Benny Heron and the Derry boys can't get enough of Owenbeg

Derry's Benny Heron celebrates Derry's third goal against Monaghan Picture: Philip Walsh
Derry's Benny Heron celebrates Derry's third goal against Monaghan Picture: Philip Walsh Derry's Benny Heron celebrates Derry's third goal against Monaghan Picture: Philip Walsh

DERRY’S two-goal hero Benny Heron says the Oak Leaf squad “can’t be up in Owenbeg enough” and described manager Rory Gallagher’s contribution as “colossal” following last Sunday’s surprise Ulster semi-final win over Monaghan.

Derry will face neighbours Donegal in the May 29 provincial showpiece, the county’s first appearance in a decider since 2011, when they lost to the Tir Chonaill men.

Gallagher was in the opposite corner that day in Clones alongside Donegal boss Jim McGuinness when Derry slumped to a 1-11 to 0-8 defeat.

Heron has soldiered with Derry for the last 10 years and has endured more bad days than good, experiencing just one victory in Ulster in 2015, before they toppled Tyrone and Monaghan in this year’s provincial series.

“The last two games are up there at the very top,” said the affable Ballinascreen man.

“This is my 10th year for Derry and up to this year we’d only won one Ulster Championship game. To get into an Ulster final, I’m over the moon.

“Whenever I started off with Derry, we’d a great year. We won Division Two [in 2013] and the next year we got to the Division One final and for years after that it was downhill.

“We obviously had to regroup whenever we hit rock bottom. Rory [Gallagher], Ciaran [Meenagh] and Enda [Muldoon] and the boys came in and it’s just been a breath of fresh air, everybody’s put their shoulder to the wheel and everybody is just trying their best to get Derry back up to where we feel they belong.

“We always felt that we did have the players, we maybe just didn’t have the buy in and the real commitment to be successful. But I think we have that now and it’s showing.”

Heron may be on the wrong side of 30 but he is enjoying something of an Indian summer at county level, and it’s doubtful he’s played two better games in his career than the ones he produced against Tyrone and Monaghan over the past fortnight.

Asked about Derry’s secret to success, Heron said: “A lot of hard work and spending a lot of time together. Rory really values time spent together and the boys can’t be up in Owenbeg enough.

“It shows too – that connection, the understanding, that takes times. You can’t do this twice a week and think you’re going to turn up in the Championship and produce performances.

“To get back-to-back performances is obviously unbelievable and we feel that’s the work of the last two years, not just this year.

On Gallagher’s contribution, he added: “It’s hard to sum it up, really. He has been colossal as has Ciaran and Enda. It shows how much they believe in us, it’s been class and the boys are starting to deliver on that. The standards they hold us to are very high.”

On his first-half goal on Sunday, Heron played down his cool finish.

“I was just mooching in the square. Lynchie [Odhran Lynch] played a good ball in and Niall [Toner] put it on a plate for me. I missed one last year against Donegal. It was put on a plate for me and that’s been haunting me ever since.”