Hugh 'Gutty' McGlone had a club career with Newbridge spanning 23 seasons. His younger years coincided with a bright spell in the club's history. He spoke to Michael McMullan about losing championships, winning the John McLaughlin Cup and building for the future.
Gutty McGlone is no different to any other competitor. Defeat hits him like a sledgehammer. It festers to the very pit of his stomach.
It's county final afternoon in 1988 and an emerging Lavey team savour the sweet aroma of victory. Inside, in the corner of the Glen dressing room, McGlone reflects. The remnants of their 0-11 to 0-6 defeat get tossed through his mind again, something only disappointment can do.
The pitter patter of water in the adjoining shower area stops. The noise you only hear above the eerie silence of failure. John McErlain, Liam Devlin and Damian Barton emerge. Their confab draws a common conclusion. They had left three titles behind them. Next year will be different.
In 1986, 16-year-old McGlone's debut season, the 'Bridge 'didn't stand up' for themselves in the championship against Ballinderry, before losing the game. Eamonn Coleman was manager and after making him a regular from the mid-point of the league, Hugh wasn't selected for the championship defeat to the Shamrocks, with Coleman later confessing it was about protecting him for a career ahead. He just wasn't ready.
Three years earlier, torn ligaments in McGlone's right ankle, sustained in school action for St Pius, worked out for the best.
“Before that, I couldn't kick with my weak foot,” recalls Hugh, who would later coach at underage and engineer the foundations for the current senior team.
He remembers the late Brendan Convery insisting on a return to school training once he could walk, before arming him with a bag of balls.
“Convery made me stand on the 14 (yard line) and kick every ball into the goals with my left foot. The next week, he made me go to the 21,” McGlone clearly remembers.
The man who managed Lavey's All-Ireland winning team was developing McGlone without him even knowing.
“I gradually got stronger and stronger and that's where I ended up playing at left corner back for the 'Bridge seniors at 16, because I had two feet and was able to go up the line...that was all down to Brendan Convery.”
St Pius annexed an U16 Vocational Schools All-Ireland, with McGlone on board. A year later, in 1987, Derry minors, who played most of the game with 14 men following the first-minute dismissal of Gregory McCloskey, were beaten by a point in Newry by Down, who went on to win the All-Ireland. McGlone lined out at corner back and a year more experienced, had established himself as a regular on the 'Bridge senior team.
Once again, they crossed paths with Ballinderry. After having previously taken two games to beat Magherafelt, they met the Shamrocks in the infamous semi-final replay encounter at Greenlough. Newbridge came through to play Dungiven in a final.
The Newbridge team pictured before the 1988 Derry senior final
It wasn't to be. Newbridge were going to stand their ground this time. Familiarity bred contempt and after another tempestuous battle with the Shamrocks, which saw pitch invasions, Newbridge were thrown out leaving Dungiven to be awarded the title in the boardroom.
Losing was becoming a habit and in the aftermath of their 1988 defeat, before leaving Glen, they made a pact.
“We are going to learn from this,” McGlone relays of the collective dressing room message. “We left one (behind), we didn't get playing in one (1987) and now we have lost one. We are not going to lose another one.”
You earned your corn at Newbridge training. The championship jersey wasn't handed out willy nilly.
Gutty McGlone, the youngest of seven boys in a house of 13 children, would leave home for the short walk to the hall for a Saturday pre-championship meeting before the 1989 final. He was unnecessarily uneasy.
“I'm not sure of my position here,” McGlone thought.
He was ever-present and never substituted during the year, but Stephen Walls, an All-Ireland minor winner with Derry in 1983, was breathing down McGlone's neck.
“That's the class of player we had on the bench. I knew I had played well, but because of the competition at the time in the Newbridge team, I was thinking 'I could get a gunk here' I knew the pressure was on, that's why you had to perform.”
It was an era that secured back-to-back senior leagues in 1988 and 1989, as well as three reserve championships inside five years.
“This just wasn't about the senior team, those three teams were the pinnacle of us winning the (senior) championship in 1989,” McGlone stated, in no uncertain terms. Before emphasising it again.
“We played games at training during 1989...it was a senior team against a reserve team. We struggled to beat them, so that shows you the class of talent we had in Newbridge at that time.”
