Paul McGettigan served Donegal and Galway
By Cian O'Connell
Paul McGettigan tries to walk the splendid Salthill promenade most days. “It is a bit like winning, it is a habit, and it is important not to break the habit,” jokes McGettigan, the Donegal native, who is also a distinguished figure in Galway football.
Since his arrival in the west during the mid 1970s Gaelic Football has occupied a central role in McGettigan’s life. An interesting playing career examined McGettigan’s resolve, especially when exiled from the Donegal set-up.
That was a tough time for McGettigan, who briefly featured in the maroon and white jersey. “It is always an interesting one and it is one that, I suppose, is turning up much too frequently,” McGettigan comments about Donegal’s clashes with Galway in the Championship. “Both when I was playing and now that I have stopped playing, Donegal and Galway just keep meeting.”
McGettigan was there and hugely relevant when the counties clashed in All Ireland Semi-Finals in 1974 and 1983. Still a minor in 1974 McGettigan recalls that campaign with particular fondness. “It was a strange one really, I played with Donegal in 1974, I played both as a minor and a senior and in fact I played both on the same day in the Ulster Semi-Finals.
“It was a double header, I think we played Derry in the minor and Antrim in the senior. I was doing my Leaving Certificate that year, after that I went to College in Galway. I continued to play with Donegal, but at that time it was difficult.
“You'd have to take a bus which took nearly the guts of six hours to get up there. A lot of the time you were depending on hitching a lift. I was often on the road at all hours of the day and night to get up and then get back down again. It was very difficult.”
Playing for Donegal, though, was a significant honour for McGettigan, but 1977 brought pain when he curiously wasn’t included for their Championship opener against Derry. “I went up for a McKenna Cup Final,” McGettigan states about Donegal's 1-8 to 1-7 defeat against Fermanagh in Omagh. “What happened was the guy that brought me up had never been where the match was being played.
"He took a wrong turn and the teams were going out on the field. I was told that I wouldn't start in the circumstances, but to go in to tog out, I'd be on the bench.
“So with about 10 minutes to go I was brought on, basically at the insistence of Padraig McShea, the full back, who came out to the line and told them to introduce me. As it turned out we lost the game by a point, but I was told leaving after the Fermanagh game that I would be in the Championship team in two weeks time against Derry in Ballybofey.
“When the team was picked I was dropped off the team and the panel for disciplinary reasons, circumstances for which I was never told what had happened.
“I was dropped off the team and panel for no reason. There was no procedure where you could deal with these sort of issues, I had to simply take my medicine.
“I was humiliated because it was all over the papers, I got no explanation. I vowed at that time I would never play with Donegal again, I played with Galway in the Connacht Final the following year.”
While McGettigan, a brother in law of the famous Galway All Ireland winner Jimmy Duggan, enjoyed his stint with the Tribesmen, it wasn’t the same as lining out for Donegal.
Brian McEniff, a totemic figure in Donegal, came calling again. “I played a couple of years with Galway, it is a very difficult thing to do, but I have to say that I had a good welcome from the Galway lads,” McGettigan admits.
“I got on extremely well with them, I found them to be very decent lads. I enjoyed very much playing with them. At the same time your county is your county. It is a very difficult thing to get out of your system. I'm a Donegal man, Donegal is my county. I found it very difficult, not through any fault of the players or the guys I was with. They couldn't have been more welcoming, it was just a very difficult thing to do.
“Brian McEniff then asked me to come back towards the end of 1982, the beginning of 1983 with Donegal. I found that a difficult thing to do because I had never got an apology, I was never given any explanation, but I decided I would go back to give them a few years.
“It was very difficult because I never trained with the Donegal team, it was impossible to get up for training. It was a difficult journey at that time, it is a lot easier now with bypasses and so on. At that time it took a long time to get there and you were wrecked when you did.
“I had to train on my own, but I did it. Fortunately we won Ulster that year and I had a good campaign with them. Unfortunately we then ran up against my buddies.”
