Warnock hoping Glen can take the final step

By Niall Gartland

IT wasn’t always like this for All-Ireland chasers Glen, as their attack-minded corner-back Michael Warnock is only too happy to acknowledge.

Warnock lined out in the half-forward line as Glen won their first of four Ulster Minor Championship titles on the spin back in January 2012, an unprecedented achievement that in all likelihood will never be bettered.

He scored 2-2 that day as they made mincemeat of Armagh Harps in the St Paul’s Tournament showdown (the player of the match award, however, went the way of a certain Emmett Bradley) but it wasn’t taken as a given that he’d achieve success on the big stage with the underachieving Maghera side.

It’s always darkest before the dawn and Warnock says that when the club couldn’t even cobble together a minor team a few years prior, they knew something had to be done, and they didn’t cut any corners in doing so.

Warnock said: “It was only five years before our Ulster Minor title in 2012 that we couldn’t field a minor team, which for a club of our standing in the community Is extremely disappointing, and I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“We knew we needed to do something about our underage structures and thankfully we got a number of people involved who drove the club forward for the greater good.”

He continued: “I was fortunate enough to get a lot of great coaching through the underage ranks from the likes of Mickey Moran, his son Antoin, Stephen Murtagh, Enda Gormley, ‘Rooster’ (Fergal P McCusker), Gary McGill, Donal Convery, whose been coaching probably twice as long as I’ve been living.

“They were so invested in the club and the ultimate aim was to win a Derry championship. Thoughts of winning Ulsters and All-Irelands weren’t even in the back of people’s minds, but once we got those four Ulster Minor titles, we thought we could get a bit of success at senior but it probably took a bit longer than we hoped.”

Neighbours Sleacht Néill are renowned for nurturing dual stars like Brendan Rogers, Shane McGuigan and Chrissy McKaigue, but in his day Warnock was an extremely talented hurler who played for a number of years with the Derry seniors prior to a brief flirtation with Damian Barton’s county footballers. He’s also a hugely versatile footballer and that’s been evidenced by his displays with Glen in recent years, regularly surging forward to take a score.

“I wasn’t always a corner back, I was centre half-forward on the minor team and I was definitely more of a forward in those teams.

“The way the game is now, when you’re in the middle eight, there’s not much difference between defence and attack and I played a bit at half-back when I was at school.

“The year before Malachy O’Rourke came in, we were beaten quite comprehensively by Sleacht Néill in a championship game and I went into corner-back that day. We were struggling with a couple of men getting injured so I ended up in corner-back and I’ve been there ever since.”

Glen have made a knack out of narrow victories – they edged Naomh Conaill by a point in the last four of Ulster thanks to a late Emmett Bradley special, two points separated the teams in their Ulster final victory against Scotstown and they diced with danger in the closing stages of their All-Ireland semi-final win over Kilmacud Crokes, eventually winning out by a point.

They’d love a more comfortable day at the office against St Brigid’s on Sunday, but at the same time Warnock recognises that it can’t be a coincidence that they keep on shading these mammoth championship tussles.

“The last day out (against Kilmacud) we should’ve closed the game out a lot better and I’m sure St Brigid’s are thinking the same as they were up by six points at a stage against Castlehaven.

“But when you look back at the great teams in Derry in recent times like Sleacht Néill and Ballinderry, they always seemed to be able to win no matter how and hopefully that’s a knack we’re developing.

“We’ve won a number of games this year by a point or two and it’s nice to be able to do that, it gives you a bit of confidence heading into the last five minutes – to be able to just stick to the process and trust the players around you.

“Ultimately the margins are so fine at this level that if we keep it so close, we’ll be caught at this stage, so I’d prefer the option of winning more comfortably!”

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW