Moneymore celebrate their 1995 Derry junior final win over Doire Colmcille at Glenullin
The perfect blend of experience and young guns put Moneymore on their way to the 1995 junior league and championship double. Goalkeeper Peter O'Neill was one of the veterans and John O'Brien was among the new kids on the block. They spoke to Michael McMullan...
The victory cavalcade that nosed its way into Moneymore told the story of their team's age profile. A 15-seater bus led the way, followed by the older players coming along in their cars.
“The younger boys were in the bus,” Peter recalls. While he can't believe it is over 25 years ago, his memory for detail is bang on.
“They'd the skylight out of 'er, standing up with their heads out, roaring and shouting. I was coming behind with my wife and the two cubs.”
The fusion of experience, those in their mid-twenties and a bunch of young guns had delivered the Joe Brolly Cup.
Moneymore captain Francis O'Neill receives the Joe Brolly Cup from Derry Chairman Harry Chivers
John O'Brien likens the team to the one he later managed to their 2014 title. Three different generations coming together within a team, feeding off each other. The perfect blend.
In a way, it was indicative of Moneymore's history. Never blessed with bulging squad lists, teams came in cycles, followed by a fallow spell where numbers filtering from underage fell between little and none.
“We haven't had much success over the years,” points out Peter, who played 23 years for the senior team.
“We have always been a yo-yo club, up and down, and not many years before that we were playing senior football.”
As the eighties turned into the nineties, he remembers a hammering by Bellaghy in the senior championship, 6-22 to 0-7.
“It sticks in my mind,” Peter outlines. “We really struggled and Bellaghy absolutely destroyed us.”
Moneymore beat Claudy in the senior championship during that era and while they fell to Ballinderry in the next round, the margin wasn't as wide.
“We stayed up that year, we won four of our first five league games and I remember beating 'Screen up at their place,” said Peter, who has lived in Ballinascreen for the last 12 years.
It all 'quickly fell apart', as Moneymore dropped down the divisions again. By the time the older hands hung up the boots at the end of the nineties, numbers were slight again and it became a struggle to field. But they kept it going.
John O'Brien remembers the same determination when he made his debut as a 15 year-old in 1993. A mere 12 players were available for an away game with Doire Colmcille in Celtic Park.
Brendan O'Neill was on the phone looking for him to give them a pull out to field a team. John, Paul Scullion and Gavin O'Neill took their total to the bare 15.
“It was nearly the end of the season and a nothing game, but you didn't want to forfeit a game for not being able to field and Big Brendan would never let that happen.”
Gaelic football first started in Moneymore in 1911, but by the mid-sixties they lay dormant for most of a decade until Derry player Patsy Breen, then Principal of Moneymore Primary School and Patrick O'Brien, John's father, who also taught in the school, put out the feelers to get the club off its knees.
“It was November 1975 (when the new beginning rolled out) and there was a massive interest. We (seniors) fielded as best we could until the school team came through for us,” Peter recalls.
The following year, at the age of 14, he was corner forward and within a few seasons they won the Graham Cup.
“We beat Ogra (Colmcille) in the final and it was played over three games,” Peter adds. “The first game was a draw, the referee didn't turn up for the second and the third was really tight, with not a lot of football played all the time.”
Peter played outfield until his 'late teens' until regular goalkeeper Paddy Barker – father of the club's other long-serving goalkeeper Stephen - picked up an injury. Brendan O'Neill asked Peter - a soccer goalkeeper at the time – if he would stand in until Paddy came back.
“I remember meeting Brendan 25 years later and I asked if there was any word of Paddy coming back,” Peter jokes.
He was between the posts for the club's 1984 intermediate success. The other links to the 1995 team were Eugene Young, Roddy McIvor, Don McGurk, Brian and Kevin O'Neill, the latter two now the managers.
As the older generation were progressing towards their time in the senior ranks, Moneymore's new blood at school level were beginning to gain momentum. Patrick O'Brien and Patsy Breen's foresight began to grow legs.
