McVeigh still as committed to the Donegal hurling cause as ever
By John Harrington
Sean McVeigh’s commitment to the cause of Donegal hurling could never be questioned.
He made his senior inter-county debut as a raw 16-year-old and is still going strong 14 years later.
Along the way he relocated to Spain for a couple of years but still flew home on a regular basis for Donegal matches.
As he says himself, he would have suffered from FOMO (a fear of missing out), if he hadn’t made the effort.
Put simply, hurling for Donegal means a hell of a lot to Sean McVeigh.
“It does, of course,” he says. “I absolutely love playing hurling. There's not a massive hurling community in Donegal but the community is very passionate about it.
“And there's a number of lads who have given such long service to the Donegal jersey like Joe Boyle, Danny Cullen, and Jamesie Donnelly and Mickey McCann who are both on management team there now.
“They've given serious service to the squad. The hurling community up here is very passionate. If you've ever seen the club championship it can get a bit hot and heavy at times.
“But, no, we absolutely love it. I suppose the big goal for us is pushing Donegal hurling forward and getting it to as high a level as possible.
“That's the challenge we set for ourselves, you always want to play at as high a level as you possibly can and that's what we've been trying to do these last few years.”
McVeigh’s commitment to cause of Donegal hurling is mirrored by the rest of the panel.
Many of them have a Lory Meagher Cup medal and two Nickey Rackard Cup medals to show for their dedication, and they can add another shiny medal to their collection if they defeat Mayo in Saturday’s Nickey Rackard Cup Final.
The first one they won back in 2013 was a watershed moment for Donegal hurling, and if they could defeat a fancied Mayo side in this year’s Final it would be show they’re still a team capable of climbing a few rungs on the hurling ladder.
Definitely, it’s a massive deal,” says McVeigh. “It’s not often you even get to hurl in places like Croke Park, there’s a group of younger lads who haven’t had that opportunity yet and they’re going to step out for the first time on Sunday so it’s massive for them.
“For us, we’ve got two Nicky Rackards, it would be lovely to get a third and really try to cement ourselves as a Christy Ring team beyond that. For us, the bigger picture really is to get a performance against a team that has been playing Division 2A hurling this past number of years. That’s going to give us a really good gauge of where we’re at.”
The Donegal footballers will get most of the limelight in the county ahead of Sunday’s Ulster Final against Cavan, but the hurlers won’t fly completely under the radar.
Hurling has a growing footprint in the county, and there’s a lot of respect in the county for how the county team has conducted itself in recent years.
Perhaps more importantly, when a player now joins up with the Donegal panel he’s joining an ambitious group that wants to better itself.
“There's definitely a shift in mindset,” says McVeigh. “Years ago, it might not have been taken as seriously as it is now. We've got a very serious group of players within our squad who want to play at the highest level possible.
“You grow and you're watching hurling on TV, the Munster and Leinster Championships, and that's what you want to be playing. We want to test ourselves against as good an opposition as we possibly can.
“There's good backing from the county board. We're not short of anything that we ask for. That goes a long way.
“We've been in Croke Park a number of times now. If we can show that to kids in Donegal, that they can get to Croke Park and play in an All-Ireland finals, then that's something for them to aspire to."
Donegal will probably be without three of their better players - Davin Flynn, Declan Coulter and Bernard Rafferty – for Saturday’s Final which is a blow.
Still, they’ve gotten this far without them, and have blooded some talented young hurlers which bodes well for the future.
So, just what might be the future for Donegal hurling? What sort of ambitions are realistic?
“You'd never really put a ceiling on it,” says McVeigh. “There's definitely a lot of potential within Donegal hurling. There's more and more clubs popping up now. We've got hurling in the west of the country for probably the first time with Dungloe.
“We've Gaoth Dobhair who have underage teams and Carndonagh are playing up in Inishowen, you've got Ballyshannon playing down in the south of the county. It's starting to be well spread. It's not going to happen overnight where you get to Joe McDonagh or Liam MacCarthy but there's definitely potential there and a lot of hard work being done, particularly at underage.
“As a senior county team, if we can lift the bar and get to those higher levels playing against better teams, you'll see what that'll do. It'll bring it into the club championship and it'll filter down to clubs.
“I think there's a lot of potential there across the rest of Ulster as well to make a big push in the next 10 years.”