Leading Naomh Conaill a great honour for Thompson
By Michael Devlin
The second half of the Ulster Club SFC semi-final two weeks ago was just two minutes old when Ciaran Thompson raked his left foot across the ball, perfectly curving it through the cold Omagh air and between the posts from all of 40 yards.
Ten minutes later, the Naomh Conaill midfielder had a free kick in a similar area, this time further back behind the ’45 on the left-hand side.
Imbued with confidence, Thompson opted to have a go at it with the same swerving technique. Again, the strike was flawlessly executed, and it glided over just like the first score.
The points helped the Glenties men suppress a would-be second half surge from a Clontibret team who had only mustered a meagre three points from the opening half hour.
Audacious scores as they were, they were uncharacteristic of the type of football you'd expect to see on a biting cold night in November, but yet they summed up Ciaran Thompson’s towering display that evening.
Along with midfield partner Leo McLoone, team captain Thompson laid the foundations for his side’s tremendous first half display against the Monaghan champions, presiding over centre-field and setting into motion much of Naomh Conaill’s attacking superiority.
Those sky-scraping points were the silk to the steel of his midfield toil, but a bashful Thompson saw nothing special in them.
“I just swung the boot at them to be honest hi!” he remarks.
“Someone said in the dressing room to just get a few shots away, because I don’t think I shot in the first half. So once I got a bit of space I said I’ll have a go here, and thankfully it sailed over.
“The second one I was actually kind of half-looking for it short, it was well out, but I felt confident then that I would strike it. It was nice to see it sail over.
“It was a big first ten in the second half, it would be a major factor in the game if [Clontibret] were going to throw everything at us. A team of their calibre, to hold them to three points in the first half was good.
“They were always going to get that purple patch, but I think we weathered it well. They got it back to two at one stage, but I think we then went three and four up again. I think we came through it well, and those big games you learn a lot from them.”
At 24, Thompson could be considered quite young to be skippering a Naomh Chonaill team with no shortage of big game experience. Elder brother Anthony, Brendan McDyer, Eoin Waide and Marty Boyle are among the veterans from the club’s Donegal triumph back in 2005, their first ever county title.
He has led by example though in the Glenties engine room this season as the club captured their fourth Donegal crown after an epic trilogy with reigning county and provincial champions Gaoth Dobhair.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I was asked, but I took it as a great honour,” says Thompson of his appointment as captain. “It’s a chance to lead out my club, it’s unbelievable. The bunch of lads that are there are handy led, they don’t need any captain as such, but I’m just delighted to have that title.”
Thompson was a 15-year old spectator in the crowd when Crossmaglen beat Naomh Conaill in the 2010 Ulster final. Brothers Anthony and Leon were on the team then, with a third, Aaron, was on the bench. Growing up watching his brothers break new ground for the Glenties club inspired a teenage Ciaran to follow suit.
“Everything just revolves around football, week to week that’s all the chat is going on. It’s nearly unbelievable. Even there in 2010, and 2005 as well, seeing my brothers lift the Dr Maguire in Donegal really spurred me on. I’m sure it’s like that for a lot of boys in the team.”
Those successful Naomh Conaill teams were helmed by Jim McGuinness, credited as the architect of the Donegal football revolution at the turn of the decade. While his successful stints with club and county came just before Thompson’s time, he says McGuinness’ influence is still keenly felt around the club.
“You do see him about the town and any time you chat to him, he is brilliant. You can see how charismatic the man is. Definitely the other lads that came through with him would have got serious mental resolve, and that winning feeling.
“Jim came with that structure and that plan, and it’s been rolled out in the club ever since. To be honest, Naomh Conaill is very player-driven as well, and there’s lads there that want to die for the jersey.
“The bunch of lads, there’s a lot of characters on that team. There’s older fella’s there that have been there for ten years and they are really driving it on, Then there’s younger fella’s that have brought a freshness to the group.”
Like Naomh Conaill, their opponents this weekend Kilcoo have experienced recent Ulster final pain, losing out in the 2012 and 2016 deciders. While many see the Down kingpins as long overdue a provincial crown, Thompson says past endeavours will mean little for either team when the ball is thrown in at 2pm on Sunday.
“We’re going into the final and we’re confident, but you aren’t going to be handed anything. Kilcoo are probably saying that as well, you aren’t going to be handed an Ulster title just because you lost a few finals.
“Both teams have a brilliant chance, and it’s about who shows up better on the day and gets a bit of the rub of the green as well.”