Two Cities, One Legend
Every Game An Away Game by Bluebeard
(first published in the September 2010 Derry City programme)
Derry City, and I hope, their large travelling support will be welcome here tonight in the RSC. Like their local rivals the Harps, Derry tend to bring a large and vocal support making an event of any game featuring them. I remember seeing them for the first time in Kilcohan back in the early ’90s on a wet and wintry day when we pipped them 2-0, contrary to their expectations. Despite the weather, the distance between the cities and the dreadful state of the roads back then, there was a good turnout of Candystripe fans – more than many nearer-sited clubs brought that season.
Derry was only new to the League then, so it was only the 6th time that their fans had come to Kilcohan for a League match. As we now know, that was to be their last visit to Kilcohan, and their last visit to Waterford for a few years. Dark days for us, but Derry City fans know all about dark days. Being squeezed out of the Brandywell and subsequently the Irish League in 1972, a tragic year in Derry ever before this. 13 years without any senior football team. Most recently, expulsion from the League owing to questionable contracts, the winding up of the former company. And now life in the First, when European football had seemed to be on the cards.
But Derry has never been a City to yield readily to problems – it isn’t known as the Maiden City for nothing. On they struggled in their Wilderness Years. Back they came from their Sunday morning existence. And by the looks of things, up they shall rise from expulsion and demotion. The Derry resolve is well known all over the island by now.
A little bit of that resolve came South in the 1960s, and graced Waterford during our golden period. A man who had the rare honour of winning league titles back to back with different clubs in the two Leagues on the island. A Belfast wing-half with a bit of bite, a lot of skill, who became the embodiment for many fans of both clubs of the best of their team’s ’60s glory.
Jimmy McGeough had been a teenager with Stockport when he was brought back to Derry in June 1964. A Derry side on the rise became the all-conquering masters of the North, with Jimmy and Dougie Wood pulling the strings, winning their first and only Irish League title, on the way to a staggering 47 game unbeaten run.
That same season, the Blues were the bottom club in the League for the first time since the “Emergency” and only their second time ever. And more embarrassing too, was that they had done better than they had the previous season. Five games into the new season, and things looked bleak. Not three years back this team had been second. Well Frank Davis realised that some tweaking could turn that team around, and the major tweak was the £3,000 man, Jimmy McGeough, who came in that December, his first game the away win against Dundalk that sparked a 13 match winning streak propelling us to the title for the first time. Goal provider, goal scorer, he helped make the Blues the club to watch and the team to beat that season, and for the next seven years.
And then he left, for Lincoln for two years to toil in the lower depths of British football, missing a sixth League title, a League Cup medal, being missed by the team and the fans. By the time he came back, the club had slid, but he helped bring them back somewhat as they finished 3rd and 4th in 1976 and 1977 respectively.
By this time, though, Jimmy was thinking of the longer-term future, and showed his longer-term plan, as well as his sense of humour, by signing as player-manager for the brand new Thurles Town club. After six months there, he was off to the States, to what became New York United, initially as player, then manager. In 1981 he coached them to second in the American Soccer League – a nationwide rival to the NASL – and was named Coach of the Year. He became a major figure in US coaching, particularly with the successful non-MLS Long Island Rough Riders, before moving to Tampa, and becoming assistant coach to Tampa Bay Mutiny in the MLS. In 2001, he was approached, and in January 2002, after 25 years elsewhere, Jimmy came home, to adulation and success, bringing Waterford back to the top by way of the First Division title, then to arguably within a win of 4th place, playing some lovely football along the way.
What happened next is still argued about and debated, and better discussed in a pub than in this organ, but by 2004 he was coaching Larne, and after a season of survival there, he headed back to the United States to rejoin his family. These days, he is down in Florida, coaching kids with his son, and living life outside the pressure cooker that the League of Ireland can be. But I know in sixteen or twenty years, we’ll see a US national team at the World Cup, perhaps punching above their weight, but with a gem of a player playing in the centre, pulling the strings, and I’ll know he’ll have come from Florida.