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Tom Magill: The building of a dynasty

A look back at Lavey's hurling glory days

Tom Magill: The building of a dynasty

Derry GAA Chairman Seán Bradley presents the old and new county hurling trophies to Tom Magill and Hugh Martin McGurk after Lavey's 1985 success, their first in 23 years

For 13 of Lavey's senior hurling titles, the legendary Tom Magill was at the forefront of their development and success. Michael McMullan spoke to him and former winning captain Benny Ward, looking into their rise.

***
As the Lavey bus pulled up outside the Monasterboice Inn, Tom Magill scoured into the kitty. Three grand was raised for the club minors' 1989 trip to Cork. Now, on their way home, just over fifty quid remained.

It was money well spent. Later that year, they would win the second minor title of a four-in-a-row, to go with the three successful titles earlier in the decade. The bedrock of Lavey's dominance of the Fr Collins Cup for the next 15 years.

Standing in the restaurant, Tom enquired to the waitress how far their remaining £52 would stretch. It was like the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.

It all worked out. There was enough sausages and chips to go around. Lavey's upcoming stars returned home fed and inspired with hurling lessons in the locker.

Even now, there is an obvious excitement in Magill and Benny Ward's voices as they delve into memory bank. The joy of nostalgia.

“We came home to Lavey and hadn't a penny. We blew the whole thing...but it was well worth it,” Magill laughs.

The team raised half the price of the trip with a sponsored walk. A fashion show, arranged by the players' mothers, coughed up with the rest. A GAA club fending for itself.

After jumping out of the bus, Lavey took on local city side St Finbarrs, managed by GAA legend Jimmy Barry Murphy in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. There was also a game with Na Piarsaigh over a weekend of learning and craic.

The tussle with the 'Barr's developed into a close encounter coming down the final stretch. One of the Cork umpires rolled out the team's football game the night before as an excuse for their lethargy and not being able to brush aside their northern opponents. Lavey's goalkeeper Fergal 'Shorty' McNally wasn't sold.

“I will never forget wee Shorty, he was always good craic,” Magill laughs. “Shorty told him 'we travelled 300 miles to get here, do you not think we were tired.'”

Six-time All-Ireland winning dual star Murphy was impressed with what Lavey had to offer.

“He came into the changing room and told us he didn't know what to expect from us, but that he'd love his team to play the style of hurling we did,” Magill proudly explains.

The trip was organised in conjunction with another Tom, Tom Nott, who managed Cork to All-Ireland minor glory and became an adopted son of Lavey.

The relationship ignited some years earlier when Magill headed to an All-Ireland semi-final in Dublin. Nott was along the line with the Rebels' minors that day. It got the Lavey man thinking.

“I went over to the wire in Croke Park and jarred him to see if he would come up to a club in Derry, that's how that contact came about,” Magill recalls.

Anything that could help build their hurling dynasty was worth pursuing. By that stage, Magill had been helping out with underage teams for over a decade, but now it was getting more serious.

Benny Ward, an U16 and senior winning captain, describes his (Magill's) coaching as 'away and above' anything else.

“In his coaching it was always about skill, skill, skill...the hook, the block...all the simple things and doing it at a fast pace”, praises Ward. His coach could also find fire in the belly when required. But there needed to be discipline on Tom's watch.

Ward recalls a minor league game somewhere in the Glens of Antrim and one of his team mates putting in a less than fair tackle.

“Tom came in and ate the face off him at half time. He didn't mind you hitting someone, but you (had to) hit him fair and with a shoulder.”

The games in Antrim were a means to an end. The Lavey presence at St Patrick's Maghera also built up the confidence they could complete with and beat the best Antrim had to offer.

“There was no inferiority complex,” Ward stresses. Back to back Ulster minor leagues, as well as Foresters and Mageean Cup glory at school backed it up.

All the pieces of the Lavey puzzle were coming into place. Tom's direction was paying off. Kieran McGill, Owen McMullan, Martin Collins, Colm Hendry, Gerard Dillon and John Joe McNally weren't far from the forefront. All playing their part with various teams, but the net was cast wider.

“Tom was always able to get someone to come and help, to bring new voices. He never once said he knew everything,” Ward stressed.

Tom Nott was one such voice. Former Antrim and Down supremo Sean McGuinness would go on to manage Lavey to the 2001 title, with Magill part of the package. Cushendall man Alex Emerson came on board with Magill to help Lavey Ulster minor winning teams of 1996 and 2005.

Tipperary man Paddy McCormack and All-Ireland winning boss Liam Sheedy are others he called on over the years. In Magill's time as Tyrone manager, Sheedy drove north before putting the Red Hands through a session in Lavey hall, the only venue available due to the drifting snow on the pitches across Ulster.