“At that time, there wasn't any U8 or U10 football,” John O'Brien outlines. “I remember us getting taken in cars all over the county to play U12 football at the start, most of the time you went knowing you were going to get a hiding.”
But, in time, their momentum in school would pay off. Winning the B competition at Maghera's Castle Cup and Brockagh tournament gave encouragement on the new direction they were headed.
“We were always very competitive against the likes of Ballynease and the smaller schools. Ability wise we were able to hold our own, but when it came to the club it was the numbers game,” John continues.
“It is a juggling match in Moneymore, like in any small club. Sometimes you would have 12 lads and in other years you could only have three”
It didn't matter. They just ploughed on. John pointed to the enjoyment and the club's underage being 'very well run'.
By U14 level, Moneymore's hammerings had subsided. They found their feet and 'a couple of leagues' followed, as they built up a rivalry with Castledawson.
“We felt we were making progress, there weren't many dull moments in our underage careers after coming out of U12,” John said.
“Those boys I grew up with are still my friends to this day and all of them are still around home,” he adds.
He also speaks of the enthusiasm for GAA in Derry at the time. From his younger days, right up to Moneymore's 1995 junior title and beyond.
“There was a real buzz in the county,” he begins. “Derry were just after winning the All-Ireland, the minors got to the final (in 1995) and generally there was a football vibe throughout the county.
“Everybody wanted to be playing football and everybody wanted to be achieving. It was great to be winning at a time that Derry were making rigorous steps, for the best part of 10 years as a stronghold of football. It was only junior football, but for us that was our top table to achieve at.”
By the time brothers Brendan and Kevin O'Neill scanned down their panel list at the start of the 1995 season, they found the perfect mix.
Brian O'Neill pictured after Moneymore's win over Doire Colmcille
“When you look through the names on the team, you see the experience and the youth was unknown to a lot of other clubs. Then, put Eugene (Young) in the middle of any field and he is going to be hard to work with.,” John O'Brien states.
He also hails the management's bravery to show faith in youth. Brian O'Neill had shaped them at underage level and knew the tools at his disposal.
“It was brave of him to give us a chance in front of three, four or five boys who were sitting on the bench and were more established than we were,” John added, while making the comparison to his situation in 2014.
“When I took the team, there were hard choices to be made. Brian had played a lot of his football with lads he was putting on the bench. It is not an easy decision.
“I had pushed PF (Patrick Feeney), (Callan) Bloomer, Aaron Moore and Cro (Emmett Crozier) into the (2014) team and reaped the rewards, the same as Brian did with us.”
In John's case, he was joined by Gavin O'Neill, Joe Jackson, Barry O'Neill, Mark O'Neill, Richard Scullion and Paul Scullion. The Scullion brothers joined their father Malachy on the squad, who was the oldest player.
At the start of the season, Francis O'Neill was appointed as captain.
Francis played for Derry that season. It was the year Eamonn Coleman was sacked as manager and a players' strike ensued.
“He was a great wee player. Like myself, he was a fit fiery,” jokes Peter O'Neill. “Brian and Kevin made him captain...I think that was the making of him.”
Sadly Francis passed away since, but he was, as John O'Brien said, the 'driving force' all through the season.
The league was the first trophy Francis got his hands on in 1995. After a tough quarter-final win over Drum, at Glen, their championship gathered momentum and Ardmore stood in their path in the semi-final.
After a nervous start, Moneymore grew into the game and were 0-6 to 0-3 ahead by half-time, before outscoring their opponents 1-5 to 0-1.
It set up a final with Doire Colmcille, who had former Derry player Brian Trainor in their ranks and Emmet McGilloway who played on the Derry minor team to reach that summer's All-Ireland final. Moneymore town was dressed up with flags as the buzz grew.
“Doire Colmcille got off a 52-seater with everybody in matching tracksuits and they had bags with them,” Peter remembers, looking on at them in Glenullin car park.
