"Whatever decision he makes, it won't take away from his love of Kilcoo" - Johnston's awkward situation 10 months ago

"Whatever decision he makes, it won't take away from his love of Kilcoo" - Johnston's awkward situation

"The thought of managing someone against my own club was never something I was going to be comfortable with."

This Sunday Jerome Johnston is set to face his home club, as the joint Ballybay manager comes up against Kilcoo in the Ulster championship.


Johnston has three sons who play for the Down champions, and he himself has coached at every level for the club, so his connections there are deeply sowed into the fabric of the team.

However, in a game as tight-knit as the GAA, unfortunately it often means that battles occur between cousins, brothers, fathers, sisters, uncles, and former clubs.

Jerome Johnston Kilcoo Jerome Johnston senior

Few would better understand Johnston's position than Ronan McGuckin, the Ballinderry man who managed Errigal Ciaran to a Tyrone championship in 2012.

McGuckin, who runs a successful furniture business called McGuckin Furniture, was a stalwart for the Derry side, and played a key role in their All-Ireland win back in 2002, but when his new club were due to face his native home in the Ulster championship, he had to make a difficult choice.

Conflicted with feelings of loyalty, guilt, and responsibility, the Derry man opted to step back from the tie, and instead watched it from the stands, choosing to not to have any part in the game.

Jerome Johnston Kilcoo


Speaking exclusively to SportsJOE, McGuckin recalls the reasoning behind his decision, and whether or not he regrets it.

"I took over Errigal in 2012, and the year before in 2011, a clubmate of mine, Paul McIver, had managed Dromore against Ballinderry in the Ulster club championship.

"So that was fresh in my memory whenever Errigal Ciaran approached me, and I told them in the initial meetings I had with them that if ever the occasion arose, where Ballinderry met Errigal in an Ulster club game, that I wouldn't be up for being involved.

Jerome Johnston Kilcoo


"At the time Errigal hadn't got past the first round in I think, five years or something, so they were more than happy with that, but the gods conspired to bring it about.

"But, because I put that in place and the committee and myself were both clear from the start of the year, I have no regrets at all - I had just finished playing with Ballinderry two years before it, and the thought of managing someone against my own club was never something I was going to be comfortable with.

"So to answer your question, I have no regrets whatsoever, I would do it again."

Jerome Johnston Kilcoo

So McGuckin took his place in the stands and watched his new team beat his home club in a very tense affair. Alongside him at the game was his son, who wasn't as conflicted as his father, proudly sporting the Ballinderry crest on his hat.

"It was as strange an hour as I ever had, I remember my young son, Ronan Jr, he would have been seven or eight at the time, and me and him went and stood away by ourselves.

"I had a serious bond with the Errigal lads at the time, we had just won a championship, but obviously I had a serious bond with my home club as well.


Jerome Johnston Kilcoo

"The pessimist in me said I was going to be a loser no matter what way the game went, and the optimist said I was maybe going to be a winner, but it was a great game and Errigal shaded it on the day."

Former Tyrone star and Errigal club captain at the time, Enda McGinley, admitted that he was "disappointed at the course of action he has taken, but he has never hidden the fact that he's a Ballinderry man first and foremost and that has led him to his decision."

Now into the semi-final, Errigal Ciaran were due to play Crossmaglen, so McGuckin took his place back at the helm and resumed his role as manager.

Jerome Johnston Kilcoo

Despite McGinley's comments, the furniture business owner says that there was no animosity between himself and the players when he returned.

"It was absolutely fine, there was no issue whatsoever, I had a great relationship, and still do, with all outhouse Errigal lads.

"There was a bit of ribbing and a bit of craic about it, but there were absolutely no ill feelings, and we just had a job to do, so we got stuck into it straight away."

Jerome Johnston Kilcoo

Now, with the experience behind him, McGuckin can only empathise with what Jerome Johnston is going through and the decision he will have to make this weekend.

"Jerome is only one of a few men that this has happened to over the last few years, and it is an awkward one, but everybody is different, every individual has a different way of thinking.

"Jerome might feel comfortable enough, so it's entirely down to him and his perspective, but whatever decision he makes, it won't take away from his love of Kilcoo, and I hope that everybody appreciates that, no matter what he decides."

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