THE second the ball hit the back of the net, Declan Bateson was transported into a state of adrenalin-fuelled ecstasy and he took off jumping and punching the air with delight.
Thirty years on, he can’t remember what he did, or what he said in the aftermath of his dramatic goal for Derry in the 1992 Ulster semi-final against Monaghan in Castleblayney. Then again, he couldn’t remember 30 minutes after the game; he just lost it.
‘Did youns see that? Did that go in alright? What’s the score now boys?’
That 1992 semi-final between Derry and Monaghan has to go down as one of the most exciting, intoxicating Ulster Championship games of all time.
A brilliant Derry team eased into a 10-0 lead and when Monaghan got their first point near half-time even the Oak Leaf faithful joined in with some ironic applause. But the tune changed in the second half when Monaghan hit three goals on-the-spin (two from Stephen McGinnity and another, created by McGinnity, by Ray McCarron) to go from seven points down to two in front.
Then Ballinderry forward Bateson stepped in. Instinctive movement found him space and when the ball broke to him off the toe of a Monaghan defender he got it in his hands and lashed it into the net.
“It was a crazy game to be involved in,” says Bateson, an All-Ireland minor winner with Derry in 1989.
“We started to coast a bit in the second half but then all of a sudden it started to rain goals and it looked like we were out.
“There was a large amount of luck attached to my goal. Dermot Heaney went to pick the ball up in their square and Edmund Murphy toe-poked it and it went straight to me six yards out and I slotted it under the ’keeper. I still get kept going about my celebration. I went completely blank because the game had been totally mental.
“My brain was fried and I couldn’t work out the score, I didn’t know if it was a draw or were we one-up. Collie McGurk said to me afterwards: ‘I loved your celebration’ and it never even dawned on me. It was total emotion and then when I saw it that night on TV I was like: ‘Awww, Jesus, no…’”
Bateson’s goal put Derry a point ahead but there was still time for Ray McCarron (father of current Monaghan full-forward Jack) to score from the equaliser and force a replay. Afterwards the Oak Leaf players huddled in silence to face the wrath of manager Eamonn Coleman who was furious that his men had let Monaghan off the hook.
“He got stuck into everybody,” Declan recalls.
“The paint was being stripped off the walls: ‘Yous men think yiz can just turn up and win… yiz still have to earn the right… only for Dec-a-lan Bateson for that last score…’
“Everybody else got a touch: ‘Aye big heads, yiz are big names…’ I got off the hook because I came to the rescue but then the next night he singled me out and I got it then. He must have thought about it and decided he couldn’t let anybody away so he got stuck into me in the training match.
“Eamonn was class. It was all instinct, he played the fool but he was really sharp and intelligent. You talk about a football brain… He was brilliant and you can’t praise Eamonn without mentioning Mickey (Moran) as well. He was awesome too and he’s gone on to show what an amazing coach and manager he is. We needed both of them and we paid the price after 1994 for not having them both involved which was a crying shame.”
Henry Downey hadn’t played in the drawn game but he returned for the Celtic Park rematch and Bateson hit 1-1 in a much less dramatic eight-point win.
This time he had put a bit more thought into his goal celebration.
“I thought I’d have to do something a wee bit better after all the stick I’d got, so I did an aeroplane,” he said.
“But it was probably worse than the first celebration because I’d have a week to think about it.”
Derry went on to beat All-Ireland champions Down in a terrific semi-final at Casement Park but lost the Ulster decider to Donegal.
In a golden era for Ulster football, Brian McEniff’s men went onto the win the All-Ireland that season.
The following year it was Derry’s turn.
“A lot of people say to me: ‘Ah we wouldn’t have won the All-Ireland only for you’,” says Bateson.
“That’s because we played Monaghan again in ’93 on the way to the All-Ireland but I never kicked a ball in anger in ’93.”
Bateson was part of the Derry squad but he was in Manchester University by that time and recalls watching the Derry-Down Ulster quarter-final in 1993 “in the Irish club”. He re-joined the panel when he got home but couldn’t force his way into a winning team.
“I ended up being on the bench for the final so I have an All-Ireland medal but it’s not the same, it would have been nice to have been in the starting 15 or come on in the game. But it was a great period to be involved with Derry, it was amazing to be in the top two or three teams in the country every year and playing with some of the best players in the country.
“At training, marking Kieran McKeever or Tony Scullion was not fun. It was horrendous and it wasn’t great for your confidence having half-an-hour with McKeever every Tuesday and Thursday and Saturday. There was a few ripped jerseys and busted noses and God help you if you happened to have a good five minutes because retribution would be had.
“Marking McKeever was mental, you had to be up for it like a Championship game because he was. If you were five per cent off, he’d be away up the field playing one-twos and knocking it over the bar and Eamonn would be looking at you as if to say: ‘What the ffff…’
“He was a corner-back who played like a corner-forward. He anticipated your run and made it slightly before you and marking Scullion was completely head-shrinking because he never marked you. It just seemed that wherever the ball went he happened to be there, you’d make sprints into space and the ball seemed to be kicked to wherever Tony was standing. He was a ball magnet, no matter where he went, the ball went and no matter where you went, the ball didn’t!
“But it was class for your development. When I went out to play against somebody and I knew I had been marking McKeever or Scullion for a fortnight and done alright then I knew I could do it.”
Bateson didn’t force his way into the Derry team in 1993 but won his third All-Ireland medal when Ballinderry Shamrocks beat Nemo Rangers in the All-Ireland club final in 2002.
“I never really thought we would win an All-Ireland but that year we just kept on winning, we got a wee bit of luck, and next thing we were in the final,” he says.
“We had absolutely no qualms about playing them. We went out and played and it was the best footballing experience of my life, without a doubt.”
In the first half he punched Darren Conway’s ball into the net and added a point in the second half. Then, with the game delicately poised at 1-7 to 0-9, he got his big toe to a loose ball and jabbed it to his cousin Adrian McGuckin.
McGuckin passed to Gerard Cassidy who walloped the ball into the back of an empty net and Ballinderry took control and brought the Andy Merrigan Cup back to the loughshore.
Two decades have passed since then and three since Bateson’s heroics in 1992 but on Sunday, Derry meet Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final once again. It’s an intriguing battle between experienced campaigners Monaghan and a Derry side that blew away Tyrone to confirm their status as a force to be reckoned with.
“Derry are underdogs,” Declan insists.
“Their performance against Tyrone was awesome and as Derry supporters we were so delighted to get one over the old enemy because it’s been a long time coming. It’ll live long in the memory but we have to back it up now and it’ll be very difficult against Monaghan.
“They have been a top team for a decade so it’ll be really tight and they’ll need the same again or better. Derry are underdogs but that’s a good way to go into a game, they can go and play with a bit of freedom and enjoy it with the confidence that they can play at that level. If Derry are going to win Ulster it’ll be a very difficult task. They’ve beaten Tyrone, now they’re looking at Monaghan and then Donegal in the final… Three established teams, they’re going to have to earn it.”