McGuckin hoping Derry can come in 'under the radar' again
KEVIN McGUCKIN will watch tonight's game between Derry and Donegal in a bar in Portugal.
It's his first summer holiday abroad since 2001 and it officially bookends his inter-county career. That year he resisted the overtures of the late Eamonn Coleman, who asked him to join the Derry panel -- he went abroad before embarking on a 10-season inter-county career.
The following season brought All-Ireland club success with Ballinderry and he reckoned more big days would follow when he joined a Derry team that still contained the likes of Anthony Tohill and Johnny McBride.
However, the next decade went by in the blink of an eye and bar a National League medal, yielded no silverware.
In fact, he had to wait until last year to get his first sample of an Ulster final and as euphoric Donegal fans spilled on to the Clones field, he knew his chance had gone.
Derry boss John Brennan has lamented the fact that corner-back McGuckin and full-back Kevin McCloy would join the long list of talented Derry stars to retire without a provincial medal and, given the calibre of players they have produced over the last decade or so, McGuckin himself can't really explain why Derry haven't done more.
"We were unlucky a few years that we came up against a Tyrone team who were changing the way football was being played," he reflects. "There was always a certain pressure too in the county.
"Maybe that's why we got a few nice runs in the qualifiers (they reached the All-Ireland semi-final in 2004, losing heavily in Croke Park to Kerry).
"We could head down south and play a bit of football -- let the hair down. We seemed to struggle other times. I don't know."
If Derry were a team of unrealised potential, they could at least comfort themselves with the notion that Donegal were largely similar. Talented and entertaining but no real threat to the established powers.
But when Donegal transformed themselves into a hard-nosed, win-at-all-costs outfit under Jim McGuinness last summer, it was a shock to Derry.
"Going back five or six years, Donegal were seen as a happy-go-lucky team.
"They were the team everyone liked because they played open, attacking football and they had real flair," McGuckin recalls.
"Those days are gone now -- they set up whatever way they have to win and I wouldn't criticise that.
"They still have that talent but they have evolved with it. They get results."
Last year's Ulster final between the teams was finely balanced before Michael Murphy won and converted a penalty.
Derry were also without Paddy Bradley -- who makes his 50th championship appearance today -- while his brother Eoin was injured just six days beforehand.
It was a major blow for a side that had just one player -- Enda Muldoon -- who had played in an Ulster final before.
"It wasn't ideal preparation but we were doing okay for parts of that game. The penalty was the turning point," McGuckin insists.
He hasn't missed football. At least, not until this week when the buzz started to build in the county but yesterday he packed a suitcase instead of a gear bag and for the first time in 10 years headed for the sun of Portugal.
By throw-in time, he expects to be parked under a TV screen.
"Derry and Donegal games are always tight. They are favourites and rightly so," he says.
"But the underdog tag will suit Derry. They like to come in under the radar."