McGlone name-checks Mickey McGrogan and Shane Doherty as some of the forwards who trotted into his left corner back area in training games, players not even listed on the 23-man match-day panel for the final. And they gave him his fill of it.
“Then, you had big Hugh McGrogan, Paudi's Da, running around at midfield, kicking the shite out of Damian Barton. There was no respect given whatsoever.”
It was dog eat dog. And it needed to be. This was to be the year.
“Rabbi (Thomas Fullerton) and Sam (Bateson), our managers, picked 15 seniors against 15 reserves, so we would learn how to play together in games.”
The seniors never overran their reserve counterparts.
“Not a chance,” Gutty stresses.
The seniors never won by any more than 'four or five' points, with the reserves winning the 'odd game'.
It worked wonders when it mattered.
“Any time we were down by a couple of points (in games), that team didn't know when it was beat. Now it mightn't have been the silkiest team, but boys just never quit,” Hugh admits.
After three years of knocking on the door, with the pain of defeat lingering like a dark cloud and with the younger players beginning to mature, it was time to die dog or shite the licence.
There was another ingredient. Sam Bateson is described by McGlone as 'the tactician' with his managerial partner Thomas Fullerton also knowing his football. The perfect match.
Fullerton, a reserve winning captain, was playing with McGlone in a 1986 Graham Cup game. Magherafelt were running them ragged and led by 'six or seven points' at the interval.
“It was one of the first times I saw we had steel and other teams didn't have, Thomas went f**king ballistic at half-time,” Gutty remembers.
It was a watershed moment. The law was laid down. Like the rest of the team, McGlone imposed himself. They were like men possessed and won the game well.
“I was niggling with my man and remember him filling my mouth when we began to get on top,” said McGlone, who walked off the pitch with blood running out of his nose.
“He's not playing football in the next round, but we are,” Rabbi uttered to him, with a laugh.
“That's when I thought, the odd slap in the mouth doesn't matter, as long as you come out on the right side of it.”
Another piece of valuable advice was dished out by John McErlain who often played in front of him on the left wing. In his early days, McGlone would often hoof the ball to safety. As a young buck, and under pressure, it was safer than getting caught in possession.
“John roared at me one day in a league game,” he remembers. “I was told to either use the ball up the wing or just lay it off. It's those wee things that helps you when you are growing up.”
As the 1989 season began to grow, Newbridge beat 1986 champions Bellaghy in the first round, followed by a hard-earned victory over 1985 winners Glenullin and a semi-final encounter win over Banagher.
It took them to the decider against neighbours Castledawson. Midway through the first-half, Brian McErlain was sent off. In the reshuffle, Damian Barton dropped back to centre-back.
“Damian was that good with the long pass, that we didn't really have to attack and we could keep six at the back,” McGlone said of his captain.
“He was able to get the ball to Dev (Liam Devlin) and Paddy Barton up there. On that day, I thought the Newbridge defence was outstanding...everybody. It was tight, it was hard hitting and Castledawson didn't get going.”
They knew that Eamonn Heaney wasn't going to make 'Dawson's starting team, but would play a part. He had played at full-back in the 1984 final, but was now threw in at full-forward to help rescue the game.
It wasn't long before Rabbi was out over the sideline to instruct McGlone to do a marking job on Colm McKee for the remainder of the game, having blotted out the substituted Mickey Hughes.
“Neither me or Colm touched the ball, but the management had trust in us. I was the youngest man on our team and they were happy to leave me on their county man.”
Having played in three county finals and losing two of them, McGlone – who has a memory for detail that matches his enthusiasm – always remembers the call for stewards to pick up their end of match positions.
“It's one of the worst feelings you could have as a footballer when you are getting beat by two or three points,” he recalls.
One year on from hearing it against Lavey in 1988, they led Castledawson when the announcement bellowed out. He remembers dampening Eoin Gribbin's joy at the thought of having their clutches on that elusive championship.
“One goal and they are back in it,” McGlone warned him. “In the Lavey game, it seemed to last 30 seconds until the final whistle, but when it was called that year (1989), we were ahead...it seemed like an eternity until the whistle.”
Newbridge were not to be caught. They kept their promise from 12 months earlier and Damian Barton collected the John McLaughlin Cup after a 19-year gap, for their 10th and last title.
