Ciaran Dowds sporting success story continues with Burt
By Cian O’Connell
Ciaran Dowds’ sporting journey with Burt is stuffed with memories and medals. Last Saturday Dowds collected a 20th Donegal Senior Hurling title since earning his first back as a teenager in 1994.
The intervening decades have brought joy and that Burt are back operating as a senior dual club in the county merely provides another layer of satisfaction. In 2016 Burt sampled Intermediate football glory and came close to cause a significant shock at the senior quarter-final stage last year.
Sunday’s trip to Bundoran promises to be revealing, but it will be embraced as another challenge. Dowds doesn’t know any other way. The 3-14 to 1-14 hurling decider win over Setanta was the latest success for Dowds and Burt. “I was 17 back in 1994, it is hard to believe it is that length of time ago now after winning a 20th,” Dowds admits.
“We have young boys in the team now who weren't even born when I picked up my first. It is a bit mad, I played with some of their fathers too, it is mad really when you think about it.
“Michael McCann, who was player/manager this year he has 19 and a wee boy Niall Campbell, he is known as 'Jude' around here, he has 18 now collected. We lost a few finals too and you seem to remember the losses more than the victories. We lost three finals, but it is good to keep ploughing away.”
With Burt the dominant force for so long in Donegal the 2018 success was hard earned. “Setanta, MacCumhaills, ourselves, Buncranna, and St Eunan's competed this year to make it five clubs,” the 41 year old explains.
“Sometimes there can be six or seven, but we had five this year. Basically everyone plays each other, then there are two semi-finals and a final. You get about six or seven games in the Championship and you have a League as well.
“We got to a semi-final last year and we hadn't won since 2015 and coming from where we are in Burt, they might joke about it, but there was a drought because we had been so dominant. Not getting to the final last year was a tough one on us. I suppose Setanta might have took their eye off the ball a bit so it was nearly set up for us to ambush them and we managed to do that last Saturday.”
Dowds was raised in Burt where a deep appreciation of hurling exists and they are immensely proud of the tradition. “Hurling has always been here in Burt,” Dowds adds. “The history books will say that even before the GAA was founded in 1884 that there was a bit of hurling around or a game similar to hurling played here in the 1880s.
“There is a very famous team here, the 1906 team, and we have photographs up in our clubhouse. They say in the history books that they were very advanced and they represented Donegal playing Antrim in a 1906 Ulster Final and won it.
“Unfortunately whatever happened they should have been playing the Leinster champions in an All Ireland semi-final, but Antrim were nominated to play, but got walloped out the gate.
“In this pocket in Burt it has been here for that length of time and there is a lot of passionate men about still trying to push it in the schools which is great. The game is great. I play both, we are a dual club and I suppose it keeps you out of trouble.”
That sense of belonging to the wider community ensures Burt are thrilled to be operating at the top table in both codes and dual players are critical to the process.
“We won the Intermediate Football back in 2016 and we are out in the Senior Championship this weekend in the First Round away to Brian McEniff's club Bundoran,” Dowds states.
“So preserving our Senior Championship status is what we want to do. Being Senior Championship in Football and Hurling isn't too bad. You would have 10 or 11 boys that field last Saturday, who will be playing this Sunday. I'm still hanging in there.
“We wouldn't have a big pick, we are working from two national schools really. That is what we are working from, we wouldn't have a massive population. There is no real village as such, it is just a townland or whatever.”
Burt GAA club occupies a central role for so many families in the area. “The facilities we have now with two pitches and dressing rooms is a great focal point for the community,” Dowds remarks.
“Like most areas the GAA is the heartbeat of the community. Last week the numbers we had at the game showed the lift it brings to the area when you win it, you see the flags out.
“The priest gave us a mention from the altar on Sunday morning saying the choir was back singing, the children were back in school, and Burt have reclaimed their crown again.
“So it is good for the area and the youth, the young ones. We had fair big numbers, the young ones mightn't bother too much about the match, but something might stick out in their heads, watching the captain lift the trophy above his head.
“That might bring them into the club on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday night, you can't beat that.”
Dowds emerged as a senior for Burt in 1994 during a burst of 16 Championships in a row and they always monitored Crossmaglen Rangers form in Armagh.
“We had started off and got 16 in a row, that took us up to 2007 when we were beaten,” Dowds says about his arrival during a burst of Burt supremacy.
“At that time we were looking at Crossmaglen. They were very strong and they were on a similar run. We lost ours in 2007. We lost that and the pressure maybe began to build.
“You are just expected to deliver when you are winning so many. Unfortunately that day we lost, we lost the following year, but then we went on another run of five in a row.”
Comparing the standard in Donegal between now and the mid 90s, Dowds is adamant that the game is stronger presently. “I would say it is better now, and even the county team too,” Dowds responds.
“We have around 10 or 11 in the county under Mickey McCann, our club manager, who is also the county manager. They won the Nicky Rackard this year in Croke Park. For me the skill level has definitely increased, the speed of the game has increased from back in the 90s.
“To me it is a faster game, there is more thinking before the games. Your managers are getting match ups right, they are analysing more compared to back then.
“In the 90s although you trained there wasn't as much emphasis on how you were setting up defensively. That definitely has changed in the last few years.”
A desire for hurling ensures Burt’s team is comprised mainly of homegrown players. “We have one fella on our team, a guard, Ciaran Finn, he is the only outsider we have now,” Dowds adds.
“We have a lot of homegrown boys. Last Saturday we had four Under 18s, two started and two came off the bench. We will probably have another couple next year. You have to keep doing that to keep turning over. A few of us our careers are getting towards the end now.
“You wouldn't see as many outsiders now, but back in the 90s that would have been the case where you would have guards, bank officials, army boys, but recently in the last 10 years that hasn't been the case. It is more homegrown talent for us.
“You'd have maybe 10 or 12 clubs with underage set-ups with Under 12, 14, 16, and 18. They would run during the summer on Thursday nights mainly, but because we are so close here to Derry, we are literally five minutes drive from Derry from our clubhouse.
“Our young boys would play in Derry a lot with indoor hurling and winter leagues. So you'd have plenty of competitions for the youth.”
Delivering in the Ulster Junior Championship is the next item on Burt’s hurling agenda. “In the first round we have a home draw on October 14,” Dowds comments.
“We won the Ulster Junior and Intermediate before. There was no mention of it until this week. Our focus was completely on winning back the Donegal title because we had missed out in the previous two years, we definitely have aspirations to lift an Ulster title. Who knows beyond that?
“We have our sights set on Ulster now. Our football team has trained three times this week, next week we will be back hurling and our focus will be on October 14 for our first round game in Ballybofey. We are definitely eyeing up competing for an Ulster title and the ultimate goal is to try to get your club into Croke Park.”
Before then football is the priority with a busy September imminent. “We made the Quarter-Finals last year, we played St Michael's, Colm McFadden and Christy Toye's club, they beat us by a point which was a killer,” Dowds recalls.
“We were real underdogs. It was our first year back at senior since the late 90s when Ballyshannon beat us and they went on to win the title that year. Senior Football in the club would have been fairly limited down the years.” Burt are eager to compete at the highest level in Gaelic Football in Donegal.
In hurling Dowds enduring quest for silverware means Burt are the team to beat again. Standard bearers and history makers, Dowd is still inking stories in a remarkable tale.