Glenswilly daring to dream in Ulster

LEADING ROLE: Donegal footballer Michael Murphy in the dug-out at his home club, Glenswilly. Picture: Sportsfile

AIB ULSTER CLUB SFC FINAL:
Ballinderry (Derry) v Glenswilly (Donegal)
Thirty-one years ago, a 19-year-old Manus McFadden called for a meeting of anyone interested in Gaelic games in the rural community of Glenswilly.

Back then, locals played with either St Eunan’s of Letterkenny, Glenfin or Termon — the three clubs whose influence splintered the Glenswilly parish.

“I went to Termon but spent more time watching as there were no underage teams,” McFadden recalls. “Lots of lads were not getting their chance and I felt we had enough players to form our own club.”

Glenswilly isn’t a big parish, with between 300 and 400 houses, as current manager Gary McDaid recently said: “It’s a tiny village, Churchill, with three pubs, and there’s a club right in the middle of the Glen. That’s it.”

Manus McFadden was joined on June 14, 1982, at Foxhall by Roger McDaid, Peadar Toner, Eamon McDevitt, John McGinley, Jimmy Joe McGinley, Fr Eamonn Crossan and Charlie McFadden, as the late Eddie McDevitt, who managed the Donegal Vocational Schools team, chaired the first meeting. Joe Kelly, a Glenswilly native who was assistant manager of reigning county senior champions St Eunan’s, was also present.

“There were no laptops or mobiles,” John McGinley says. “I made posters publicising the meeting and stuck them to trees and lampposts. I gave one to the local papers and to the parish priest to announce at mass.

“At the meeting, there were a couple of negative comments. One man said there was no point in setting up a club as nobody from the Glen could ever agree on anything.

“Another pointed out we hadn’t enough people for a committee and to reschedule the meeting. If that happened, Glenswilly wouldn’t have a club today. We had to sort it there and then.

“Luckily, Eamon McDevitt insisted we could form a committee, so we did. We barely had enough money to buy a football, never mind start a club. But we managed it.”

Manus McFadden was player-manager in 1982 and the year afterwards, the club’s first full season, continued in the role despite his tender age.

Job opportunities were scarce in Glenswilly, so in 1984 McFadden moved to Boston. He would spend his next 23 years in Massachusetts — away from Glenswilly, who moved from the old sports field in Churchill to Breenagh. There was the occasional reason to scurry home, like when Glenswilly won the Junior B championship with a 2-7 to 3-3 win over Naomh Columba in 1984.

By 1985, Mick Murphy, a garda from Corrimbla just outside of Ballina, Mayo, who had been stationed in Burnfoot and then Buncrana, was transferred to Letterkenny.

Murphy, who played full-back for Milford, and his wife Mary were building a house in Bomany.

“Finbar Glackin from Glenswilly worked in Charles Kelly’s (Home Improvement and Building Centre) when I was building and he came to my house three times asking me to join the club,” Murphy says. “He wouldn’t take no for an answer. One evening Jimmy Joe McGinley and, Lord have mercy on him, Peadar Toner arrived and asked me too. Eventually I relented and joined.”

Murphy, the current club chairman, just missed their Junior B triumph but with Shay Farrell, a Dubliner employed by the social welfare, trained all the club’s underage teams.

“From what I understand, the celebrations went on for a month and there wasn’t much work done,” Murphy says of the Junior B. “We didn’t win much at underage but gave youngsters an opportunity to play football.”

One of those youngsters was Murphy’s son Michael, who, from an early age, showed decent talent. Glenswilly, though, have never won an underage Division One title to this day. At 16, Michael Murphy was too young to play in Glenswilly’s first IFC success in 2005 — a 1-13 to 1-7 win over Cloughaneely.

“Until 2005, we were an up and down sort of club,” recalls former manager Roger McDaid. “But we had a really good crop of players coming through.”

