Donegal defender Eamonn Doherty is on the verge of transforming domestic success with his club side St Eunan’s of Letterkenny into championship appearances for his native county.
Despite being aged only 24, Doherty is one of the most decorated players in the north-west having played in five victorious RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta Donegal SFC winning St Eunan’s teams, taking the Dr Maguire Cup back to the cathedral town in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014. In the first of those years, Doherty was still a county minor and had a ringside seat for the senior match afterwards, the Ulster SFC quarter-final in Ballybofey.
Donegal fluked a 1-9 to 1-8 win over Joe Kernan’s Armagh when Paul Hearty in the visitors’ goal fluffed a dropping shot from Doherty’s St Eunan’s clubmate, Brendan Devenney.
“I remember in 2007, and Devenney getting the late goal,” Doherty said. “I was watching that game and thinking ‘this is hard stuff here’. As a minor, you were miles away from being ready for that kind of intensity. It was an eye opener. There was a real bite to the game that day.”
Five weeks ago, there was real bite in Ballybofey again as Donegal defeated Tyrone 1-13 to 1-10 in the Ulster preliminary round. On Sunday, Armagh welcome Donegal in the provincial quarter-finals. “There was such an edge and atmosphere to the Tyrone game even before throw-in. You could feel it. The Athletic Grounds will be the exact same,” Doherty added. “There are so many sides that will see an Ulster Championship as a realistic ambition. You only get that up here.”
Having won an Ulster U21 championship under the management of Jim McGuinness in Donegal in 2010, Doherty’s consistency would invariably lead to progression to the county senior set-up, firstly in 2013.
This season, with Rory Gallagher in charge, Doherty appeared in six of Donegal’s eight Allianz League Division One fixtures and puts his increasing involvement down to one thing in particular: He is back home, working as a secondary school teacher at Scoil Mhuire in Buncrana, where, last year, one of his students was Darach O’Connor, the diminutive Donegal forward who started in the All-Ireland final against Kerry.
“I did my last year at DCU in 2013 for my degree,” Doherty says. “I was travelling up and down from Dublin. I’ve definitely seen the difference since being at home. It’s chalk and cheese. People don’t really understand how difficult it is for lads to commute for training – especially the boys in Dublin. It wears you down. I was able to give myself a better chance at pushing myself on. Paying more attention to resting and recovery over the last two seasons have been a huge help to my own game. That’s down to being at home.
“Overall, there are definitely less lads away this year than any other. You need that, and to have the likes of Karl Lacey and Michael Murphy, with their experience, at home, is massive. They set the benchmark at training for fellas like me.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved