16 May 2022

The beginning and rise of Draperstown Celtic

From humble beginnings to a thriving club

The beginning and rise of Draperstown Celtic

Draperstown Celtic's 1979 team

Cahore playing fields are usually a hub of activity, as Draperstown Celtic prepare their teams at various grades throughout the club. The sporting lockdown has left everyone idle, but Chairman Paul McCallion and historian Michael Kelly look back on on the club's progress.

It would be perhaps inaccurate to begin any history of Draperstown FC by simply beginning in 1968. Despite the fact that we have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the club in its present form, there was certainly a history of football in Draperstown long before the 'current' Celtic club was established.

The early 1900s would appear to be the actual beginning point to the formation of organised football in the area with archives showing Draperstown FC competing in the South Derry and District League. Indeed that league was won by the club in both 1908 and 1909.

While the club continued to develop with varying degrees of success, the formation of St Colm’s GAC, in 1933, was to prove an attractive alternative.

In 1936, playing in green and white hoops with a home pitch where the Moykeeran Housing estate now stands, Draperstown had their most successful season, winning every competition in which they entered.

That team, captained by John McGuigan, contained other players such as Denis McNamee, Alec Barclay, Michael Kelly, Bobby and Matt Taylor, and Mick and Matt Regan who went on to play for Belfast Celtic. However the sporting momentum switched to GAA.

It was 30 years later when the next version of organised football in Draperstown came into existence. While football was being played on the 'Fairhill' by large numbers it was not in any way organised; but there was a desire for an organised team to be re-established.

1967 saw John Joe Bradley, Jody McGuigan (RIP) and John Burke (RIP) among others attempt to form such a team and as a result Draperstown Utd was formed wearing red shirts (Draperstown Reds).

New clubs don’t always run smoothly and this was also the case for the newly formed Draperstown Utd. And in the next year, 1968, following a meeting in the AOH hall, Draperstown Celtic FC came into being, once again wearing the green and white hoops.


The first competitive season for Celtic was tough to say the least. With no home pitch, all games were played away, and unsurprisingly they finished bottom of the league. Difficulties continued both on and off the field of play with the added difficulty of attempting to secure a home pitch.

This was to change in September 1971 when Celtic would establish their home pitch in a field owned by Billy Cassidy on the Tobermore Rd. beside Burns’ shirt factory.

Only a matter of weeks before that came the first of Celtic’s cup successes when a John Andrews hat-trick powered the side to a win over Tobermore Utd. in the Tobermore Cup final played at Maghera High School. That team included such players as Mickey Joe Gallagher, Mick McKee, Gerry McKenna, Lenny Kelly, and Mickey 'Red' Kelly.

Draperstown were now a team to be reckoned with and this was further established with the team being promoted from Division 2 of the NW League and winning the Division 1 title the following year

Some would argue that this was the finest team Draperstown had with the likes of Seamus McKee, Paddy McDaid, Eamon McGuigan, Jimmy and Mickey McGlone and Charlie Phillips to name but a few.

That team was managed by Colm McGuigan (RIP) who was to achieve a unique sporting double that year when he also managed St Colm’s to the Derry Senior Championship, with many of the Celtic players in the Ballinascreen side.

The 1979 season saw the greatest haul of trophies. Led by Jody McGuigan, the side won all five competitions they entered. Raymond Beattie, Mickey Moran, Gerry O’Loughlin, Brian Devlin and Rory O’Connor were now familiar faces in the starting line-up.

The 1980’s saw a rebuilding of the team. Paddy McDaid, Jinx Devlin and Eamon McGuigan remained and were joined by a new group of players including Eugene Murphy, Jim Bradley, Brendan McPeake, Chris Mc Govern, Packie Farrell, Laurence O'Kane, Damian McGrogan (RIP), Joe Convery, Matt Bradley (RIP), and Seamie Donnelly.

1992 Supplementary Cup winners

This was further supplemented by the O’Kane brothers, Seamie, Marty and Deckie, from Swatragh. This particular team finished second in the North West Division 1 twice in three years, being pipped to league honours by an emerging Park side.

