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21/10/2021

Derry AGM: Sean Keane sums up 2020 Derry GAA season

Covid-19 had a 'catastrophic effect' across the world

Derry AGM: Sean Keane sums up 2020 Derry GAA season

Derry GAA Secretary Sean Keane

Derry GAA will hold their AGM on Monday night at Owenbeg and it will see Glen man Sean Keane return unopposed as county secretary.  Here his is report of the 2020 season.

2020 will go down in history as the year of the Covid 19 pandemic, a pandemic which had a catastrophic effect across the world. The GAA world were progressing well with the National League in progress and clubs getting their fixtures and plans prepared for the incoming months. Suddenly towards the end of February the virus emerged and developed rapidly until being classified as a pandemic some weeks later. Sport in general like everything else was thrown into chaos with indecision re the future of our games. There were calls for the abandonment of the GAA season but thankfully those wise heads in Croke Park decided that we must adjust and continue as best as possible.

At last year’s AGM I finished my report by stating that ‘Being involved at this level has been both challenging and rewarding and I look forward to next year’s chores as I have yet to reach the end of my learning curve’. Little did I realise what was ahead as I had to take on the additional role of County Covid co-ordinator. This involved ongoing webinars with Ulster Council, Croke Park and various local councils as ongoing directives and guidelines were discussed and cascaded to the secretaries across the county. Our clubs deserve the highest praise for the efforts made during the pandemic and have been complimented by GAA hierarchy and government alike for the tremendous effort made and described as a beacon for their work with the community and vulnerable people within each and every parish in the county.

Readjustments in the GAA calendar due to the pandemic has helped resolve a number of issues which had been up for discussion in the 2019 season. The decision to run with a split season in 2019 has been in my mind a huge success and one that players, management and supporters would appear to be in favour of. The All Ireland championship, due to time constraints, had to be played on a provincial knock- out basis and perhaps the opportunity to carry out a 32 county knock out championship was missed. To date the championship has been a tremendous success with last weekend’s Ulster and Leinster finals being prime examples of what ‘winner takes all’ games means to everyone. Imagine the atmosphere in Croke Park and Armagh if both stadiums had full capacity – as a result I feel that this year’s exciting fare has banished the back door system in years to come.

INTER COUNTY FOOTBALL
As already stated the 2019 inter-county season was rather disjointed. The season commenced with Derry losing to Donegal in the McKenna Cup on a cold and miserable night in Celtic Park. We progressed unto the National league and had wins against Tipperary and Louth, drawing with Leitrim and defeats to Down and Cork prior to lockdown. On the resumption Derry beat Longford and Offaly and finished third but did not gain promotion to Division 2. After the 12 week club window Management had approx. 4 weeks to prepare for the Ulster championship game with Armagh. Throughout the year approx. 12 new players were introduced to Senior County football and with a settled team Derry performed well against well fancied Armagh before losing by four points.

Ciaran McFaul in action during Derry's defeat to Armagh (Pic: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile)

There is optimism due to this performance and with players maturing from successful Minor and U20 teams from recent years coupled with the return of previously injured players and the return of Conor Glass from Australia the future looks bright. There can be no excuses next year -Derry are good enough and should be playing at a higher level. Promotion from Division 3 is essential for the development of games in the County.

Our U20 and minor footballers had a difficult year. Mickey Donnelly’s U20 team commenced the year with a defeat by Mayo and drawing with Donegal in the league before surprisingly being eliminated from Ulster Championship at the hands of Antrim. Derry were disadvantaged more than any other county at this level due to changes in rules and regulations in favour of colleges taking precedent over county as regards playing rights. As a result a number of players who would have represented Derry at U20 level this year did not have the opportunity.

The Minor team with Martin Boyle in his first term as Manager commenced the season with a league win against Monaghan and a defeat in Down. At this stage the season come to an abrupt halt with training only resuming in late summer. The training continued for a number of weeks and a few days before the Ulster championship game with Armagh the plug was pulled again and this game has yet to take place.

Chris Collins continued to prepare his U15 team but again due to lockdown there was little opportunity for the boys to represent the county. I would like to thank Chris for organising Cúl Camps in what has been a difficult year. Derry were the only County in Ulster to hold Cúl Camps this year.

INTER COUNTY HURLING

It has been a frustrating year for Derry on the hurling field – this team have shown in the past two seasons that they are on the brink of promotion and with a little more good fortune will surely do so. If Wicklow was Derry’s bogey team last year there is no doubt that it was Down this year. Derry had a good league campaign with wins recorded against Down, London, Kildare, Warwickshire and Roscommon – unfortunately Down proved too strong in league play-off resulting in Derry remaining in league 2B next year. In the Championship (Christy Ring) Derry defeated Sligo (via walkover) before losing to Down and Offaly in later stages of this competition.

