While I continue to wait for Leitrim’s first All Ireland, I’ll settle for celebrating Donegal’s second in the mean time.
Reared just outside Tullaghan – Leitrim’s last bastion before the Atlantic Ocean – Bundoran was our natural hinterland and like everyone else associated with Melvin Gaels I have a strong affinity with our Tir Conaill neighbours.
Mum is a proud Donegal woman from Winterhill by the banks of Lough Eske outside Donegal Town and during my childhood we spent many a day with our legions of cousins, aunts and uncles in the townlands around that part of the world. Dad, too, was very drawn to Donegal and the dances around Laughey and Donegal Town, Bundoran and Ballyshannon. It was at one such gathering that he met Mae Wray all those years go and he was forever thankful to the county for the bounty it delivered onto him.
Add to all that the fact that I was schooled in Ballyshannon at primary level and boarded in the Royal and Prior in Raphoe at secondary level before spending four great years working as a journalist with the Donegal News in Letterkenny and I think it’s safe to say I’m something of an honourary Donegal man (cue jumping on the bandwagon accusations!).
But having said all that, while I thoroughly enjoyed Donegal winning on Sunday it didn’t pluck at the heart strings or imbue me with pride or put a spring in my step the way even a league win for Leitrim would. Sense of pride in place for where you come from is what defines the All Ireland football and hurling series and makes the club scene the perennial success it is.
No matter what links you have with another county, there is no place like home. While living in Letterkenny I was asked to consider transferring to St. Eunan’s – a really wonderful club that was contesting pretty much every county final going at the time – but it never crossed my mind. It was funny, because I was giving far more of my football life and times to Leitrim back then than to my club as I was somewhat disillusioned with the attitudes of some of my team mates in Melvin Gaels at the time. During some of the training sessions I participated in with St. Eunan’s I saw the level of commitment I desired at club level, but still my grá remained for the Gaels and all the club represented in my life.
I am delighted I remained a Gael throughout my career and the lads representing the club the past two seasons have shown remarkable dedication to the cause. The performances that have come on foot of that effort speak for themselves.
But in reality Sunday was a win win situation as I would have been just as delighted had Mayo won. No other county deserves an All Ireland title as much and I had great admiration for the way their team played this season. James Horan is a manager to be reckoned with and a gentleman in the process. I really enjoyed his interview in the Irish Examiner some weeks ago where he revealed and incredibly broad and erudite appreciation for all sport and its slings and arrows. However, that Mayo team in its current state of preparation is not an All Ireland winning team. They need another three or four players in key positions to really turn the screw and unfortunately we will never know how they would have fared had Horan his full hand to play with.
Andy Moran was a cruel loss (in the form of his life before his injury) while I agreed with the manager’s decision not to entertain recalling Conor Mortimer. Mortimer is one of the most natural score getters in the country but as with the situation we had in the Leitrim panel before our championship run, no one man is bigger than the panel.
Mayo will regroup and I don’t think that defeat will have any lasting effect on their psyche. They recovered well from a horrible start and with just three points in it at half-time they needed to kick the first few scores of the second half. Again they pulled things back to within striking distance but never really looked like getting the goal they needed bar one half-chance.
In Donegal they’ll celebrate in their own inimitable style. Jim McGuinness has raised the bar in terms of team preparation and it’s up to the rest of the country to study their style and come up with the solution to a riddle no one else managed to crack this year: just how to you beat this Donegal team?
I don’t believe they are unbeatable, but every county should be wary of the calculated yet genuine comments coming from the Donegal players and management the morning after their historic win. They are already thinking of 2013 and year three of McGuinness’ master plan was the year he had planned to have his team peak. In year two of George and Barney’s team building programme I’ll settle for the J.J. Nestor Cup.