Galway overcame Donegal before losing to Dublin in the fabled 12 apostles decider. McGettigan, though, was grateful that McEniff had given him another opportunity to perform for Donegal.
“Brian was a colossus in Donegal football because he was forward thinking,” McGettigan says. “He would have united the clubs in Donegal, who at that point would have been killing one another, even at county level players wouldn't pass.
“There was no rapport or bonding or anything like that, but Brian worked on that. He got the players together, he really was very skilled at man management, he brought the group together.
“He was also open to new ideas, he was involved in the '72 Donegal team which incidentally was the first Donegal team to win an Ulster. He was player-manager in 1974 in my first year and he was manager the year I was shafted, but had nothing to do with Brian McEniff.
“It was a horrible time in Donegal. It ended up with that entire team splitting up. Martin Carney went to Mayo. Padraig McShea retired. Donal Monaghan retired. I went to Galway, a very, very good Donegal team was broken up.”
Donegal didn’t truly recover until the early 1980s again according to McGettigan. “They didn't recover until Brian went back in 1983 as manager again. Brian came to me, he explained that he had absolutely nothing to do with that decision. The decision was stupid when you look at the fact that I was the only Donegal man on the Ulster Railway Cup team that year.
“I was playing the football of my life, I was captain of the Sigerson team in UCG, I was playing really, really well, the football of my life. To be shafted at that stage was very hard to take.”
While in Galway McGettigan featured for Salthill and St Grellan’s, but it was with Corofin where he really made a mark, especially coaching at underage level initially and eventually with the senior team at the club.
“Corofin invited me to play with them because my wife's family are Stephens', her mother was one of the Stephens', her brother Jimmy Duggan played with Corofin so I always supported Corofin when I was in Galway and I knew a number of people out there including Frank Morris,” McGettigan explains. “I was invited to play with them and I did play with them.
“Once I was finished I indicated to them if they were ever stuck that I would take an underage team.”
Corofin didn’t forget the promise either. “A few years after that I got a call to say they were at a meeting, an AGM, and they had nobody to take the minor team and would I be interested? I was told they were a difficult bunch to handle and that they didn't have any success.
“In fact I think I was told they hadn't won any Championship match at any level. The thing about it is I was interested in that project and once I met them I found them to be a fine bunch of lads. We went on to win the Minor League and Championship, and we went on to win more minor titles thereafter.”
McGettigan was on the line for Corofin’s famous All Ireland club triumph in 1998. It was a success that put Corofin on the map and they remain the standard bearers in Galway. “I was asked in 1997 would I take the senior team and at that stage I was happy enough with the minors,” McGettigan acknowledges.
“I really had no interest in the seniors, but at the same token a lot of my minor players had gone up to senior level. It was a natural progression and I went with them that year on a joint management basis with Tony Murphy.
“James Collins the Chairman rang me and asked me to take it, but I said I wouldn't take the job unless there was a role for Tony Murphy. We were put in on a joint manager basis. From there on we won the County and All Ireland. I've been involved with Corofin numerous times since both as manager and as a selector and as water carrier - anything I was asked to do to help out.”
That is the beauty about Corofin, there is always a role for somebody, a fact McGettigan accepts. “What has saved Corofin is that they don't get involved with infighting,” McGettigan admits.
“They have more indians than chiefs, everybody is happy to take on their role. There is great harmony within the club which is remarkable considering they are two half parishes.
“Thank God they have managed the thing together, their emphasis has been on youth, developing skills and developing players. They are always looking for new ideas and they are very much up to speed with modern management and training techniques.
“In later years they have managed to unearth more forwards. Had they more forwards over the last 10-15 years they'd have more than two All Irelands, they'd have four or five.”
McGettigan and Corofin proved to be a perfect match. On Saturday evening under the shadow of Ben Bulben one accomplished former Donegal and Galway footballer will be monitoring affairs attentively having contributed to both causes.