Former Derry boss Adrian McGuckin has admitted he will “not get used” to watching Mickey Harte in charge of Derry.
McGuckin described three-time All-Ireland Red Hands boss Harte as “the epitome of Tyrone.”
“He’s done a great job but it’s hard to see him standing there wearing a Derry badge and a Derry hat,” he said.
In the GAA Social podcast, McGuckin reveals he could have played rugby for Ireland and talks about coping with the death of his wife, Vera.
Speaking to Thomas Niblock and Oisin McConville, McGuckin – who had a long and successful coaching career at Derry, St Pat’s Maghera, Ballinderry and Ulster University – said he has a “good relationship” with Harte.
Harte surprised GAA fans by leaving Louth to take the Derry job last September, having spent 18 years in charge of Tyrone’s senior team, leading them to three All-Ireland titles.
“Mickey Harte is not different from what he was; he is a good person, a good coach, his personality has not changed.
“Personally, I can’t get used to Mickey Harte now managing Derry, because I saw him as the icon of Tyrone, winning All-Irelands with Tyrone, so it’s hard to watch.
“He’s totally Tyrone. When you think of Tyrone you think of Peter Canavan and Mickey Harte, and us [Derry and Tyrone] and competitors.
“I admire him for everything he’s done as a person and as a football coach, but I can’t look at the picture of Tyrone, the whole picture of Tyrone, and move on to manage Derry.
“I can’t figure it out or put my head around it but good luck to him. I know he’ll do well with Derry because he’s proven it a hundred times before.”
‘I wish I had played rugby in Ireland’
Before his successful career with Derry, McGuckin spent his formative years playing rugby, winning the Ulster Schools Cup in 1967 with Rainey Endowed.
Despite being one of the few Catholics at the Protestant school, McGuckin insisted he “never had a bad day” and said he was a better rugby player than Gaelic football.
“I took it like a fish to water. It just came naturally to me,” says McGuckin, who played back.
“I never thought I was very good at gaelic football, even though I played in the county teams and all that, but I knew I was a good rugby player.”
Asked if he felt he could have played for Ireland, McGuckin replied: “I think I could, yes”.
“I was a better footballer than a Gaelic footballer but football was in my DNA, it was what my people were, and I wanted to be part of it.
“It’s just concluded that you can’t play both.”
Love is loss
When he discussed signing for Wigan Rugby League while at a teacher training college in Manchester, it was when he met the “match of my life” that he knew he had to return home.
“I met Vera, who became my wife, during the Easter break of my senior year at college and it changed everything.
“There would be no more living in England after that, which changed the whole system,” he says.
“Vera was a beautiful woman, I was often reminded that I punched above my weight!
But she was so beautiful inside, a perfect wife, a perfect mother and a wise teacher.
“He and I were joined at the hip, he taught maths at St Pat’s and the kids loved him.
“We went to school together every day, to mass and to all the sports. Then suddenly, during the week, everything changed.”
Vera died after a short illness in November 2005, leaving behind her husband, three children and three grandchildren to try to come to terms with their loss. And it was the ball, of course, that helped McGuckin get through.
“It messed me up, it still messes me up, but you have to learn to live with it.
“It took me a long time to move on. Grief eats inside you, you wouldn’t believe it.
“I took a break from school, I went back but I couldn’t take it anymore. I retired at the end of that year at 56.”
He continued: “I was about to become a teacher.
“We have 15 grandchildren now and he only saw three.
“I feel more sorry for him than I do for what he’s missed.”