Brian McGuckin confident Tyrone will still be too strong for Derry
A DERRY club may be getting the benefit of his footballing brain this year, but Brian McGuckin's body is mostly in Tyrone, and his head and heart are definitely with the Red Hands this weekend.
The son of former Derry footballer Mick, cousin of Oak Leaf star Joe Brolly, and also Kevin, Adrian, and Ronan McGuckin, Brian assisted Damian Barton in charge of Derry in their 2016 and 2017 Ulster SFC losses to their neighbours.
Both of those were 11-point setbacks in Celtic Park, but even though Derry travel to Healy Park tomorrow, McGuckin reckons they'll come closer – but still not get past their hosts.
Brought up in Edendork, and living and teaching in Dungannon, he did play several seasons with his father's first club, Ballinderry, and recalls a soft spot for certain Derry footballers in his teenage years and beyond:
"Very much so, and even in the early 90s - Joe Brolly is a first cousin, so obviously the success in '93 would have kept us all very interested. Cousins Kevin, Adrian, and Ronan, all represented Derry, so there was always that connection to ourselves."
However, he says his dad never tried to pin the Oak Leaf on their chests: "No, not at all, we were all brought up as staunch Tyrone supporters. Whenever dad came up the road, he threw his lot in with Edendork. No, we didn't know anything other than Tyrone, and always wanting to represent them."
Brian had that honour himself, having impressed as an attacker with Edendork St Malachy's, but the timing of his attempts to become a regular went against him, among other factors.
Coming in after Tyrone had won Ulster in 1995 and 1996, reaching the All-Ireland Final in the first of those seasons, he was brought in by Danny Ball in 1997.
Retained by Art McCrory and Eugene McKenna from autumn 1999 onwards, his educational career restricted his opportunities: "The first couple of years I was back and forth, studying in Buckinghamshire, outside London, then in Liverpool."
Having made his senior championship debut as a substitute for Terry McKenna in the Ulster preliminary round defeat against Down in 1998, he then had the honour of replacing the legendary Peter Canavan in a 2002 qualifier against Leitrim and McGuckin showed his quality, scoring four points in Carrick-on-Shannon.
"In 2002 that was when you could see that the potential was there, and that Tyrone were really starting to come, bar that disappointing defeat to Sligo in Croke Park. I'm not saying it was inevitable, but it was plain to see that there were successful years coming."
Yet he didn't feature in any of the three Championship meetings against Derry in 2001 and 2002, and when Mickey Harte came in, he went more with the young forwards he knew from his Minor and U21 management days, so Brian McGuckin concentrated on starring for his club.
Although his mother is a Corey from Brackaville, Mick McGuckin settled in Edendork, so Brian "played the majority of my football with the St Malachy's. I moved to Ballinderry in 2008, played for them up to 2011, then semi retired, and started to do some coaching – but I transferred back to Edendork, ended up playing close to my 40s, getting another six or seven years with Edendork."
When his teaching colleague Damian Barton took on the Derry job for 2016, he asked McGuckin to assist him, and "I didn't hesitate – I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to get working with top class Gaelic footballers in that environment. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience."
Having helped Coalisland – incuiding Tyrone captain Padraig Hampsey and his defensive colleague Michael McKernan – reach last season's county SFC final, McGuckin has joined forces with Barton again to oversee Magherafelt in Derry.
Red Hands goalkeeper Niall Morgan, midfielder Conn Kilpatrick, and sharp-shooter Darren McCurry are all club-mates of his, while his sons play for Eglish, home of Conor McKenna. Factor in McGuckin being "part of the furniture" at St Patrick's College in Dungannon, and his knowledge of the current Tyrone team is deep.
He hopes for, and expects, a home victory in Healy Park tomorrow, even though some may sniff Derry causing an upset:
"Derry have made serious progress over the last couple of years, and there seems to be real 'buy-in' as well, but I honestly can't see them winning.
\"I think Derry are too fixed in how they play and that Tyrone will have studied them and will have done a serious amount of work on how to break them down.
"Tyrone really adjust and change depending on how the opposition play. Tyrone can play many different ways. I do believe that Derry will definitely put it up to them but, coming into the last 10, 15 minutes, I think Tyrone's experience will tell. I expect Tyrone to come out with a few points to spare."