Laurence O’Kane took over the reins from Jody and brought in a few new faces which included Peter O Neill (the quiet goalie), Don Kelly, Franny Farrell, Ronan Bradley, Barry O'Kane and a very young Eamonn Burns, who made his debut aged 14.

This team was beaten in the Boxing Day City Cup final of 1987 by Drummond, but gained revenge in the league play-off in 1988 when Packie Farrell scored a memorable winning goal, one of the 36 he scored that season which still remains a club record to this day.

Further success came two years later, in 1990, when yhat Celtic side captured the prestigious North West Junior Cup beating Ballykelly in the final, a competition which had attracted an initial entry of 256 teams. In the same season they also reached the quarter final - or Round 6 - of the Irish Junior Cup, before losing 1-0 to Ballinamallard.

Matches from 1980 through to 1996 were played in Regan’s field close to the town which meant home games were well supported and banter was the order of the day songs. The songs 'Return to Sender' and 'Postman Pat' were even heard during a 1990, never to be forgotten, cup tie against Trojans (with the away team claiming they never got a letter informing them of a previous date for the tie).

In 1991, John McKee returned to Draperstown Celtic from Ballymena to manage the team and when players like Ian Connor, Austin McKillion, Kevin O’Neill and Rory Scullion were added to the initial core, a third North West league trophy was added in 1992.

However, this team also lost in a City Cup final, this time against Claudy Rovers, leaving this trophy as the only one Draperstown Celtic never won during their time in North West football.

This was rectified in 2019 when under the leadership of John McKee and John Glass the club won the Jack Glenn City Cup to complete the clean sweep in North West football.

The 1994/95 season brought the fourth and last North West league title under the guidance of Paul Davison, the key additional personnel being Fergal McGuigan, Peter Young, John Tohill and Paul Donnelly.

Always wanting to challenge and prove themselves, Celtic applied for and were admitted to the Northern Ireland Intermediate league for the following season, with the first game at this level being played at Regan’s field against Donegal Celtic. The team performed with a great deal of credibility that season finishing fourth in the league, higher than Institute who now ply their trade in the Irish Premier league.

Two trophies have been won at this level. The Intermediate League Cup was won 2004 in the New Year’s Eve final against Strabane, with goals from Peter Young and Stevie McKee.

The ultimate prize was secured in 2008 with the Northern Ireland Intermediate League title, fittingly secured in the club’s 40th season. This very local young team came from a core of players brought through our youth teams under the management team of John McKee and Austin McKillion, the former having returned once again to manage a championship winning side.

Intermediate League champions 2007/08

In 2014, with just a week to go to kick off in the league cup, the manager at that time tendered his registration.

This shock announcement combined with the ongoing problem of being able to secure a ground up to Intermediate standard (the pitch was closed and undergoing repair to improve drainage), left DC in a difficult position and ultimately led to our enforced withdrawal from Intermediate football.

This meant we went back to the NW Junior league and after a season of consolidation, we won back to back promotions to take us back to the North West Premiership and it is here we currently play our football. Our aim now is to get back to Intermediate football in the near future.

Throughout the 50 years, reserve teams have existed with differing levels of success, but always adding to the club’s growing reputation as a club with strength in depth.

From the early teams under Patsy Groogan to the 1980s team under Mickey McAllister to the 1990s under Damien McGrogan and Paul Davison, to the 2000’s under various managers including Austin McKillion, Marty McGuigan, Ryan Groogan, Feargal McGuigan, Chris Hickson, John Glass and most recently Ady and Marcus McGuigan.

These reserve teams have regularly developed players and played a massive role in all the club's success and ethos.

Their proudest moment came in 1992 when the team, under the guidance of Paul Davison, won the NW Supplementary Cup. As of today they are still the only reserve team in Draperstown Celtic history to win this particular trophy.


 - Cup glory for Draperstown Celtic.  More...

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Conor Doherty of Derry, celebrates his side's third goal, scored by Benny Heron, during the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Derry and Monaghan at the Athletic Grounds.

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