Encouraging times for Gaoth Dobhair
By Cian O’Connell
Mervyn O’Donnell sensed something was stirring in Gaoth Dobhair, but the right blend just needed to be found.
So that is why some of the early calls O’Donnell made was to bring some warriors back to the fold alongside a talented crop of youngsters that were emerging.
Ultimately, a dozen year wait for a Donegal SFC title was ended in 2018 and now Gaoth Dobhair are preparing for the greatest Ulster Club test of them all: a date with Crossmaglen Rangers.
“I suppose my own young fella is 20 years of age so I would have come through with a lot of the younger lads, especially Odhran Ferry-McFadden, I would always have been about when the likes of Daire and Naoise (O'Baoill), Micheal Carroll would have been there when I was coaching,” O’Donnell says about the quality footballers that were being developed.
“As a club we had a lot of guys involved with the underage structure, it has all come to fruition. At the same time that is the way a club normally operates, you get a spell for two or three years where you get a couple of very good footballers coming through.
“You get that purple patch, you like to make hay when that happens. We know now that maybe for the next three or four years our underage we mightn't have the same quality coming through. That is just the way football is.”
O’Donnell, though, was adamant that Gaoth Dobhair simply had to maximise the resources available to them which meant ensuring some influential figures featured.
“There is a bit of that, but I think there was a lack of belief for a while,” O’Donnell admits. “We had a couple of different managers coming through and when players aren't happy with different situations in the club and different things happening, it is just the way it goes sometimes.
“I think we went too long without winning a County Championship, but sometimes that happens in a club. It just doesn't work and a bit of a rut creeps in. For us our full back Ginger Chris McFadden was retired 20 months ago, Kevin Cassidy had retired so it was my job to get all of these lads back playing.
“I did get them back because I knew I needed them, especially Kevin Cassidy. I knew I needed Kevin, who is playing full forward for us. These lads are big players and it was good to get them back and it gave us a bit of belief getting everyone back together. It worked.”
Were the experienced campaigners rejuvenated by the promise of the footballers coming through? “There would be a bit of that in it, but at the same time last January we sat down, I brought them all into a room and I said what is the problem?,” O’Donnell recalls.
“A lot of them spoke about a lack of communication between old managements and we said we would sort out the communcation thing firstly. We didn't expect to get as far as we did last year, that is not telling a word of a lie. We said look we will try to regroup, to get everybody back playing, have a bit of fun in the training, not to take the whole thing too seriously.
“We got to a county semi-final where we were beaten by a point, but I think we turned a corner last year in the summer time when we went to play Kilcar and got beat by a couple of points. Kilcar were the best team in the county last year so we figured then that we weren't too far away.
“When that happens you get a bit of confidence after that and we had obviously turned a corner at that stage. When we went back training this year we went all out for the Championship and in fairness it happened for us.”
Gaoth Dobhair will travel to Healy Park with equal measures of hope and expectation despite the unfortunate absence of cruciate ligament injury victim Ciaran Gillespie. “It was great to win the county title for a start, everything after that is bonus territory for us,” O’Donnell states.
“The team is in a good place, but we had a big loss last week when one of our county players had a bad injury, he is now out for the next six or seven months, Ciaran Gillespie. Apart from that there is a lot of positives in the camp otherwise.
“It is a tear in the ACL, he will definitely be out for a long while, he has been in Santry since. He is out of action until next July seemingly.”
O’Donnell is encouraged that Gaoth Dobhair are prominent again. “There is a great buzz, but for us it is a great challenge,” O’Donnell acknowledges.
“The lads want to play the best and a lot of them have been involved with the county at some stage. I think maybe 80 per cent of the squad have played county at some level whether it be 16s, minor, 21 or county, they know what it is like to play the bigger teams and the occasion. There is no fear as far as I can say.
“We have a great fanbase as well and you can see that there is a great buzz within our parish. The flags and the bunting is up everywhere, everyone has got behind us.”