The pair have kept in contact. When Tyrone won the Lory Meagher Cup, Sheedy popped Tom a message of congratulations. Magill did the same after Sheedy, who he classes as 'a gentleman', led Tipp to the Liam McCarthy Cup.

“Thanks very much Tom,” came the reply, almost instantly.

Tom Magill pictured during his time leading Tyrone to the Nicky Rackard Cup. He was involved in 13 of Lavey's 21 senior hurling championships
(Pic: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile)

Magill just has a deep-rooted belief in getting help if it was needed, something he consistently speaks about. It's not about one person.

“My thing in life was, it didn't matter what you were or who you were, you got people in to help out,” he stresses.

When Magill took a Derry team down to the Christy Ring School of hurling, he met Fr Bertie Troy, who had managed Cork to five successive Munster and three All-Ireland senior titles in the seventies.

“He was our mentor for the week – he was brilliant,” said Tom, who enquired of his help for project Lavey. “Fr Bertie had never been in the north in his life and said he was afraid.”

Tom wasn't taking no for an answer and arranged to collect him at the border in Newry and ferry him up to take coaching sessions in Lavey. Any nugget of advice, big or small, was always welcome.

***

Hurling and camogie was launched in Lavey parish by Aghadowey native James McLaughlin in 1934. Under the original name of Shamrocks, they won the first title six years later.

Three further successes followed in the forties, with three more in the fifties  and after the 1962 title, it was followed by a 23-year famine.

Tom Magill began his Lavey senior hurling career at the age of 16. It wasn't until the other side of 30 that he would pick up the first of three senior medals as a player, in that 1985 success, in a team laced with young guns from their three-in-a-row minor success. Players like Don Mulholland, Henry and Seamus Downey, Johnny, Collie and Ciaran McGurk.

Lavey retained the title the following year, before going down to Ballycastle in the Ulster final, played at home in Gulladuff. Success feeds success. With the cream of Ulster club hurling on their own doorstep, it inspired the next generation of minor winning teams.

“There is no doubt that made a big impression,” admits Benny Ward. “You are able to walk across and watch a big game like that at your home pitch with a big crowd.

“Lavey were playing big games at that stage every year. In 1988 they had won the (Derry senior) double, they were unlucky to be beaten in the Ulster (football) semi-final and were beaten in the hurling final by Belfast side Rossa.”

Lavey would later lose three Ulster finals to the great Dunloy team of that era, but that day in Rossa Park was, in Tom Magill's opinion, their golden opportunity. Rossa eventually lost by two goals in the All-Ireland final to Wexford side Buffers Alley.

“We should've beat Rossa,” he said, feeling the referee didn't do his side 'any justice' that day.

“I still maintain, if we had got over Rossa and had the winter ahead of us, we wouldn't have been far away. We had a lot of great players at the time.”

It was Tom Magill's last game of hurling. The late Dan McCrystal had already got him involved in coaching underage teams around the club, but with his hurl now hung up, he stepped up his efforts to hone the next batch of stars.

“Tom's commitment to coaching teams just skyrocketed after that,” Benny Ward points out. “Those four minor teams (1988-1991) - he was involved in every one of them. Of all the successful senior teams, Tom was either there as manager, coach or a major influence. Tom was the glue that held it all together.”


Lavey's winning minor team of 1989

From that squad that dined on sausages and chips that evening in the Monasterboice, eight came through to play 'for about 10 years' at senior level and were involved when Ward skippered them to glory in 2002.

Packie McCloy, Joe Young, Adrian 'Buddie' McCrystal, Brian McCormick, Fergal McNally, Artie McMullan, Ollie and Mickey Collins.

“That's some return for a minor team,” Ward said. “Artie McMullan was on the 1988 minor team. Others, like Chippy (Paul McCloy), 1989 captain Seamus McCloy and Peter Doherty played for a few seasons before travel, life and other commitments meant they weren't there for longer.”

They were all shaped by Magill's meticulous approach to management.

“He preached the basics and the skills of the game. He was always encouraging and it was about the work ethic,” Benny added.

It was going to stand to them. Add in all the runs in the muck and clabber of McGurk's field, opposite Lavey ground. It saved their main pitch for when they needed it and built character for an endless line of battles ahead.

“When you are a minor and you see your coach putting the work in, you respect him. He would've done anything for his teams.”

The senior success followed, just like a natural progression. Once one competition and grade was over, it was about moving up the ladder.

“There are regrets too,” Ward adds. “We lost championships, we lost games in Ulster I wished had gone the other way, but that's the way sport is.”

Kevin Lynch's and Slaughtneil won titles, to stop them winning two separate six-in-a-row of Derry titles.

“We were going well at the time,”Magill offers. “Our big rivals...it was always good to get one over on Dungiven. It took us a long time to get over them, but once we did we always enjoyed beating them.