Derry hurlers leave Páirc Esler after their defeat by Offaly (Pic: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile)

The Derry U20 competitions traditionally begin later in the year and due to the pandemic this year Kevin Kelly and his proteges never had the opportunity to compete in any competitions.

On behalf of the County Management Committee I wish to thank Rory, John, Mickey, Kevin and Martin and their back-room teams involved with our teams for their time and effort. Similarly, to all our players who train hard and gave us so much enjoyment throughout the footballing and hurling season – we all look forward to getting back on the field of play next year.

CLUB SCENE

A year that started brightly with plans in place to co-host Féile and fixtures out for the 2020 league campaigns. Then suddenly ‘the wheels came off’ and everything was closed down. As I stated earlier sensible heads got together and rather than abort the season every effort was made to get some sort of football and hurling played. A 12 week window was agreed and a programme of fixtures issued which resulted with the championships being completed, apart from the Junior championship final which Desertmartin and Craigbane which has yet to be played. Lockdown occurred again but in the previous 11 weeks CCC were able to arrange 207 games and ended with only 13 games yet to be played – a mighty effort. Congratulations to Slaughtneil and Greenlough on winning their respective football championships and to Slaughtneil, Swatragh, and Lavey on winning the hurling championships.

It was impossible to arrange the many under-age competitions this year so the emphasis was on everyone getting football and playing rather than winning and as a result the leagues were rearranged mixing teams of different ability. Unfortunately, a number of teams still fielded their strongest teams regardless of the opposition which resulted in a number of ‘hammerings’ for some teams. Next year it is important that we revert back to more structured competitions.

Finally, I would like to thank all members of CCC and Hearings Committees for the tremendous work that they are carrying out.

COACHING AND DEVELOPMENT

One of the County Chairman’s first tasks was to complete an overview of Coaching and Development in the County. A sub-committee, chaired by Damien Cassidy, was setup in March. The remainder of the sub-committee comprised of experienced and well respected Gaels from within the county namely Danny Quinn, Bobby Farren, Sean McGoldrick, Chris Collins, Brian O'Donnell, Philip Kerr and Chris McNicholl.

This group looked at strategies set up in successful counties like Dublin and Kerry and consulted with John Costello (CEO Dublin), Ger O Connor (Games Development Manager, Dublin), Stephen O'Shaughnessy (Football Development Manager, Dublin) and Terence Houlihan (Coaching Officer , Kerry.)

After a number of meetings the 2021-2026 Coaching and Development Strategy has been drawn up and discussed with clubs in recent weeks. I sincerely hope that our clubs will buy into this strategy which eventually will bring about success within Derry GAA through coaching and games development.

I thank the above committee for their foresight and efforts in drawing up this strategy.

ALSO READ - Damian Cassidy outlines the main points of the plan.  CLICK HERE...

SCÓR

Una Ferguson, Derry’s Cultural officer for the past 5 years, has completed her term of office and presents her final report this evening. Una has been a tremendous asset to the County and promoted Scór throughout her term with many examples of success at County, Provincial and all Ireland level.

In the past year at Scór na nÓg, Derry had 4 acts qualifying for provincial title with the Glen ballad group and Glenullin set dancers being successful and progressing to All Ireland finals in Killarney but without success.

Scór Sinsear fell victim to the pandemic after the Ulster finals had taken place. Four acts are still awaiting their fate when and if the All Ireland takes place. Glenullin were this year’s most successful club in Scór and were awarded the Celtic Cross for their achievement.

This year supporters of Scór were stunned with the untimely death of Patricia McSwiggan – Patricia was an avid attender of Scór events not only in Derry but throughout Ulster and Ireland and was renowned for her expertise in all aspects of Irish culture. Patricia was awarded the Miceál Aherne Duil sa Duchas award postumately - an award donated by Club Derry in honour of Miceál.

I would like to thank all those involved in Scór both at committee and club level who continue to promote this important aspect of the GAA and congratulate ex Scór contestants Dara McNicholl and Brooke Scullion on their recent performances on TV talent shows

MEDIA

In a year when good communication was vital for the many frustrated supporters who were unable to attend our games we certainly were not let down by the PR and Communications team. At last year’s AGM we elected a new PRO namely Ciaran McRory. Ciaran has a background in IT and what a gem he has turned out to be. I strongly advise that you read his detailed report about everything that happened regarding videoing, live streaming and how important information regarding Covid etc. was made available to the community.

Derry County Board’s relationship with the media has been excellent this year and I would like to thank Mal McMullan, Michael Wilson, Orlagh Mullan, Steven Doherty, and the evergreen Bernie Mullan for publishing relevant information to our many supporters throughout the county. Also from a photography point of view I want to thank Mary K, Danny O Kane, Margaret McLaughlin, Tom Heaney, George Sweeney, Cathal McOscar and Rory Maguire.

