The Irish Mail on Sunday
Derry boss Brian McIver recalls the day he first
DONEGAL owe a debt to Brian McIver. It might be glossed over when the ball is thrown up at Celtic Park this afternoon and he is patrolling the sideline in a Derry bainisteoir bib but it should not be forgotten.
Even now, his eyes light up as he recalls his first sighting of attacking wunderkind Michael Murphy and how he first brought him on to the Donegal senior panel during his time in charge.
‘The first time I saw Michael Murphy playing, I thought to myself, “This lad could be an absolute star.” The first time I brought him into the panel he could have only been 17.
‘I think his debut was against Westmeath in a qualifier in Mullingar. We got a penalty 16 or 17 minutes into the game. With all the experienced heads around him, Michael Murphy was the man who stepped up. That was him from day one.
‘He was a leader. A great player. I just hope he’s not as great as he can be against Derry.’
That was actually Murphy’s second Championship appearance, the Glenswilly player making his bow in the previous round qualifier against Leitrim in 2007.
But McIver played a significant part in the evolution process of Donegal football, ending the luckless run of losing finals when he guided the county to its only Division 1 National League title that year. The memory of that day ran through his mind last month as returned to the same stage with Derry, only for Dublin to run away with victory.
‘I thought of it afterwards. There was a difference in euphoria that day. That was a big game for Donegal at that time because of the fact that they had lost so many finals. For the players, it really was a noose around their neck.
‘The players had lost the Division 2 final the year before after a replay to Louth and there probably were people thinking in Donegal that there was a curse on Donegal in finals. Once they got that out of the way, they started to buy in. And Jim McGuinness came in and they bought into it.’
For someone who started out in 1977 with the under12s at St Pius in Magherafelt where he was teaching, McIver has pretty much done it all in a coaching career that has seen him lead Ballinderry to All-Ireland club success in 2002, Donegal to a milestone National League, help train Down to the 2010 All-Ireland final and Derry to the 2014 National League final. And all the time, he has remained one of the game’s true gents – affable, engaging and always willing to get at the heart of the game he loves.
His departure from Donegal, though, wasn’t as he would have liked. ‘Hung out to dry’ is how he has described it himself, the county heading into a messy tailspin after he stepped down in the autumn of 2008 following some internal dissent at board level.
Nearly two years later, Donegal turned to McGuinness, a man they had previously snubbed. Now, the pair will patrol the same patch of grass with a common goal this afternoon.
McIver doesn’t believe the 3-19 to 1-10 trimming by Dublin in the League final