GAA Football

Six of the best Derry footballers to hang up the boots in the last decade

Enda Muldoon in action for Derry. Picture by Seamus Loughran.

Enda Muldoon
IN a career that spanned 16 years from the late ‘90s until the early ‘10s, and despite a raft of unfortunate injuries in that time, Enda Muldoon marked himself out as one of the graceful, natural players ever to pull on the red and white.

You could argue that the languid Ballinderry was an undervalued commodity during his days with the county, given that he was such a sublime fielder of a ball and a visionary playmaker, yet spent so much of his time at full-forward.

Not that he was ineffective in there. Far from it. Indeed, he had a habit of big goals in big games – Tyrone in Omagh in 2006, the All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-finals of 2004, and most emphatically the semi-final in 2001.

If you have 30 seconds to yourself, do a YouTube search. ‘Derry Galway 2001’. Fast forward to one minute, 50 seconds. Enjoy.

Because before there was Karl Lacey’s diagonal for Michael Murphy’s thunderbolt, there was Gary Coleman’s cross for Enda Muldoon. Hanging a few yards back on Gary Fahy, the timing is precision, the handling sure, the half-turn landing perfect. The finish matched it all, almost boring a hole in the roof of the Hill 16 goal.

That summed up his natural ability, but for a window into how stylish he was, picture the pouring sideways rain in Celtic Park and the best shot-stopper of a generation.

Mayo were in town for a qualifier in 2006 but Derry outmuscled them and when the cake needed icing, Muldoon slipped through. David Clarke faced him down but from 18 yards, The Big Easy lobbed the ball nonchalantly over the ‘keeper’s head.

An Ulster medallist from 1998, any manager that had him would tell you that few players were as easy kept. Muldoon trained with the head down and played with the head up.

That he was still tearing up trees with his club right up until he was 40 should come as no surprise, and he now finds himself enjoying the adulation of the new breed as part of Rory Gallagher’s backroom team.

Paddy Bradley
HAS there ever been a better forward to play for Derry? There certainly hasn’t been a more prolific one than Paddy Bradley.

He burst on the scene after telling Eamon Coleman as a youngster that he was the best forward on the panel to earn his start for the 2000 Ulster final loss to Cavan, and few doubted him too far beyond that.

Starting out, the accuracy of his left foot was apparent. But he moulded his right brilliantly over time and combined with his incredible movement and power, he became one of the most feared forwards in Ireland.

There’s no doubt that had been around in the early 1990s, he would have walked on to Derry’s All-Ireland winning team. As it was, he instead ended his inter-county career without even an Ulster medal to show as a brilliant generation of Oak Leaf players just couldn’t find a way through.

By the time they reached the one final of his career span, he was sidelined with a cruciate knee ligament injury and had to watch his brother Eoin suffer the same fate a week before they were beaten by Donegal in 2011.

Bradley was simply an out-and-out finisher. He’d regularly come off the pitch with seven, eight, nine, ten points to his name.

He was nominated for an Allstar in 2001 and in 2004 alone, he racked up 2-38 in one championship season alone to help Derry to an All-Ireland semi-final. The Allstar was overdue by the time it arrived in 2007.

The Glenullin man’s career was ended by a combination of cruel injury and circumstance, suffering a second torn cruciate at the end of 2012 and then being overlooked by Brian McIver when he recovered.

It was no way for things to end. Derry haven’t had anything close to a replacement since.

Fergal Doherty
THERE are dogs that go to Crufts, and there are dogs that go to war. Fergal Doherty was very much the latter, and few were more effective at it.

In a time where big characters, men that were much more vocal, Doherty found himself becoming the spiritual leader for a talented generation.

By the time he was midway through his career, it didn’t really matter if he was named captain or not. His team-mates looked at him as though he was.

In the early days, with Anthony Tohill still about, Doherty played a fair bit of his football in the number 12 shirt. Along with his brother Gareth, the pair were uniquely nominated for Allstars in the same year after helping Derry to an All-Ireland semi-final in 2001.

Fergal was nominated again in 2004, by which stage he’d graduated to midfield, 2007 and 2008, but never received the gong that most felt he was owed.

His Parnell Park performance in the National League final in ’08 is etched in Derry folklore, when he grabbed the bull by the horns after a horrid start against Kerry and drove the Oak Leafers to victory, scoring a rare goal in the process.

You could search YouTube for a month and you’ll probably only find one clip of him – turning Barry Dunnion head over hells across the sideline in Ballybofey after meeting him with the most perfect of crunching shoulders.