From McGlone's recollection, win lose or draw, Wilfie Garvin, Mick McKenna, Jim Gilmore, Seamus and Dermot Doherty, Owen and Willie Gribbin would always be in the Newbridge dressing room after games. They were part of the team's fabric.
“I remember those boys being in the day we won it and I was never as glad to see it. It's one of the wee things I will always remember.”
Later in the evening the team went for a meal at the O'Neill Arms in Toome, before heading back to Newbridge Hall for the celebrations.
McGlone wasn't a teetotaller, he enjoyed a drink like most of the others and it was curbed during the championship preparations.
“I never touched drink the night we won the championship, not one pint,” Gutty said of his premeditated decision.
“I wanted to savour the whole thing and not to be talking to the older men around the club and me maybe half tight.”
The next two or three days were different. Between the Elk and the Thatch, it was party central. On the Monday night, the squad did a tour of Newbridge on the back of Mick McKenna's lorry.
1989 Derry champions Newbridge
“Everyone was on the back of 'er,” Gutty laughs. “We went down to Toome to pick up Stephen McErlain and then did every road in Newbridge. You would've thought there were 200 cars behind us. For the next two or three days, I don't think we sobered.”
They were at the top of Everest. But surprisingly, being one of the most consistent teams of the time, it was the only senior championship that crop won.
In 1990, they 'took the foot off the pedal' and lost to Ballinascreen in the semi-final who were beaten by eventual All-Ireland champions Lavey.
“In 1991 Eugene Young came in to manage us and we got to the final. We missed two goals and they (Dungiven) scored two goals, that was the difference in us winning another one.”
While picking up intermediate silverware in the interim, he recalls the disappointment of relegation in 1999 after surviving for 'three or four' seasons in play-offs.
“To start your career with a championship medal in your pocket at 19 or 20, struggling and relegation was tough. To go from being top of the pile...from walking around behind bands, to relegation, it was tough.”
McGlone picked up an intermediate medal in 2002, but when the same title returned five years later, he had stepped away from the seniors, choosing to play with the reserves.
Gutty was coaxed out back into the senior ranks by manager Gavin Devlin for an impact role at full-forward, using his guile to pull full-back lines of position. A dead leg suffered in 2009, a niggle that never fully cleared up told McGlone it was time to 'pull the pin'.
In retirement, he was never going to step away from the game he loved. The buzz in his voice, with every word dancing, speaks volumes for his fanaticism for football. He stayed on as long as he could, with the club having 'little youth' coming through.
It was time to dig new foundations and survey the lie of the land in the local school.
“There were big numbers from U8 down, so we decided we'd start with the underage,” states Hugh, who had the help of Neil Young, Martin Gribbin and Gabriel Farren.
It was the club's first U6/U8 group, as part of a unofficial South Derry underage initiative. With clubs coaching for three weeks and playing a blitz on the fourth week.
“We couldn't believe it, when all 45 of them turned up at the first session,” he said of a group that supplied seven players to the senior team beaten by Slaughtneil in last year's championship.
“By U14, CK (Ciaran Kennedy) came in to help. He had taken teams around Newbridge that boys (coaches) didn't want, he'd step up. Noel McPeake and Sean McKenna came in too and helped.”
After winning the U14 B league and championship, McGlone took a break before returning at minor level and asked for another step up in class. At the pre-season meeting he asked those in the room with two B medals to stand up.
“About 70 percent stood up and when asked who has at least one (B medal), and the rest of them stood,” McGlone states.
It was time to move up to the A grade. In their first game, they were away to Slaughtneil and unlucky not to beat a team who were U16 champions two years earlier. After losing heavily to Magherafelt in the Hughes McElwee Cup, the league game between them finished in a draw.
The 2003 Newbridge U6/U8 panel
“If you win a 'B' (title) you have to step up to A. We were not going to win anything. If we played somebody and there was 10 points in it and we played them a second day and there was two points in it, we are progressing.” McGlone expressed. He was looking further down the track.
His sons are now playing on the senior team, he helped shape. In recent years, they picked up another intermediate title and are back in the top flight. Hopefully to stay.
“Now we have a panel again that, if nurtured right, can dine at the top table again. Hopefully...I am one of the men that is going in around the dressing room in the next five or six years like the older boys did when we won.”
Gutty's fanaticism has never diluted, nor is it likely to. One of the game's great characters.
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