Digital contact and digital platforms are the way forward and in the PR and Communication team we have the expertise and know-how to take this forward. The upgrading of the Derry website has been a revelation and the daily updating of league and championship scores on a mobile friendly device has been much appreciated throughout the year.

A section relating to media this year would be incomplete without mention of the live screening of our games. Many thanks to Ciaran, Stephen Barker and Dermot McPeake for their work in this field, to Bellaghy and Magherafelt for the use of their premises and to the excellent commentator Alan Gunn and his summarisers for making the late summer such a success.

REFEREES/DISCIPLINE

After a number of years in the post Sean Curran resigned from the Referees Coordinator post early in the year and I thank him for his input to our games over the past 5 years. Prior to and after the lockdown, refereeing arrangements were made by Kevin Toner, Aidan McAlynn, Kevin Doherty and Stephen Barker on a temporary basis until the appointment of Roddy McIvor to the coordinators post in September. Roddy has a wealth of GAA experience and no doubt will be a tremendous asset to the CCC team

I would thank all current referees for their efforts throughout the past season and would congratulate Barry Cassidy in his selection to referee this year’s Ulster final.

Barry Cassidy refereed this year's Ulster SFC Final (Pic: Seb Daly/Sportsfile)

One pleasing aspect I am able to report this year is that there has been an increase in the number of referees officiating in our games – it is important that this trend continues and it must be emphasised to clubs that every effort should be made to recruit more referees for officiating at our games.

Although we had a reduction in the number of games played this year the problem of indiscipline still exists. The level of sportsmanship remains a problem and the number of cases being dealt with by CCC is more than disappointing. Those individuals creating offences will continue to be dealt with but I appeal to local club management to emphasise the need for better behaviour towards referees and officials in the incoming season.

One of the initiatives being introduced at Go Games and some under - age - competitions this year is the introduction of ‘Silent Sidelines’. I have no doubt that referees cannot wait for this directive to be extended to older age groups.

Again, thanks to CCC, referee’s assessors and members of the Hearing Committee for the difficult roles that they have undertaken.

SPONSORS

I wish to thank the Finance Committee for the sterling work they have carried out in this most difficult of years. Seeking sponsorship is never easy but to secure sponsorship in such a disjointed season is a credit to all members of that committee. Derry received sponsorship for pitchside banners, scoreboard sponsorship and for the first time digital sponsorship from Bloc Blinds and Dominoes Pizzas for the ‘We are Derry’ website. With the live screening of many of the Derry championship games a number of companies and retailers were approached for sponsorship slots during intervals in the games.

H&A will remain as our main sponsor for 2021 and to them and all our sponsors in the past year I thank you for the tremendous contributions that Derry could simply not exist without. The list of companies sponsoring Derry is ever increasing which augurs well for the future and for this the hard working finance committee must take great credit.

CLUB DERRY

After four years as Chairperson Paul Lupari is not seeking re-election for the incoming 2021 season. Paul has been an excellent leader and during his term has helped generate substantial finance which has been forwarded to Derry Management Committee for loan repayments and sponsorship of Scór Derry are indebted also to the hardworking Club Derry Committee who work away in the background and generate finance by organising half-time draws, all Ireland ticket draws, Tommie’s Lotto, Man of Sperrin cycle events and of course the GAA annual golf tournament. As always help is required and if you feel you can help by way of a few hours each month then please consider joining this wonderful band of men and woman.

SYMPATHY

In August of this year Gaels in Derry and Ulster were astounded when it was announced that Hugh McWilliams had died suddenly. Hugh was an avid supporter of Derry and St Colm's, Ballinascreen alike and showed his support by way of major sponsorship over the past number of years. He was an ever present at Derry games in Owenbeg, Celtic Park and the many stadia throughout Ireland where the Oak leaf county were in competition. On behalf of Derry Management Committee, I would like to extend my sympathy to the McWilliams family and to the friends and relatives of other families who have lost loved ones in the past year.

CONCLUSION

Stephen Barker, in his opening remarks after being elected Chairman at last year’s AGM stated that he had a vision for Derry which would eventually bring back the glory days. In a short period of time he has made a number of changes namely changes to tendering processes, contract awarding, revamping of Coaching and Development and presently looking at the introduction of a Chief Executive officer. He is an extremely hardworking individual who works tirelessly with a minimum of fuss. On the financial front new Treasurer Martin Devlin has put in a tremendous effort and as you can see from his financial report today the financial position is on a much better footing than portrayed in a national newspaper earlier in the year. I would thank both individuals and the remainder of the Management Committee for an excellent year’s work -long may it continue.

CCC introduced a new format to our championship this year and the general consensus is that it was a major success. I concur with that point of view and would hope to see this format repeated in 2021.

Finally, I would like to thank Pauline McLaughlin and Ashlene McCaul, Assistant Secretary Ryan Diamond and to all the club Secretaries and officials who gave of their help on matchdays. I look forward to working together with you all again next year as we play a vital role in putting Derry back on the map again.

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