GAA Football

If this is the 'last real Ulster', what a way to win it

Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue and Brendan Rogers on the final whistle after beating Donegal during the Ulster Senior Football Championship Final at Clones on Sunday 29th May 2022. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
From Cahair O'Kane at St Tiernach's Park

AFTER waiting 24 years to win one, Derry yesterday won what Rory Gallagher described as “maybe the last real Ulster Championship”.

That the championship is set for radical overhaul in 2023 was the furthest thing from most minds yesterday but had been front and centre on Saturday after the maulings handed down by Dublin and Kerry in their respective provincial finals.

Yesterday’s northern decider was a 90-minute arm-wrestle that looked almost destined for penalties at a stage before it fell the Oak Leafers’ way.

Gallagher, winning his first Ulster title as manager after having been Jim McGuinness’ assistant for Donegal’s 2011 and ’13 successes, was well aware of the history around it all.

“It’s always been a bit like that in Munster without Cork hand on heart. Connacht has been good no one can legislate for Dublin’s power and Ulster, no-one has ever felt like that.

“This year has been ripping, last year was fairly ripping, we enjoy it but is it an equal way of getting into the All-Ireland,” said Gallagher.

“Maybe we’ve won the last real Ulster championship, I don’t know. Certainly in my mind, I wanted these lads to win it. Will next year’s mean the same? Probably not.”

In some ways it feels like a debate for another day but there’s never a right answer to the provincial conundrum.

You couldn’t have looked down at the chaotic joy of 15,000 Derry supporters and felt this was something that should go away. They were experiencing a joy that anyone under the age of 30 would either have forgotten or never have felt before.

From a county that has long had an indifference towards its county team, in the space of barely a month the supporters have fallen back in love.

“Being so lucky to be involved in Donegal [in 2012], you wish every county could have the chance of an Ulster or All-Ireland because it is an unbelievable passion for our communities that we live in.

“Our lives, all you guys, we all know each other through that. It’s a small wee country, Ireland and it is great to see that hunger and passion and enjoyment and fulfilment.

Gallagher conceded that he hadn’t enjoyed his first six months in charge and didn’t believe at that stage this was possible as he wrestled with the commitment levels of the group at his disposal.

But lockdown came, priorities changed and instead of flatlining, Derry’s trajectory headed for the sky.

“We wanted to change the mindset of players and part of that was challenging the really good players to come out from their club.

“By that I mean come out from their club mentality, in the way that they train and prepare themselves. Then players that were a bit iffy about commitment.

“I was very annoyed I wasn’t enjoying it. At the same time you see moments there’s a player Oisin McWilliams and you see the quality of those lads, Ben McCarron, Emmet Bradley, Ethan Doherty you know there is serious talent,” he added, praising the rest of his management team to the heavens they resided in last night.

Tyrone, Monaghan and now Donegal.

If it’s the last real Ulster title, what a way for Derry to win it.

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GAA Football