Chips on the shoulder drove Derry on to defeat Donegal: Enda Gormley
THE diet of champions? Chips - on the shoulder, of course.
Derry’s recipe for Ulster and All-Ireland success in 1993 involved a seriously talented squad, a brilliant manager and coach, and training at ‘another level’.
Yet they were also driven by setbacks and perceived slights. The extra motivation came from defeat after defeat, particularly against neighbours and regular rivals Donegal - notably in a dramatic 1992 provincial final.
Thirty years on, Derry attacking star Enda Gormley comments: “We get on all right now, but diplomatic relations wouldn’t have been great between the two camps at the time.”
Heading into that 1992 Ulster decider, the Oak Leafers were favourites, having beaten another set of neighbours, Tyrone, in the National Football League Final.
Even that victory over the Red Hands left a sour taste in Derry mouths - and another chip on the collective shoulders, though, as Glen clubman Gormley recalls:
“We left that League final with a perfect storm for us: we won the game but the whole praise was for Tyrone. We had both a trophy and a chip on our shoulder.
“I always remember going into the function at Croke Park afterwards and the speeches were all about Tyrone, apologising for Tyrone not winning it.
“Peter Quinn [the then GAA President, from Fermanagh] was one that I always remember, sticks in my head - there was far more talk about Tyrone than congratulating us. We really left that match with a chip on our shoulder - and the trophy.”
A fortuitous late goal won that for Derry, and other questions marks hung over that result, remembers Gormley:
“Then there was the thing, ‘Were yous taking the League final seriously?’ because the same two teams, Derry and Tyrone, were playing in the Championship two weeks later…
“It was perfect for us going into Celtic Park and there were no complaints, we won the preliminary round in Ulster.”
Having beaten Tyrone twice, “the hype in Derry was crazy because of winning the National League. It’s hard to imagine now, but you’ve got to remember that Ulster teams had won nothing for years before Down in 91. That was the next competition and it was Derry’s only second ever national title, won the National League in ’47.”
Yet the Oak Leafers almost slipped up in astonishing fashion in the Ulster SFC quarter-final, a game which sticks with Gormley to this day:
“Then, this is where I got great fun out of Derry beating Monaghan [in this year’s semi-final], because Derry teams as I remember, when you won a very big game we struggled putting back-to-back performances together.
“The famous Monaghan game, which we didn’t get up for. We were 10-nil up, I think it was 10-1 at half-time, the Derry crowd were applauding, it was that one-sided.
“But Monaghan chipped and chipped and then got three goals in a very short period of time…”
Trailing late on, Declan Bateson bagged a goal for Derry, but Ray McCarron forced a replay.
“My abiding memory, in Eamon Coleman’s version afterwards - in not-so-nice terms - is that we switched off. Those weren’t exactly the words Eamon used… We all got a touch, and rightly so.”
Derry won the replay by eight points, pitting them against Down, who’d beaten them in an Ulster semi-final replay in 1991 en route to becoming All-Ireland champions.
“We thought we weren’t far away the year before. We’d another chip on our shoulder, not that they’d done anything wrong, but we thought ‘We’re as capable as them…’
“That was one of my best memories in football, beating Down in Casement. Massive day, full house, 30-odd thousand, sun shining, brilliant atmosphere. We’ve always loved Casement, and that was an absolute classic day.”
So Derry went in as favourites against Donegal, who’d needed a replay to see off Cavan before hammering Fermanagh in their semi-final:
“It was never very one-sided favourites. Probably with us winning the League and beating Down that would have left us favourites more so than anything negative about Donegal.
“They were in their fourth Ulster Final in a row, had won in ’90. Better still, they’d beat us in the ‘89 and ‘90 semi-finals, albeit this was a better Derry team, better drilled, had trained better.
“Yeah, we were confident, but it wasn’t a case of taking it for granted, by any stretch of the imagination. A bit of hype and giddiness set in, I’ve no doubt. I don’t think we had ourselves mentally up at the same levels [as Donegal]
“I remember, which wasn’t like Eamonn [Coleman, the Derry manager], we went into Clones just to get a run-out on the pitch in midweek before it and during the warm-up the giggling and the laughing. In hindsight, it wasn’t the same focus as we normally had.”