“It drove us on every bit as hard, you always looked forward to it. (Brian) McGilligan would've always have got a thump at Collie and Collie would've always have got a thump at McGilligan.”

But for Magill there was a respect between the clubs. Liam Hinphey, Jim B Bradley, Pat Joe McKenna and Thomas Cassidy are the names he mentions. He could go on. Great hurling men.

“That's the great thing about hurling, we always had good friendships,” he states.

Lavey made the most of their spell at the top, with 12 championships in 17 years, a spell where they only lost one final – to Slaughtneil, played at the heel of Derry's 1993 Sam Maguire winning season.

They were unlucky to come to the fore at the same time as Dunloy's golden generation, who would beat them in three Ulster finals. In Ward's opinion, 1995 was Lavey's peak, but they had the chance of an Ulster title taken from them in the boardroom

The club's footballers were taken to a replay with Bellaghy and their Ulster hurling semi-final was set for the same weekend. Neither Derry or Ulster's fixture chiefs were prepared to budge.

Lavey's appeal to the Ulster Council against playing three games inside six days was rejected and they pulled out of the hurling clash with Ballycran, feeling it would be played at a later date. It wasn't.

Benny Ward closes in on Gary Hannify during Derry's clash with Offaly at Croke Park in 2000
(Pic: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

“You wouldn't have that madness now,” Ward said.

“Every team has a four or five year span and before they have to renew themselves. From 1991 to 1997, that was a phenomenal team. On the whole, we were good enough to win 15 in a row, but we didn't and that would be a wee bit of a regret.

“That's what happens and you can see what Slaughtneil are doing now, they are putting the shoulder to the wheel and keeping on going, it's a fantastic achievement.”

Lavey also went close to toppling Cushendall in 1999, when they got the Antrim champions out of Casement Park, but Conor McCambridge's injury time point at Glen forced a replay. A 1-12 tally from Ollie Collins wasn't enough to halt the Antrim champions after extra-time in Belfast.

“I will never forget that day,” Magill states. “Collie McGurk got a slap on the hand and played on for the last 20 minutes up in Casement Park with a broken hand, he was a great warrior.”

“That would've been a regret,” Ward agrees. “At that stage we wouldn't have been scared of the Down champions (in the final). Traditionally, now, Derry have a good record against them.”

Ward picked up his ninth Derry senior medal in 2010. Himself and Mickey Collins were the experienced heads on the squad.

It has been Lavey's sole title in the last 18 years, with Magill also involved in manager Michael McShane's back-room team, taking the number of senior championships he was involved in to 13.

“That's some going,” McShane states. “He was a great trainer and the players had the greatest of respect for him.”

After 2002, the momentum swung to Kevin Lynch's and now Slaughtneil are top of the pile, but Magill feels Lavey can have their day again. But, the current generation of players need to give '100 percent' to both football and hurling.

“Fintan Bradley, Eamon McGill and Ryan McGill, these boys have a good future ahead of them,” he said.

“Collie McGurk is doing a lot of work at underage with the U16s and Martin Convery is in with the U14s.”

Minor, U16 and U14 hurling titles have all returned in the last few seasons, as the efforts have been stepped up again. But it is about getting the balance.

For Tom, codes didn't matter. During his spell as Derry U21 hurling manager, Tom enlisted Jim McKeever to a setup that included Pat Joe McKenna and Fr Bertie Troy.

“Jim enjoyed that year,” Tom remembers. “He did the physical work and he was a real gentleman.”

Another year, noted football coach Bernie Henry came in to help with the club hurlers.

“When football was going well, the hurling was going well...and vice versa,” said Magill of Lavey's spell in the eighties and nineties.

“We played Ballycastle in Ulster and Eddie Donnelly was talking about Lavey's players and their 'football' tackling,” Tom recalls.

“I maintain that one helped the other. Playing football helped you in that it made you tougher and able to hit with the shoulder. Hurling would've helped you play football because you had that eye for the ball and you were sharp.”

On one occasion when Cork played Derry, Justin McCarthy confessed to Magill of his desire to be involved with Derry, how they played like footballers and had a toughness that was absent in Antrim.

Tom took the odd session for the U14 winning team, but his hurling days are now behind him. His work is done.

The Lavey hurling landscape wouldn't have been as lush only for him.

“Tom has done more for Lavey and Derry hurling than anyone,” Benny Ward sums up.

“He never gets enough thanks, nor does he ever ask for any.”

Tom Magill in a nutshell, with a legacy that backs it up.

Lavey man PJ Ward is currently leading a revamp of the club's hurling story. If you have any photos or details, contact him on 07974193116

If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Derry Now editorial team on 028 7129 6600 for Derry City stories Or 028 7774 3970 for County Derry stories. Or you can email editor@derrynews.net or editor@derrypost.com at any time.


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