Written by Dermot McPeake

The Kit Man

The Kit Man by Dermot McPeake

“He was his father’s second son, his mother’s pride and joy.
And all the girls adored him.
Bandy! The Wild Colonial Boy.”

Colm McGuigan, or ‘Bandy’, as he is affectionately known, has been Derry’s kit-man for the past 25 years.

Such longevity should come as no surprise. Colm’s father, Jim, the Lada-driving, plane-flying, fire-fighting Maghera action man was the county’s treasurer for 32 years. He was also the county’s kit-man before kit-men were a thing.

What began with one bag of jerseys and a few balls thrown onto a bus now requires its own form of transport. At this stage the match day ritual is second nature to Colm McGuigan.

The Kit Van

Into the Oakleaf-emblazoned van goes one television, 15 long coats, 40 footballs, 100 cones, 30 bibs and 10 kitbags full of recently washed, ironed and proudly pressed jerseys with shorts and socks to match. The playing apparel sits snugly beside what the county’s logistics manager Hugh McGrath describes as ‘enough bottled water to float Noah’s ark’.

“That’s the first port of call on away days,” explains McGrath. “He meets the bus prior to departure and ensures there’s enough water on board for the players. He travels in the van after that and brings his own wee red cool box. He’ll also provide food and other bits and pieces.”

It is in those other ‘bits and pieces’ that you find the real worth of Colm McGuigan.

Each player is personally ‘welcomed’ onto the bus. A ‘Hi sur’, ‘Any craic?’ or a calculated takedown would be among the most common intros. Immediately at ease, a connection is subtly established between the player and 25 years of Derry heritage. Bandy McGuigan is a man who provides smiles as well as kit.

Colm McGuigan at Celtic Park 2003

Margaret McLaughlin

With the complexity of the role growing almost annually, it’s no longer a one-person job as McGrath, who assisted McGuigan directly whilst he underwent knee surgery during Derry minors journey to the All-Ireland final of 2017, testifies to. It never really was.

“A good kitman needs a good wife and I couldn’t do the job without Bernie,” McGuigan proudly told the Irish News in August 2001 as Derry footballers prepared for the All-Ireland semi-final.

Bernie Tracey, from a large Dungiven family with many direct ties to the United States of America, joined Colm as he packed up his belongings, medal and memories – which included ‘a match winning save’ – from the 1980 Intermediate Championship win with Glen for a new life in the Bronx area of New York City.

The Bronx, NYC, 1980

The pair ran a community-based country club together, whilst Colm also did a stint working in St Raymond’s Catholic Boys School where he coached the soccer team. Life was good. Becoming a drummer in a New York pipe band seemed apt for a man who loves both music and community. It was there, in the summer glare of Manhattan’s iconic skyline, that Colm’s son Stephen was born. Perspective changed. Family means roots and roots means Derry so they returned home early the following year.

Colm McGuigan may have coached the Bronx schoolboys to their only ever state championship whilst stateside, but it didn’t prevent him losing his place on the Glen team to his best friend and namesake, Colm ‘Bricker’ McKenna on his return.

Home

‘You invented the short kick-out, Bandy’ was a common Bricker jibe, referring to the alleged lack of distance on Colm’s restarts. The practical jokes and banter that the pair shared still endures and has rubbed off on many of the county’s greats.

“He was always involved in some prank,” reveals Derry legend, Johnny McBride.

“A few of us put a teapot in Geoffrey’s (McGonigle) kitbag at one stage. Geoff wasn’t any the wiser when we reached the changing rooms, in Clones, I think it was. Then, as everyone begins to get changed, he reaches down, unzips the bag, and lifts this teapot out of it, looking at it whilst everyone watched on. You can picture that scene.”

Bringing the camaraderie, being the confidant, these are all lesser-known traits that great kit-men possess. Alongside monitoring an infantry of kit supplies of course. They are the shepherds, the balls, shorts and jerseys the flock.

“There was an U21 challenge game down in Edenderry against Fermanagh,” McBride recalls. “We knew he (Colm) was uptight about the gear so we hid a few pairs of shorts in the glove compartment of a car. When he noticed they were missing after the game the whole thing went into lockdown! No one was allowed to leave until the shorts were returned. So eventually, after a standoff, it was agreed that no one need ever know who took them if they were returned. And that’s what happened. I’m not sure he knows to this day who took them.”

Brewster Park 2017

Margaret McLaughlin

The pair still enjoy a common bond.

“We always got on well,” says McBride. “He was always blowing off steam and I was always bouncing back at him. Literally! He has given some service to Derry in what is sometimes a thankless task. He loves it too though. I couldn’t say a bad word about Banty.”

It is a sentiment that echoes from Derry players that played throughout all three decades of Colm McGuigan’s tenure. Each county has their own kitman but Colm ‘Bandy’ McGuigan is ours.

A man who is well known for ad-libbing song lyrics to suit any occasion, who rehearsed alongside the wedding band for a full day prior to each of his children’s nuptials, and who drummed with a New York pipe band, marched up the Clones changing room steps in the summer of 2018 on a baking hot day with the Danny Murphy Cup and burst into his party piece ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’, announcing himself to the new Ulster U20 champions and another generation of Derry player.

He is his father’s second son.

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