by Mary-Anne McNulty
Greencastle manager Pat McLaughlin’s victory song of choice is Status Quo’s ‘Rockin’ all over the World’, and no doubt it was played to within an inch of its life in the Sean Ti on Sunday as he celebrated finally bringing the Inishowen League premier division title home to Chapel Lane.
But the music that plays in my head every time I think of Pat is the theme tune from ‘Only Fools and Horses’.
From the minute we first spoke, back in August 2016, I don’t think we’ve ever had a conversation that didn’t include him saying “Mary-Anne, I know this side is capable of winning the league title, I just know it,” and every time, all I could think of was Del boy’s famous slogan “this time next year, Rodney, we’ll be millionaires.”
That deluded optimism, I thought, was just like Del boy’s belief that eventually his luck would turn. And, just as Del was trying to pass off fake Rolexes as the real thing up Peckham High Street, so too I thought Pat was crazy to think that in his band of players, he had the genuine article.
Because, talented as they no doubt were, I never thought in a million years they would ever have the discipline and maturity required to win a league title. There were too many tales of weekend partying for that, and when the goat-riding and car-smashing antics on Arranmore Island came to light, it only served to convince me further that Pat’s title hopes were a pipe dream at best.
A Christmas match away to Illies in 2017 summed it up. The Greencastle players went 2-0 up, I think, but then they just looked bored after that, and Illies fought back to win the game. Worse still, they looked as if they didn’t care, and I remember thinking at the time that you would never see a Glengad side behaving so complacently.
Pat has always wound me up that I secretly wanted Glengad to win the title. I genuinely have no favourites, but I can’t deny that I find their grit and dedication admirable. They are characteristics that are essential for success and, as far as I was concerned, ones the Greencastle ‘playboys’ would never possess.
Gerry Gill must have thought so too. Having been enticed back to his native club at the beginning of the 2017/18 season, Gerry controversially walked away at Christmas and returned to Cockhill.
His recent USL title victory will no doubt soften the blow, but I’d wager there’s a wee part of Gerry looking at what has happened since his departure thinking ‘if only I’d stayed’.
But ironically, Gerry leaving had the sobering effect (literally) that this team needed. Martin Cavanagh, similarly disillusioned, stepped away from coaching duties shortly afterwards, and it was down to Pat and Joe Doherty to take the sessions.
From then on in, things began to change at Chapel Lane, and the team stormed the rest of the season, notching up a run of victories that saw them finish third in the table.
The stage was set for Kevin McLaughlin to come in as Pat’s co-manager this season. He may not quite have gelled with them the first time around, but this was a newly-mature side he was dealing with, one much more receptive to what he had to say.
And Pat’s boundless enthusiasm meant the squad, for perhaps the first time, had the strength in depth needed to win a league title. He convinced native players to return home from other clubs, promising them they wouldn’t regret it. He was like the pied piper, only a benign version - leading the children towards the town, not away.
The quality, discipline and maturity were finally all there. But the missing piece of the puzzle was belief.
Joe Doherty told me things started to really turn around at Chapel Lane when the players finally started to realise they were capable of winning the title.
But when no-one else believed, not even the players themselves, Pat did. While others scoffed, he never faltered in his belief that one day, they would be the millionaires of the Inishowen League.
Del boy’s dream came true when an old watch turned out to be worth a fortune, and now Pat too has finally realised his.
The great tragedy for Del, though, was that the success never made him happy, because it was the chasing of the dream that he really thrived on. That is why I think Pat will bow out at the end of the season and hand the reins solely over to Kevin. God knows he’s earned a rest.
His place in Greencastle FC folklore is now assured.
Though time may erode the precise facts of who was involved in winning what, maybe some day, 50 years from now, a young Greencastle player will put on ‘Rockin’ all over the World’, and someone will say ‘that’s his song, the man that was in charge when Greencastle won their first ever title - McLaughlin was his name”.
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