packed in like sardines on the hill in Greenlough, 15 deep. Paul Hearty had the game of his life for Lavey, and between him and Cailean O'Boyle they scored 1-11.

A minute into stoppage time they led Ballinderry by five. And then their whole world fell apart.

For eight years it's stuck with them, but perhaps none moreso than their goalkeeper Ciaron O'Boyle.

Collie Devlin had just kicked a free that cut the gap to four when O'Boyle tried to go short from the kickout. Conleith Gilligan intercepted it and fed Gavin McGeehan, who managed to squeeze the ball through to the net.

They worked a magnificent second goal with 30 seconds of the five added minutes left to play, finished by James Conway, and the blue and white supporters that had left early in disconsolation came running back down through Clady village to join the disbelieving Ballinderry celebrations.

If Sunday afternoon was redemption for anyone, it was for Ciaron O'Boyle.

He nailed three brilliant long-range frees, the best of them a superb 45-metre kick into the wind that settled his side in the second half.

O'Boyle revealed afterwards that he'd struggled with trying to find his range during the warm-up, but things came good at the right time.

“Before the game started, if anybody was watching, I just couldn't put one over the bar. But it just clicked together, as it has this year,” said the Erin's Own number one after the game.

No member of the current Lavey squad has ever experienced a county final as a player. Veteran defender Michael Drumm's career goes back to 2001, but none stretch to their 1998 defeat by neighbours Bellaghy, who went on and won three on the bounce.

There was a long barren spell in the 2000s, in the middle of which Lavey found themselves in a couple of relegation scraps that they survived via playoffs, but they've not been out of the top flight and are fighting their way back to the head of Derry football.

Their form since 2010 has been up and down, with an emphatic semi-final loss to Ballinderry three years later knocking their confidence, and when Glen trounced them by 4-11 to 0-13 in the first round last year, it seemed as far away as ever.

But with back-to-back under-16 titles and a place in this year's minor decider secured, it fell on their seniors to uphold their end of the bargain and find a new level for the club.

“Unbelievable,” enthused O'Boyle. “First county final for Lavey in 20 years, and the first final any of us boys have been in.

“I just can't believe we're in a final. The amount of effort we've put in, it's all coming out now. We knew this last three or four years, we've been thereabouts, one kick away.

“Knocking on the door, just keeping knocking and never getting over the line, keeping getting put back and losing players and getting put back again. We've never had a squad like we have now. Today we're finally in the final.

“Glen were the favourites. They gave us a big scalp last year, an awful hammering. We knew that was our game. We'll knuckle down and look forward to the next game,” he says just as his team-mates start to celebrate in the Owenbeg changing room.

It's impossible not to link their success in some part back to the return of John Brennan. His managerial run began when he guided his native club to a county title in 1988, and through Derry, Antrim and Tyrone in the 30 years that have passed since, he has never lost a county final.

He's had successes with Carrickmore, Cargin, Slaughtneil and Loup, but his heart hasn't left home.

“I'm Lavey through and through, always have been,” said the former Derry boss.

“I started off back in '88, a lot of this team wasn't even born. I took some of those players' fathers. I still don't feel old. I still feel full of energy. I'm going to keep annoying people.”

And off he skipped down the tunnel like a man 30 years his junior, the smile crackling from one ear to the other.

As their newly-adopted slogan goes, the orange and black are back.

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