Coleraine Eoghan Rua crest, Lavey crest

Derry SFC Final Preview: Coleraine v Lavey

Eight years on from being the first man in Coleraine Eoghan Rua history to lift the John McLaughlin Cup, Richard Carey sits down with Ball-X  ahead of Sunday’s clash with Lavey…

“If people are saying we’re favourites, Lavey will be delighted with that” – Richard Carey

There are few stories of perseverance in the GAA, more compelling than that of Coleraine Eoghan Rua.

Coleraine Eighan Rua clubhouse and field
Structures put in place around the turn of the century, have turned Eoghan Rua into a formidable force in Derry GAA over the past 25 years.

Rattling around the doldrums of Derry football since their formation in the late 50’s, it took the vision of a few men, around the turn of the millennium, to take the bull by the horns. Over the past 25 years, the dreams of those visionaries have morphed into a reality, and in Owenbeg on Sunday, everyone of a maroon and green persuasion will be hoping that the rags to riches tale has room for a few more lines yet.

Not that he’d ever let you know, but Richard Carey is one of the central protagonists in the Coleraine story. Eight years ago, the unassuming Dominican College, Portstewart teacher, climbed the steps in Celtic Park to become the first Coleraine man to lift Derry club football’s most cherished prize.

Lining out at wing-half forward that day, Carey’s telling contribution to the game was a superb second-half goal that put his side en route to victory over Ballinderry, a victory that the Portstewart side have built upon.

Thwarted by Slaughtneil in what Carey describes as “probably the most comfortable one-point victory you’d ever see”, in 2015, Coleraine find themselves back in the Derry Senior Football Final, having dethroned the reigning Ulster Champions, after a replay, at the quarter final stage this year. A semi-final victory over Ballinascreen four days later, underscored a fierce grit and drive in this season’s crop of players.

Richard Carey, 2010 Derry SFC winning captain
2010’s victory over Ballinderry at Celtic Park, saw Richard forever marked in Eoghan Rua history as being the first captain to bring the John McLaughlin Cup back to the North-coast club. Credit: Derry Now

“You know, you’re sitting on a Wednesday afternoon, about to face the Ulster Champions and you’re a million miles away from the county final. To be down by seven early on, and then to come back and nudge in front with literally the last kick of the game, any GAA man would find it difficult to settle down again after that buzz. But we got together in the changing room and said that a victory over Slaughtneil would mean nothing if we didn’t go ahead and beat Ballinascreen on the Sunday, and thankfully we did”.

Beating the men from Draperstown was no mean feat for Eoghan Rua, either. The South Derry side had put pay to their North-coast counterparts in both the 2016 & 2017 editions of the Senior Championship, and whilst Carey admits his side have taken great heart from their Championship run this year, he doesn’t necessarily buy the favourites tag that bookmakers have bestowed on them.

“I think if you asked anybody going into a big match, you’d rather go in as underdog. Especially when I look back at some of the games that we have been beaten in since 2010, where we were supposed favourites. If people are saying we’re favourites, Lavey will be delighted with that. The fact of the matter is, there are six or seven clubs in Derry that go into the championship every year with the belief they can win it, and Lavey will be no different from ourselves, in that regard”.

The Erin’s Own outfit, who dominated the Oak Leaf County’s club scene in the early nineties, even capturing an  All-Ireland in 1991, make their first appearance in a county final since being beaten by Bellaghy twenty years ago.

“Top class forwards win championships. Boys that can get you scores, win you frees, grab a few goals.” – Richard Carey

Blessed with potency up front in the likes of Niall Toner and Cailean O’Boyle, the Coleraine veteran is wary of the threat that the ‘Orange and Black’ will cause to their aspirations of clinching a second title.

“I think any Championship winning side has to have top class forwards. Top class forwards win Championships, it’s as simple as that. Boys that can get you scores, win you frees, grab a few goals. There’s no doubt about it, this Lavey side have goals in them, and will be a handful for our boys, come Sunday.”

Carey, who has had to settle for a role of the bench during this year’s quest for silverware, is savouring the twilight moments of his career, but still carries a fierce sense of hunger and competitiveness into everything he does on a football field. And that spirit is sure to make itself quite visible in Owenbeg come Sunday evening.

“You know, the memories from 2010 will always be with me, but the defeats over the last few years have been hard to take, particularly last year. I suppose it’s the realisation that the second chances are running out. But, if you’d have told me, I’d be fit and injury free at thirty-six, given all the serious injury problems I suffered earlier in my career, I wouldn’t have believed you. I owe a lot to my wife. We’ve four kids and another on the way, but she has been supportive of me keeping at the football, so I’m very lucky”.

And in terms of stepping aside and giving the younger boys a crack?

“No! There’s no moving out of the way”, he laughs. “You know I’ve either taught or coached Colm McGoldrick, Liam McGoldrick, Ruairi Mooney and all the boys, so no, you don’t concede anything. It wouldn’t do a young player any good to do so. But as a senior player, of course, you have a duty to help them along and maybe have a word when it’s needed during a match or training. But no, I’m still stubborn as hell!”

Richard will be looking to put the pain of 2015 behind him, and collect his second Senior Championship medal, this Sunday in Owenbeg.

The Coleraine side will go into the game with as many as ten or eleven of the side that lined out in the 2010 victory, not to mention the run to the All-Ireland Intermediate Final in 2006, likely to feature. Such experience, in the likes of Richard, the McGoldricks, Niall Holly, Ryan McGeough and others, who have reached the top of the mountain, may prove crucial in determining who will be Derry’s representative to face the Cavan Champions in the Ulster Quarter-Final on November 4th. Whoever comes out on top, Carey thinks that they can be a force to be dealt with provincially.

“We certainly aren’t looking beyond Lavey. The two Seans (managers McGoldrick and McLaughlin) certainly wouldn’t entertain any talk of Ulster Championships or anything like that. I suppose the beauty of winning a Derry title is that you know that with six or seven good sides capable of winning it, the side that comes out on top will have been tested by the time they need to worry about playing in Ulster. We just want to concentrate on being that side come the final-whistle on Sunday”.

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