Conan ‘Scone’ Doherty Reflection Piece

December 15, 2011 at 3:07 pm

It’s 2005.

It’s a wet, miserable December night. The club had dominated the North Derry underage scene with minor and under 16 championship victories; and promotion to Intermediate status confirmed which direction we were headed. Yet 20 naive boys, believing their own bad press, were too scared to take the next step.

We sat in the choir room next to Steelstown chapel up in arms at the audacity of the club to suggest we were good enough to compete with the best. It was decided that the under 18 team would play in the All-County section in 2006 for the first time; but we were not happy and staging a feeble revolt.

“This group of players have never won a championship match together and you want us to step up a grade?”

I’m ashamed to say that these were my own defeatist words. Stats-wise I was, of course, on the money but how pathetic and I’ve never forgot it. I hadn’t considered that, in that very room, we were joined by 6 players who would later represent the county in the same age bracket. I hadn’t considered that I was on-board a much more powerful ship than we were allowed to notice. And, thankfully, my ill-informed sentiments were not taken into account.

In fact, only Stephen Cleary and Neil Forester were vying for Steelstown to make the step up. It’s no coincidence that these men are our latest Derry senior representatives.

Spearheading the decision to push the club on to where it could be – to where it belonged – Paddy Cosgrove and Eddie Sweeney were joined by Michael Heffernan and Hugh McGrath. Michael, carrying that winning attitude that makes Kilkenny men oblivious to second best, must have been disgusted at our lack of ambition, our lack of faith. And Hugh, equipped with all the confidence we’re accustomed to see from County Down natives (for whatever reason), wouldn’t take no for an answer and proceeded to embarrass an outspoken Tony Ling questioning the new coach’s credentials. It’s no coincidence either that these men would later go on to chairman and senior management positions.

At the time, we clearly didn’t believe that we could be here in 5 years.

Good wee team; some lovely football. You’ll make loads of friends from the GAA; it’s great for the city.

Were we starting to be brainwashed by the naysayers that this was the extent of our potential? We’ll produce some nice stuff, make good connections – but we’ll never have it in us to cause a stir. Fortunately, there were plenty of people in the club who wouldn’t listen and would not be deterred and, acting immediately on the underage success of that previous season, these same people made a decision that Steelstown folklore is now indebted to.

I remember growing up, I was told that clubs are doing well if they bring through their 3 best minors each year – 4 at a push. I remember thinking, “oh bollocks” – not just because I was in no way better than the likes of Cleary, Ling, McKinney, but because I was thinking that the journey from Junior to Senior would take a lot longer than we’d like. But, being thrown in the deep-end and taught how to swim, the ’06 minor squad began to realise that they could hold their own on the other side of the Glenshane. And, eliminating championship favourites Magherafelt, Bellaghy and Kilrea – who had been dominating for 4 years – Steelstown were learning their lessons and now found that they could more than compete with this lot; but they could beat these teams.

Missing out on final success by 5 points – ironically to a North Derry side – we had come a long way from the group of scared whingers (sorry lads) that were throwing their toys from the pram just 9 months earlier. And sooner or later, those same players began to filter through to the senior services. In fact, of the 17 players that featured in that minor final at Celtic Park, 10 of them played in Dungiven against Newbridge 3 weeks ago.


Outside that ten, Eoghan Heraghty, finds himself in an unenviable position battling for the number 1 jersey with one of the best in the county. Another, Dermot McBride, trawled the sidelines all year barking instructions and demanding more. And, of course, Brian Óg himself played that day – all 15 years of him – with what can only be described as a mammoth, colossal performance. On another occasion, you could maybe question the rest of us that we needed this guy – who was still at under 15 level at the time – to spring from the bench and boss the game, but such is the Brian Óg effect. To abide by his legacy is the best thing the club have done.

It would be easy to get ahead of ourselves and continue to celebrate the 2011 season but that’s not the intention of this article. Gaining promotion was and should be an important step – but, crucially, a step. Just like 2006 was leading somewhere, so too should this year. Put simply: sometimes, you need to work even harder. Sometimes, you need to aspire to something greater. And, sometimes, you just need to believe.

I’ve got 13 players to testify to that.

Conan writes for a sports blog covering Injury, Psychology, Performance Analysis, Training Methods, Strength & Conditioning, Nutrition & Business.