I love the month of September; as a Gael of the GAA, there is so much to look forward to, as we enter the business end of the season. There is a great buzz in the broadcasting centre of Ocean FM this week as Donegal have reached their first All Ireland Final in twenty years. The men from the Hills have only ever featured in one All Ireland final in their history and what a battle that was, as the Tir Chonaill men under their manager Brian McEniff defeated the Dubs in 1992. I remember that day well, watching it in my grandfather’s house and wondering to myself at that time if Leitrim’s green and gold would ever decorate Croke Park the way Donegal’s had on that day. Two years later we were there. Hon Leitrim!
Donegal Manager, Jim McGuinness was a member of Brian McEniff’s panel on that All Ireland winning Sunday and twenty years on, Jim will take his double-winning Ulster Champions team out onto Croke Park, I’m delighted for him and this wonderful bunch of players. I first met Jim in April 2010, after commentating on his Under 21 Ulster winning side’s victory in Brewster Park, Enniskillen. After making my way down onto the pitch for some after-match interviews, I found Jim very approachable and easy to talk to. Many of his players that day have now become household names including Michael Murphy, Mark McHugh, Paddy McGrath, Leo McLoone and Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy. A couple of weeks later, having commentated on the All Ireland Under 21 semi final win over Tipperary in Dublin’s Parnell Park. I again found myself making my way onto the pitch for some after-match interviews, to be greeted by Jim, who had remembered my name. Needless to say I was impressed. Also that day, I met Drumshanbo man, Dr. Charles McManus, a former school mate of my own in Drumshanbo primary school. Charles informed me that he was a member of Jim’s back room team, and was enjoying the team’s success
Jim has come a long way since his managerial inter-county debut in 2010 and is now recognised by many a GAA pundit as one of, if not the leading tacticians in the modern game.
As part of our remit at Ocean FM, we broadcast to three counties; my own lovely Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal. To have the privilege of broadcasting an All Ireland Final commentary for local radio in Ireland, you have to be broadcasting to one of the counties that feature on All Ireland Sunday.
On September 23rd, we at Ocean FM will be making are very own bit of history, as it will be our first All Ireland senior football final since our inception in 2004.
For the past couple of weeks, many of Donegal’s musical artists have been busy in the studio recording songs they hope will make it onto the airwaves, and as a result raise their profile in the build-up to the big game. Prior to Donegal’s win over Cork in the semi-final, Kilcar man Rory Gallagher, former front man with ‘The Revs’, recorded his self penned ‘Jimmys Winning Matches’ in honour of Jim McGuinness’ side and that track has become an instant favourite, not only on YouTube.com, but also with Ocean FM listeners.
Thoughts spring to mind of our own senior county club championship, and I am sure amidst all the hard work and excitement that the Donegal team and Dr. Charles McManus are putting in, Charles will have an eye on the upcoming games that are to feature in Leitrim. Charles will, no doubt like many others, have fond memories and experiences of his victorious senior club championship wins with Allen Gaels.
The country is talking about Donegal’s drive for Sam whilst the county is talking about Glencar-Manorhamilton’s drive for five, with their chance to write their names in the history books by becoming our county’s first senior club to win five championships in a row.
This year’s championship results to date for the Manor lads have not been as impressive as the previous four years, but for many around the county, they are still the side to beat, and if the drive for five is to be derailed, then it will take a serious effort from one of the three other teams still in contention.
For me, Glencar Manohamilton are the team to beat, with Adrian Croal hitting form, and the return of Pat Gilmartin from Oz. I have heard other broadcasters speak of statues that will have to be erected in honour of Jim McGuinness if Donegal go all the way, whilst here in Leitrim, if Glencar- Manor can go all the way, they will be compared to the Leitrim greats such as the Gorvagh team of the 1920’s, Melvin Gaels lads of the early sixties, the Sean O Heslin’s side of the end of that decade, and the Cloone sides of the 1940’s.
Last year, Jim’s Donegal side were being tarnished with the mantle that they were too defensive and boring to watch. Twelve months down the road, and even Pat Spillane is paying tribute to their flair on the counter attack. This panel of players have to be admired for buying into Jim’s regime, with his sports physiology background, Jim has put it to good use; for example, with high intensity training sessions lasting up to three hours.
There were always stories getting out in the past of Donegal players going on the ‘sauce‘, missing training, and even getting into bother on nights out. These stories have halted, and Jim’s panel have their heads down and are putting in the hours of commitment that are rewarded with success. Donegal have proven that teams such as Tyrone, Kerry and Cork are beatable on the day.
I wonder if in two year’s time, Leitrim’s green and gold will fill Croke Park like it did after the last time Donegal contested an All Ireland final.