In that year’s Ulster IFC final, with more innocence than experience, Glenswilly led by two points against Inniskeen. But the Monaghan champions pinched the sloppiest of injury time goals from Pearse McSkane. Inniskeen, 2-5 to 0-10 winners, went on to capture the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship.

“We were cruising on a bad, wet and slippery day,” Ciaran Bonner says. “We got caught with a high ball at the very end. It went into the net and we were beaten.”

Bonner was soon part of the Donegal seniors, along with Neil Gallagher and Colin Kelly. Michael Murphy made his inter-county debut in 2007 and Gary McFadden a year afterwards.

In 2007, with Glenswilly rapidly progressing, they made a first ever senior final but lost 0-12 to 1-3 against St Eunan’s. Manus McFadden moved home from Boston that very day.

“It was much too soon for us,” Michael Murphy says. “And it took us a while to get over.”

By 2011, John McGinley was joint-manager with Gary McDaid, an intuitive young man in his early 30s who had managed teams at St Eunan’s College in Letterkenny. They installed the most thorough of approaches and reached a second senior final. St Michael’s from Creeslough and Dunfanaghy entered as favourites with established county players like Christy Toye and Colm McFadden.

However, Murphy was unplayable, scoring all but a point in Glenswilly’s 1-8 to 0-9 victory. His goal on the turn on 41 minutes almost ripped the net at MacCumhaill Park’s Town End.

Murphy’s last-minute penalty saw off Cavan Gaels in the AIB Ulster Club Championship preliminary round but with the Donegal captain having only returned following the International Rules Series in Australia, a flat Glenswilly lost 0-10 to 0-9 against Monaghan champions Latton in the quarter-finals.

“None of us played well,” 2011 skipper Gary McFadden says. “We really could’ve got something from that.”

Last year, Manus McFadden returned as manager for the first time in a generation. But constantly minus the services of All Stars Murphy and Gallagher for much of the season as Donegal clinched a second All-Ireland, Glenswilly crashed out in the quarter-finals against Dungloe and in the Division One relegation play-off, Glenswilly were battered 4-9 to 1-8 by Gaoth Dobhair in Letterkenny.

That fixture was one year ago this weekend. Glenswilly’s players trundled across the road to the nearest bar they could find — the Tír na nÓg, which overlooks O’Donnell Park. They sipped pints and watched the Ulster club final on television, as Crossmaglen beat Kilcoo.

McDaid returned as manager in January. He could see desire. Glenswilly won Division Two at a canter and hammered Killybegs 3-19 to 2-6 in the county final.

Afterwards, McDaid told his players to enjoy the celebrations but to remember Ulster lay ahead. Glenswilly defeated 2010 All-Ireland champions St Gall’s from Antrim 1-10 to 0-10, then overcame Fermanagh’s Roslea Shamrocks 3-9 to 2-8.

An overused cliché suggests players would run through a brick wall for their manager. Aidan McDevitt — a former underage county panellist, who returned for the third team two years ago before winning a senior championship last month — fell off a house whilst working before the St Gall’s fixture but tried, unsuccessfully, to undergo a pre-match fitness test.

Ballinderry Shamrocks, Ulster champions in 1981 and 2001 and All-Ireland winners in 2002, are odds-on favourites to reclaim the provincial title.

“Ballinderry are the benchmark,” McDaid says. “They are football crazy but we are a young club and we want to build our own history. Playing in an Ulster final shows just how far we have come.”

Glenswilly’s brief history is nothing short of a fairytale. How they would love to write another chapter tomorrow.


Lifestyle

From Monday, November 11, RTÉ On Climate looks at issues affecting us all including Paul Cunningham’s report from the Arctic Circle.The Shape I'm In: RTÉ journalist Paul Cunningham

Sex advice with Suzi Godson.Sex file: Hard to have sex when you don’t feel sexy

I wish everyone could discover the magic of making a loaf of bread.Darina Allen: Preparing for National Homemade Bread Day

More From The Irish Examiner