Orlagh Mullan
At Celtic Park

To be part of the team that delivered a first championship since 1981 is special, but to captain that team is another level altogether.

There was no hiding the smile on Niall McGowan’s face as he led his side on the climb up the steps of Celtic Park on Saturday.

Posing for the obligatory presentation picture with county chairman Brian Smith, the skipper was itching to break away and raise that trophy aloft alongside his team mates. And when he did, the celebrations were wild.

After a gracious speech where nobody went unthanked, McGowan took a second to take it all in. Though, admittedly, it was a feeling that would take more than a few seconds.

“I can’t quite put it into words to be honest, it’s absolutely unreal,” he told the County Derry Post. “I suppose it still hasn’t really sunk in fully yet but it’s definitely some feeling.

“I’ve been playing ten years now. I’ve experienced so many semi-finals and near misses, and to finally get over the line is so special.

“You could see the support there and we wanted to give back to them, so it’s brilliant that we could.”

38 years is a long time. Behind the scenes there are so many people putting so much work in that nobody sees and it’s just so good to give them something back


McGowan finished with 1-5, coming into his own in the second half after opening his account late on in the first. The most crucial score arrived with just 15 seconds gone in that second period, showing the ultimate composure to fire low past Eunan O’Hara to the Drum net. The level head of a leader, and something he has shown time and again in this campaign. For ‘Magoo’, however, it was a strong team performance that ensured the victory.

“I thought we played quite well into the wind in the first half and controlled the game well. We didn’t panic and didn’t give it away and took our scores well,” explained the forward. “We went in with a decent lead at half-time which gave us plenty confidence, then I obviously got the goal at the start of the second half and that put a brave bit of daylight in it.

“I suppose it settled the nerves that we showed in the first half, but we kicked on from there. We maybe weren’t great near the end, but it’s a final and all that matters is the result.”

The history books will show that it was McGowan who lifted the trophy, but he dismisses the role of captain as one that gives him any great individual importance. Not when you’re surrounded by team mates like his.

“It’s nice to lift that cup, but there’s a lot of leaders in that team. You look at the likes of Jimmy (O’Connor) and Eddie (McLaughlin),” he said. “I think that’s been the difference this year is that there’s five, six, seven boys that could have been captain.

“I just happened to be chosen, but it’s certainly an honour.”

A championship is about so much more than the 25 men on the panel and the management. It was a fact very quickly acknowledged by McGowan.

“The crowd up here is something else. It means so much to the people of Glack. 38 years is a long time,” he stated. “Behind the scenes there are so many people putting so much work in that nobody sees – the fund-raising and the organising – and it’s just so good to give them something back and something to celebrate, and hopefully now we can go on and give Ulster a rattle.”

Pic: Mary K Burke

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