The championship Kings of Derry

THE Derry Senior Football Championship kicks into action for another season and Niall Gartland look at the top teams on the roll of honour…

Bellaghy – 21 titles

EVEN though they haven’t won the Derry Championship since 2005, Bellaghy sit comfortably at the top of the tree with 21 titles to their name. They’ve also won four Ulster Senior Club Championships and won the Andy Merrigan Cup in the 19712 season. The club is understandably proud of its tradition and has produced many brilliant players down the years – from Larry Diamond who captained them to their All-Ireland success, 1993 All-Ireland winner Damian Cassidy, and Fergal Doherty, one of the greatest midfielders of his generation. Delving further into the archives, you have the likes of Tommy Diamond a legend of Bellaghy and Derry football.

Ballinderry – 13 titles

BALLINDERRY have won 13 titles in total, but their most prolonged period of success was between 2001 and 2013, when they won seven titles in total (it’d be remiss not to mention their three in-a-row captured between 1980 and 1982 as well). Located on the TyroneDerry border, they have been described by Gaelic Life columinst Joe Brolly as ‘one of the great communities of Ireland’ and their most famous day was on March 17, 2002, when they produced a barn-storming performance against Nemo Rangers in the All-Ireland final. They had many great performers on the day, including goal-scorer Gerard Cassidy, full-back Niall McCusker, Conleith Gilligan, rookie defender Jarlath Bell, Enda Muldoon and more. The question is whether they can build on their overall tally of 14 titles as they have slipped down the pecking order in recent years.

Newbridge (10 titles)

NEWBRIDGE haven’t factored into things at senior level in recent decades, but that doesn’t change the fact they have a long and illustrious history in Derry football. They won their first title in 1937 and added three more in the forties. They were overshadowed by an extremely successful Bellaghy team in the late 1950s and 1960s, but they came again and won a few more titless. They’ve produced some of Derry’s most well-known footballers, including Damian Barton, a member of the 1993 panel who went on to manage the county. Other great men who have come through the club include Hugh McGlone, whose club career spanned 23 seasons, Owen, Roddy and Hugh Francis Gribben, and John Murphy.

THE BIG STAGE…Henry Downey, centre, and his Lavey teammates won the All-Ireland club title in 1991

Lavey – 9 titles

LAVEY won a speckling of titles in the thirties and forties, but they’re most associated with the great side that went all the way in the 1991 All-Ireland Championship. In the space of six glorious years between 1988 and 1993, they won four Derry football titles, two Ulsters as well as their All-Ireland triumph in 1991. It would be remiss not to mention that they also won 12 hurling titles between 1985 and 2002 with a significant overlap of players. They were spearheaded by some true legends of Derry GAA including Henry Downey, Seamus Downey and Johnny McGurk. They also had a remarkable consistency of team selection, using only 18 players in their ten-game pursuit of All-Ireland glory in 1991.

Dungiven – 7 titles

ONE of the most successful clubs in Derry (it was a combined hurling and football club with what is now Kevin Lynch’s prior to 1981), St Canice’s have won seven senior football titles. Five of their titles were won between 1983 and 1997, and they claimed their only Ulster Club title in 1997 as well. Starring on that team were some brilliant players and memorable characters like Joe Brolly, Kieran McKeever and Brian McGilligan, all of whom were All-Star footballers, as well as the famous Geoffrey McGonagle. Indeed, McGonagle was one of their star-performers as they pulled ahead of Errigal Ciaran in the final quarter of their provincial showdown on a day when Joe Brolly had to leave the field with a damaged ankle. Their man of the match, however, was team captain Emmett McKeever. 2009 marked the last time they reached a Derry senior final but they were pipped by a point by the Loup.

Magherafelt – 6 titles

MAGHERAFELT ended a 41-year drought in 2019 when they overcame Glen by a point in one of the more nail-biting finals of recent memory in front of a bumper crowd of nearly 10,000 people. They were perceived as defensive in nature but they also had some outstanding individual performances from the likes of Emmett McGuckin, who scored three points from play, and the likes of Jared Monaghan and the Heavron brothers Danny and Shane. Their most successful stint by far was between 1939 and 1949, when they bagged five titles. Subsquently they won another title in 1978 before their current up-turn in fortunes (they made it to another final in 2020 but lost on that occasion to Sleacht Néill).

Sleacht Néill – 6 titles

LATECOMERS to the scene in terms of winning titles, Sleacht Néill have more than made up for lost time. They won their historic first ever title in 2004, but it’s in the last decade where they’ve truly made a name for themselves as not just a foremost club in Derry, but the entire country, with five titles between 2014 and 2020 and reached two All-Ireland finals to boot. They’ve produced some of the best Derry footballers of a generation, including Brendan Rogers and Chrissy McKaigure, who played a massive part in the county’s long-awaited provincial success this summer. Obviously, they’re incredible hurlers as well. They still have a good age profile so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they win further titles in the near future, but there’s obviously stiff competition from the likes of their near neighbours, Glen.

COMPETITIVE…Sleacht Néill have been the standard bearers in Derry lately

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