Derry determined not to let Rory Gallagher controversy derail them, says Shane McGuigan

‘We had our team goals set up at the start of the year ... I think that week especially really brought forward that mantra of being player-driven’

Shane McGuigan says the Derry players are not allowing the controversy surrounding Rory Gallagher to hamper their championship aspirations.

Gallagher officially resigned as Derry manager just two days after their Ulster final win over Armagh last month, having initially said he was merely ‘stepping back’ before that encounter after allegations by his former wife, Nicola, of domestic abuse.

The allegations were posted on social media in the week leading up to the Ulster decider, which Derry won following a penalty shoot-out.

Despite all the outside noise, McGuigan says the players zoned in on trying to retain the Anglo Celt Cup that week. They have subsequently picked up three points in the All-Ireland series – a draw with Monaghan and a win over Donegal.


“I’ll say the same, and everybody else will say the same, nothing really did change,” commented McGuigan.

“We had our team goals set up at the start of the year and one of them was to win Ulster. No matter what happened, nothing was going to try and derail that for us.

“We’ve talked about as players how much this is player-driven, I think that week especially really brought forward that mantra of being player-driven. And I think the boys stood up and answered all the questions.”

Ciarán Meenagh, who was part of the Derry management team before Gallagher was appointed, has taken charge of side for the rest of the season.

“Ciarán was actually in with us the year before Rory stepped in, but the boys were keen on keeping Ciarán on because we knew the type of man he was, he had a really good way about him on the training pitch,” added McGuigan.

“He’s a brilliant trainer and the things that he sees in games, it really opened our eyes up to football at that time.

“Then Rory brought it to another level and Ciarán has said himself he learned from him so nothing has changed in how we train. Ciarán knows our strengths as a team and the trainings are always built around that and for the last while they’ve just continued to build around that.”

McGuigan is enjoying some of the best form of his career and the 25-year-old primary schoolteacher has been named as the PwC Player of the Month in football for May.

It is no coincidence that McGuigan’s trajectory at intercounty level has mirrored that of his county’s senior footballers – and the Slaughtneil clubman is comfortable spearheading the Derry attack these days.

“We’ve got a good lot of leaders in the team, Chrissy in defence, Conor and Brendan in midfield, and the boys would probably say up top it would be me,” he said.

“The responsibility is something that I like and it keeps me challenged, it drives me. I’ve been happy enough with how it’s going but I know I need to keep it going if I want the team to go where we think we can.”

There is no doubt Derry are in the All-Ireland conversation but McGuigan believes the new format could be adjusted in the future to further reward provincial champions.

McGuigan would like to see the four provincial winners bypass the round-robin series and instead be fast-tracked to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

“I think there maybe could have been a bit more incentive in the provincials,” he stated.

“Winning your provincial and going straight to a quarter-final is something they could have looked at. After winning Ulster, going back into group games was, not an anticlimax, but it just didn’t have the same feeling that a final obviously would.”

Derry’s last group game will see them face Clare in Pearse Park on Saturday week. Monaghan and Derry both have three points, Donegal have two and Clare are on zero – so score difference could determine the final standings in the group.

“The way they set up, they’re really hard to break down and they break at real pace so we’ll not be looking at score difference, we’ll just be trying to make sure we beat them to start off with.”

Shane McGuigan has been named as the PwC Footballer of the Month for May while Clare’s Diarmuid Ryan picked up the hurling accolade. Down’s Dearbhla Magee won the camogie award.

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times