That was his game. He was as hard and fair as they came. Any inkling that he could win a ball would be enough to propel himself. His lack of concern for self was an endearing trait, although it would come back on him. The latter part of his career, he played through agony at times, riddled with a back injury.

The sad sight of him grimacing to the sky as he sat hunkered on his knees while a physio treated him was all-too-familiar in the last few seasons, and yet he just wouldn’t lie down.

Derry fans will always regard him as a cult hero, and one whose bravery wasn’t rewarded with the bronze it might have been.

Mark Lynch
FROM running the show as a 16-year-old to help Derry minors to an All-Ireland in 2002, Mark Lynch went on to enjoy a distinguished, unbroken 15-year senior career.

The Banagher man, whose father Mickey had represented club and county with similar distinction, was thrown into the All-Ireland semi-final in 2004 off the bench. Had he been a year or two older at that stage, he might have made a significant difference.

Over the next decade-and-a-half, Lynch would serve Derry in almost every position on the field. From centre-back to full-forward, he played them all, and all of them regularly in different spells.

His ability to finish led to him being edged towards full-forward most often, but there was a significant school of thought that felt he was better coming on to the ball from deep.

That was how it transpired under Brian McIver, whose reign coincided with undoubtedly the best football of Lynch’s career. His performances in 2014 were those of a man at the very top of his game. Had Derry’s summer not been so unexpectedly curtailed by Longford – a sickening defeat in which he nonetheless excelled – then Lynch would have won an Allstar that year, for certain.

The display he turned in against Dublin, hitting 1-8 in a National League victory over the All-Ireland champions in Celtic Park, was the highlight of a brilliant campaign.

Lynch netted the opening goal too in the Ulster semi-final win over Armagh in 2011, taking Derry to their first provincial decider in 11 years.

But if anything sums him up, it was the selflessness with which he kept on trucking in the last few years of his career. Derry dropped like a stone to Division Four but Lynch kept on trying to dig them, going on for far longer than he owed anyone.

An outstanding finisher whose trademark was to find the angle on the run from the right wing, somehow measuring it in from the wrong side on the run, Lynch gave so much and was as popular a team-mate as you could imagine.

Gerard O’Kane
HAVING had the unique distinction of captain MacRory, Hogan and Tom Markham winning teams in the same year, as well as winning man-of-the-match in the latter decider against Meath, Gerard O’Kane was marked out from early on.

He started out at centre-back but became renowned for his performances on the wing, most notably his ability to penetrate the opposition from deep.

For a few years in the middle of his career, O’Kane was one of the best attacking wing-backs in the country. He was shy to shoot in the earlier years, often playing the role of assister with his lung-bursting runs, but developed his shooting over time.

He became a regular scorer, and with an ability to spot when the opposition had dropped too far off him, almost all of them were from long range.

And while he became renowned for his ability to attack the opposition’s defence from deep, marking itself was a quality he turn his hand to when needed.

He came off well in several battles against Sean Cavanagh, which at times landed him a job operating at corner-back when his talents were better utilised elsewhere.

Indeed, he had a versatility that often counted against him. When he was given a run at wing-back and bedded down, he was at his best and most effective, but it was too seldom.

Kevin McGuckin
IF there’s anything Derry football could lay claim to a patent on, it’s the ability to produce man-marking corner-backs.

Kevin McGuckin fitted the mould, yet he was always like a man that was trying to break out of it. There was far too much football in him to spend a career in the number two shirt, but he was a natural at it.

Very much from the Sean Marty Lockhart school of defending – clean, hand in, hand out, don’t concede frees – McGuckin carried on the tradition for the vast majority of his career.

Was recently named by Owen Mulligan as one of the best three defenders he came up against in his career, with the Cookstown man saying: “Kevin was just a sticky defender and a great reader of the game who always got the hand in. Now, if you missed a shot, he’d tell you ‘that was unlucky’ or ‘keep the head up Mugsy’ and a wee pat on the bum, but there was no dirt in him, no nothing.”

Occasionally he’d break out and get a game in the half-back line. The fact that he’s now in his late 30s and still operating comfortably at midfield for Ballinderry, where his ability of the ball has been allowed to come to the fore, tells you enough.

Suffered a bad leg break when he was captain in 2007 and missed most of that year’s championship, though he made it back in time to play the All-Ireland quarter-final against Dublin.

Played up until 2012 and was at the heart of Derry’s National League success in ’08.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access