St. Matthew's Drumsurn
[Sunday Journal, 13th June 2004]
By Seamus Mullan

The history of the modern Drumsurn dates from 1959 but football was certainly played in Drumsurn long before that year. Indeed in 1927 Drumsurn played in a Derry Senior Football championship final!

That year they were beaten by Glenullin in the North Derry final and that should have ended their involvement in the destination of the trophy. However, with Glenullin leading 0-08 to 0-03 against Ballinderry in the final, a Magherafelt man led a rush of spectators on to the field and a Ballinderry player was struck and the game was abandoned.

At a County Board inquiry Glenullin were disqualified and, as beaten North Derry finalists, Drumsurn were invited to play in the refixed decider. There are no details of the match other than a note of congratulations the following year to Ballinderry at their convention on winning the county title.

The long serving Rafferty brothers, Eunan and Dermot

In the next thirty years there are few reports of football in the area. There was a game in 1928 against Glenullin which Drumsurn lost amid stormy scenes that led to local nurse Lizzie having to attend to wounded players from both sides! For whatever reason no more football was played in the Drumsurn area until the late Thirties.

In 1937 the club played a challenge game against Dungiven and, with interest rekindled, a tam was entered in the Neal Carlin Cup competition. In the next three years there was plenty of enthusiasm but little success, a North Derry play off defeat by Magilligan in 1940 the closest they came to tangible reward.

However the arrival of the great John Eddie Mullan in 1939 had certainly boosted the side’s confidence and they beat noted clubs like Dungiven, Faughanvale, Limavady and Glenullin. Eight years, in 1947, later John Eddie would win a National League medal with Derry.

Despite the best efforts of Eddie McGlinchey Drumsurn failed to field in the championship in 1940 and players transferred to other clubs in North Derry and Drumsurn ceased to function as a club.

Incidentally, after a league game between Derry and Fermanagh at Drumsurn in 1940, the Derry Journal reported that the game was played in “Drumsurn in the wilderness”!

The young men of Drumsurn, and the thirty two other townlands that go to make up the Drumsurn area, had to play football with other clubs in North Derry until 1959 when the club started playing football again.

There was widespread interest in the area in 1958, Derry’s march to the All Ireland final the catalyst for that resurgence and, at a meeting in Jimmy Lamb’s house, a committee of Mickey McNicholl chairman, Perry O’Connor secretary, Brendan O’Connor assistant secretary and Jimmy Devlin treasurer was elected. The club was affiliated to the County Board and a team was entered in the league for the following year.

In 1960 Drumsurn won the North Derry Junior championship for the first time with a side that contained leading players of that era like Dick Ferris-one of the best dead ball kickers of that or any era-Seamus Devlin-an all action player who led by example-and Brendan O’Connor-a stylish player with a devastating side step. Richard Douglas was the team captain and also in the side was his brother Willie who represented Ireland in clay-pigeon shooting for well over a decade from 1977 with great success. Corner back that day Junior Devlin also represented Ireland in clay-pigeon shooting in 1976.

Harry Chivers (right) club and County secretary for over 10 years

The Sixties was a decade of considerable success and then disappointment for Drumsurn, with the North Derry junior championship title retained in 1961, although they fell at the county final hurdle to Magherafelt. Sean Moore captained St. Patrick’s Secondary School, Dungiven to an Ulster Vocational title in 1963 and would then win an All Ireland Minor medal two years later. Tony O’Connor captained St. Columb’s College, Derry to their first ever McLarnon Cup title. In 1965, Dermot Mullan, who had achieved much success with Ballerin, came to live in Drumsurn and transferred to the local club. Forty years on Dermot is still an active referee in the county and refereed last year’s Dr. Kerlin Cup final. Drumsurn won the North Derry Div 2 that year and they also purchased the land opposite the chapel from Miss Brigid O’Kane for £1000 which is now their splendid GAA complex. With Mahon Cup and Neal Carlin Cup successes in 1966, and a gallant defeat to Ballerin in the Kerlin Cup final, Drumsurn were on an upward curve as they consolidated their place in the All County League Div 1 the following year.

In 1968 Drumsurn reached the semi final of the Derry Senior championship, their best ever campaign in a side that contained Joe Chivers who played for Derry minors that year along with Ken Cummings and Liam Begley. Liam would win a British championship title playing Rugby with Lancashire in 1971, while Joe Chivers would become one of the very best athletes in N. Ireland. He won two gold medals at the Catholic Student games in 1968 in Louvain in the 200m and the 4x100m relay. In 1973 he won a silver medal in the 200m in the World Student Games in Moscow and competed in the Europa Cup in Norway. The following year he represented N. Ireland in the Commonwealth Games. His 1973 Irish record for the 400m was not beaten until a few years ago.

Drumsurn were relegated to Div 2 in 1969 and the lean times continued throughout the Seventies but the arrival of Fr. Mickey McEldowney in 1977 heralded the dawn of a new and more stable era for the club. Joe Irwin came back from Swatragh and he would become one of the greatest players, not just in the club’s history but also in Derry’s history. For over a decade he graced the football fields of Derry and Ireland, two Railway Cup medals and an Ulster SFC medal in 1987 among his many accolades. He is the current manager of Faughanvale and still turns out for Drumsurn Reserves!

After winning the Neal Carlin Cup in 1979 and the Div 3 league Drumsurn then won the Div 2 league the following year but lost in the Intermediate final to Glen. Promotion to the Premier league was the pinnacle of Drumsurn’s achievements in recent years, but there were great moments on and off the field in the last twenty years.

Joe Irwin and Eamon Devlin

Eunan Rafferty played in the 1981 minor and 1983 Under 21 All Ireland finals for Derry and the 1985 Ulster final. He won a NFL Div 3 medal in 1986, his inter county career ended with a broken leg against Cork that year.

In 1986, under the chairmanship of Sean Mullan, Drumsurn celebrated the historic opening of their club hall and pitch, just two years after the first sod was cut under the watchful eyes of founding member Mickey McNicholl, county chairman and club secretary Harry Chivers, club chairman Sean Mullan, Fr. Mickey McEldowney and many members of the Drumsurn club who would make the realisation of the club dream a reality two years later.

Drumsurn won their only Dr. Kerlin Cup title in 1992. Ten years later they were relegated to Div 3 by a Ballerin team that was managed by Richard Ferris who has been one of their greatest servants, with a wonderful club and county career that was highlighted with an All Ireland medal in 1993.

Last year Drumsurn were promoted to Div 2 after winning Div 3. They also won the Neal Carlin Cup and the Reserve championship, Ciaran Mullan making his senior inter county debut after his All Ireland minor success of the previous year.

This afternoon Drumsurn will hope to herald the dawn of a bright future when their minor team play Dungiven in the Carlin/Duffy final at Claudy.

Richard Ferris, All Ireland medallist and Derry games promotion officer alongside Colm Feeney Ireland Under 17 player