Gormley, a bank official with AIB, doesn’t believe the Derry players were counting their winnings already, perhaps even looking beyond Ulster, although he admits supporters may have felt that way:
“There was certainly an element in the county, definitely hype and expectation. There were colours and flags that wouldn’t have been before. I’m sure there would have been talk of that among the general public.
“But I don’t think the players got that carried away because we hadn’t won anything at that stage. A few of us had won an Ulster title in ’87 but… I don’t think we were looking at All-Irelands, but we were saying, ‘Here, if they [Down] are capable of doing something then we’re as good as them.’ That gave us an element of starting to believe in ourselves.
“Personally, having grown up having never seen Ulster teams win, never mind Derry teams, it was like a ‘Eureka!’, wake-up moment.”
At Clones on July 19, 1992, though, Derry fell short again: “I think we lost our focus. I don’t think it was arrogance about winning an All-Ireland. Just a lack of concentration. That team worked better when it had a chip on its shoulder and maybe we had lost the chip on the shoulder a bit, got into a wee comfort zone.”
Instead, Donegal had the grievances in the first half - corner-back John Cunningham sent off for two yellow cards, top forward Tony Boyle off injured after being accidentally kicked by Derry midfield icon Anthony Tohill, and on the wrong end of a few questionable refereeing decisions.
Gormley doesn’t believe that the Tir Chonaill team were hard done by, certainly not his marker Cunningham:
“The Cunningham one, I still argue they were two yellow cards. There was a stray elbow and if he had have caught Dermot McNicholl he’d have broke his jaw, along the line. I’m not saying it was deliberate, I just don’t get Donegal’s chip on the shoulder - but, listen, it’s great to get a ‘cause’ and they used it very well. We’ve all done that over the years, they used it to their advantage.
“The Tony Boyle one, I know they griped about Anthony, but Anthony went to pull on the ball and was a bit late, but we lost Anthony in the same incident. That was a massive, massive loss to us too. There’s no doubt Tony was a big loss for them.
“You have to deal with those things… no doubt they dealt with it much better…They were definitely the hungrier team in the second half, came at it with a better focus and purpose than we did.”
Indeed Donegal produced arguably their finest half of football, undoubtedly their grittiest, to win by 0-14 to 1-9.
The rivalry continued in 1993, with the two counties meeting again in a League quarter-final, which Donegal won by 0-10 to 2-3.
“Oh, that was a very controversial game. There was a lot of hostility, even along the line, between the benches. I think Kieran McKeever got sent off. I got a scraped eye, a fairly accidental thing but I had an eye bandaged for a few days. That just added to the chip on the shoulder, it really was the cream on top of what we needed, in hindsight.
“We had a massive meeting the following week and you talk about clear the air, ‘What do we need to do?’ We knew we weren’t far way, but it was ‘What do we need to do to get us over the line here?’
“There were a lot of things brought out and, looking back, it was a pivotal moment. Not big issues, but wee, small gripes, items that people had, were all thrown out on the table that night. Tempers got up a wee bit, people said what they said and then the issues were dealt with.
“It was turned into ‘Right, are you doing everything you can do?’ It made us all look at each other.
“It was about a six-week run-in from there to the Championship and really things went to another level.”
Derry appeared to have learned lessons from 1992. They hammered Down by 11 points in Newry, the ‘Massacre at the Marshes’, and then beat Monaghan well in the semi-final.
Yet Gormley was wary before both games, he admits: “On a personal level I was a bit worried; I’d hurt my knee after the League quarter-final, hadn’t trained for about five or six weeks. I only literally trained about a week, nine days before… It took actually a wee visit to [Meath manager and herbalist] Sean Boylan to sort it out for me.
“To me, that game in the Marshes wasn’t as one-sided as the final scoreline would suggest. We had a breeze in the first half and went in, I think, six up.
“Down had it back to two and a wee bit of momentum going with them, then we got a goal to turn that momentum and pulled away - but there was a period in the middle of that second half when it certainly wasn’t a foregone conclusion, let’s put it that way.
“That gave us a good bit of a lift, to beat Down two years in a row was reassuring.”
As for Monaghan, another ‘tighter than the outcome’ tie, insists Gormley: “Again, it was a draw at half-time. Another good day Casement, the sun always seemed to come out for us in Casement.
