Tuesday 10 December 2019

Boy wonder Lynch finally coming of age for Derry

Mark Lynch in action for Derry
Mark Lynch in action for Derry
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Is there a current Gaelic footballer benchmarked more by what he achieved as a minor than Derry's Mark Lynch? He was only 16, with two more years remaining in the grade, when he planted himself at centre-back and provided the base for an All-Ireland minor success.

"A boy wrapped up in a man's body," his former colleges and third-level coach Adrian McGuckin recalls.

But 2002 has become an attachment to Lynch's name. Can it not be left behind, he must ask himself every time he posts another big score that prompts us to ask: 'Is this it? Are we finally in the midst of Mark Lynch's deliverance?'

We have good reason to believe that right now we are. In the context of the progress made over the last two years, the Derry performance against Dublin in the league final last month can be set aside as one bad day. There haven't been too many others.


For Lynch at his best, the home game against Dublin reaches out, but for importance the way the semi-final was won against Mayo tells even more.

The lung-bursting run after claiming a kick-out in the build-up to Cailean O'Boyle's goal and the two points that kicked Derry to relative safety near the end stand out.

Like 2002, 'lung-bursting' is another word associated readily with the 28-year-old Banagher man.

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When he thrusts his 6'2" 15-stone frame forward and goes, he is so difficult to stop.

This season he has hit a new peak. Consistency has come to his game, the absence of which has routinely drawn those 2002 references.

Derry had a spread of 20 scorers throughout the league. Lynch's 2-44 (0-27 from frees) put him out on top.

With their most prolific scorer Eoin Bradley migrating to Irish League soccer and their rising young star Ryan Bell on the sidelines, Lynch stepped up impressively.

He was their top scorer in six of the nine league games, and each time they won.

Is it too much of a coincidence to say that the introduction of stricter penalties (black card) for off-the-ball blocking and checking of runners has created the right environment for Lynch to thrive? Or has he just ignored the 'potential' tag and got on with doing what he can?

"You hear about not playing to your potential and so on. You try to ignore it but obviously you do hear it and you think about it. But it's always a consolation to know that you are working hard anyway," he says.

"If you are working hard every time you put on the jersey there is a satisfaction there. You can at least go home and look in the mirror and say 'well, I tried, I gave my all'. That has been the way."

Except he's not always sure that he has done that either.

"I have played enough bad games for sure, that was frustrating. I never played to my potential, maybe never gave enough to the jersey. I could certainly say that as well. That was frustrating," he concedes.

Brian McIver's arrival has gradually restored belief in Lynch. Like McGuckin before him, McIver has sought to nurture rather than challenge his ability. He made him captain and Lynch instantly felt a duty to repay that faith.

"It maybe added that few per cent to my training and my approach to the game and that has helped. I do feel a greater sense of responsibility," he says.

"Brian has instilled a belief into us that we are capable of playing with any team as long as we work hard. We definitely have that work ethic among us now.

"Sometimes I can drift in and out of games but when you are centre-forward it is just not allowed. You are in the thick of things."

McGuckin coached Lynch to McRory and Hogan Cup successes with St Pat's Maghera in 2003 and a Sigerson Cup in 2008 with UUJ, and has seen the benefits of the carrot, rather than the stick, approach with Lynch.

"He could go on one of those 40- or 50-metre runs and burn everybody off but maybe go out of it for 10 minutes after that," said McGuckin.

"I found in Jordanstown that when he would be drifting out of a game, if I put him in at full-forward or left-corner forward he would do well there and maybe come out for 10 minutes, do his bit and go back in again to rest for a while again. But over the hour you were still getting a fair amount out of him.


"This year he has been really brilliant at centre-forward. He has stayed in games much longer.

"I was talking to Mark after the Dublin game in Celtic Park and he is in tremendous physical condition at the moment, the best I've seen him. He's always been prone to carrying a wee bit of extra weight. He can put on the weight very easily around the backside."

Lynch's streak of form reminds McGuckin of something similar his father Mickey did between 1975 and '76.

"As far as I recall he scored six points each time in two Ulster finals and a league final against Dublin in '76. He was some footballer too."

McGuckin is concerned that Lynch is his own sternest critic who won't let the league final go too easily.

"If he had a poor game he'd be disappointed with that. There might be a worry about him after the league final that he didn't perform like he had been performing," he says.

But riding the bumps on the road is something Lynch is conditioning himself to better now and the Dublin game, he insists, has been dealt with well ahead of this weekend's first Ulster quarter-final against Donegal.

"We went out that day against the best team in Ireland. We just didn't perform and we let the occasion get to us. It's a great learning curve. I think personally we will learn a lot more from that than any game we won," he says.

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