“They looked immaculate and you were thinking 'oh my God'. Some may have thought it was off putting and others thought: 'we'll show them'.”
“The whole talk was about Emmett McGilloway and how Moneymore were going to cope with a Derry star in the making,” O'Brien adds.
But as the game went on, it was Francis O'Neill who won the battle. He rotated between midfield and centre forward as Moneymore stamped their authority on the game.
“They weren't a bad side,” was Peter O'Neill's assessment of them.
“There was a big boy (Tony) Gillespie at full forward, he was massive and was like a 'Bomber' Liston type player.
“Defensively we weren't very tall, Joe Jackson was a good sized lad, but this man big and could push you about. He caused us plenty of trouble and they were using him.”
Gillespie notched an early goal, but Moneymore replied when Barry O'Neill took a Eugene Young pass before drilling to the net.
Young and Seamus Donnelly added points before Colmcille struck for their second goal, this time from Ronan Curley after Trainor's approach work and Moneymore's lead was a slender one-point lead.
“Seamus Donnelly was from Ballinascreen and married into the club,” Peter O'Neill points out. “He was a super player and could've played for Ballinascreen for years, in my eyes. He had a sweet left foot, he was fast and had all the skills.”
“Once we got into the driving seat, we began to pull away in the end,” John states. “It was a very competitive game, it was hard and gritty, a typical junior style football game. They (Colmcille) were similar to ourselves, with the mixture of ages.”
“It was tighter than the scoreline (2-11 to 2-4) suggests,” agrees Peter, who later saved a penalty.
“Everybody always said they missed, but I always say I saved it,” he jokes. “I didn't even argue about it (being awarded). I turned to Sean Corey who was doing umpire and agreed it was a penalty and he told me to tell the rest of them.”
Eugene Young added a goal to push Moneymore towards the finish line, with Terence Donaghy, Francis and Mark O'Neill tagging on points.
“Mark (O'Neill) played for the county in the early 2000s,” Peter adds. “He started as a forward, went to full back and became one of the best full backs in the club. It was about getting his right position and he totally changed to be a different player.”
After the game, it was back to Moneymore and into 'The Kitchen' bar. With the league and championship tucked away, with no Ulster campaign on the horizon, there was a full licence to party.
“It was brilliant craic. The boys that enjoyed a drink, they really enjoyed it,” Peter said. “I remember phoning Gerard Diamond, I think it was maybe Thursday and asked him where he was.
“I'm sitting here in The Kitchen with Joe Brolly (the cup),” Gerard laughed down the phone. The cup was still on tour.
“At that time, at that age, you think it was a case of getting success every couple of years,” John O'Brien adds.
“It didn't really materialise and took a long time to get back to winning again. Back then, we were on a high and playing on the senior team...winning in the first year and probably thought we could go on to achieve more.”
Peter O'Neill doesn't know where his medals are.
Nor any of his photos. They are an aside.
He thrives on the memories.
“I am more concerned about the club staying in existence,” he admits. “It's important there was always a GAA team in the town, to keep the GAA alive in as many places as possible.”
A long-serving player, he threw his lot into a plethora of roles at committee level. Anything to keep the club going. Up until three years ago, he was still driving from Ballinascreen every week for meetings and games.
His health took a turn for the worse. At first it felt like constipation, but it wasn't until he was coaxed to get a check-up and later a scan, that came the news of his cancer diagnosis.
“It was scary getting the news, but now I am doing very well,” said Peter, who had a 14 centimetre tumour operated on.
His last three scans have not reported any spread or growths and he is due for another next month.
“They say it is a controlled disease,” Peter adds. “If I make one person go and get a check-up, it would make me so happy.”
Chatting back through footballing memories, it rekindles his love for football and for Moneymore,
Last year, the club were due to mark the 25th anniversary of the team of 1995.
The sporting lockdown has put it on hold, for now. But when they gather up, it'll be night of memories and craic, one to run the clock back on days of old.
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