“I remember he brought Joe Brolly and Brian McCormick on and I think both scored three points each from play in the second half; Joe hadn’t started either of those two games and Brian was very good too…
“It wasn’t just one-way traffic. That Monaghan team wouldn’t have been like the present generation, up at the top table, but they were always very hard to put away. You were never getting anything soft from a Monaghan team.”
Come Ulster Final day, July 18 1993, and St Tiernach’s Park was almost a swimming pool with incessant rain.
Derry minor Cathal Scullion suffered a broken leg in the minor final, but Gormley is adamant the seniors didn’t want the big match to be called off, despite the dangerous pitch conditions:
“We had an obsession about that game because of the year before and the League quarter-final. It was the most focussed team I ever saw in the my life.
“People say the game shouldn’t have been played in those conditions, it wasn’t fair on Donegal - we were not losing that game. In all my life I’ve never ever been involved in a team as focussed.
“The Wednesday night [before] there wasn’t a ball dropped, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Boys were hardly even having a laugh with each other.
“So, no, we didn’t want it off, much and all as I hated the conditions, I’ve always hated soft underfoot conditions, and they weren’t ‘soft’, they were ‘swamp’.
“The game shouldn’t have been played, but did we want it off at the time? No. We were just so up for it, so determined.
“We didn’t care if they took it out to the river to play it. We wanted it going ahead. We were in the zone that day.”
Having top-scored in 1992 with six points, but lost, Gormley managed half that tally in 1993, still top-scored - and won.
“The scoreline says enough in itself. It was 8-6 but it wasn’t the Dublin-Donegal of 2011, it was normal football, six backs, six forwards, just the conditions.
“The one thing sticks in my head is the quality of some of our scores that day - Damian Cassidy got two, one was absolutely incredible. Big Tohill put over one free from 55 metres. In my eyes it was impossible - and it flew over the bar. You couldn’t plant your foot to balance.
“That and the block from [Derry defender Tony] Scullion at the end, was a massive thing. Scullion epitomised that they were not getting past us.”
Still, with only two points in it, the fear of potential failure must have been intense: “Oh, absolutely. Heart-thumping job right up to the final whistle.
“Our focus maybe held us back a little bit that day. I’d love to have got them in decent conditions. I can’t think of many other games in my life I’d ever have said this about but I genuinely never thought we were going to lose that day.”
1992 Ulster SFC Final teams:
Donegal: Gary Walsh; John Cunningham, Matt Gallagher, Noel Hegarty; Donal Reid (0-1), Martin Gavigan, Martin Shovlin; Anthony Molloy (capt.), Brian Murray (0-1); James McHugh (0-2), Tommy Ryan (0-2), Joyce McMullin; Martin McHugh (0-4), Tony Boyle (0-1), Declan Bonner (0-3).
Substitute: Barry McGowan for Boyle (inj., 27).
Derry: Damien McCusker; Kieran McKeever, Danny Quinn, Tony Scullion; John McGurk, Henry Downey (capt.), Gary Coleman; Brian McGilligan, Dermot Heaney; Anthony Tohill (0-1), Dermot McNicholl (0-1), Damian Cassidy; Declan Bateson, Seamus Downey (1-0), Enda Gormley (0-6, 0-5 frees).
Substitutes: Damian Barton (0-1) for Tohill (h-t, inj.); John McErlain for Quinn (50); Joe Brolly for Bateson (54).
Referee: Jim Curran (Tyrone).
1993 Ulster SFC Final teams:
Derry: D McCusker; K McKeever, T Scullion, J McGurk; Fergal P McCusker, H Downey (capt.), G Coleman; A Tohill (0-1 free), B McGilligan; Brian McCormick, D Barton (0-1), D Cassidy (0-2); Stephen Mulvenna, D Heaney, E Gormley (0-3, 0-2 frees).
Substitutes: D McNicholl (0-1) for Heaney (30); J Brolly for Mulvenna (54); K Diamond for McNicholl (64).
Donegal: G Walsh; John Joe Doherty, Matt Gallagher, B McGowan; Mark Crossan, Paul Carr, M Shovlin; Michael Gallagher, B Murray; J McHugh, M McHugh (capt.) (0-1), J McMullin (0-1); D Bonner (0-1 free), Manus Boyle (0-2 frees), John Duffy (0-1 free).
Substitutes: Mark McShane for Bonner (51); A Molloy for J McHugh (54); M Gavigan for Michael Gallagher (61).
Referee: Tommy McDermott (Cavan).