Gaoth Dobhair have answered their critics – Christopher McFadden

By the Donegal Democrat

Christopher McFadden believes that Gaoth Dobhair’s SFC win last Sunday will finally silence their critics.

So many questions were asked of the Magheragallon men over the last 12 years as to why they were unable to once again scale that Dr. Maguire mountain.

33-year-old McFadden is one of the few survivors from Gaoth Dobhair’s last championship win back in 2006. He admits that the last decade or so of failure hasn’t been good enough for a club with Gaoth Dobhair’s pedigree.

He told the Donegal Democrat: “Going back to 2006, I was still just a young fella. I think I was 21. You probably take it for granted. You expect them to come in threes and fours. But nothing followed. But we’re back here now. The parish of Gaoth Dobhair have been waiting for this for so long.

“We know we haven’t been good enough but all that’s changed now after this.”

The influx of a superb group of young and decorated footballers has made a huge difference to what Gaoth Dobhair now bring to the table. Spliced between experienced campaigners like McFadden, Kevin Cassidy and Neil and Eamon McGee; what Mervyn O’Donnell now has at his disposal is a panel that possesses panache, pace and real power.

It’s that potent mixture which completely overwhelmed the rest of the runners in this season’s Donegal club championship race.

“They’ve been a breath of fresh air for the club,” McFadden said on the cluster of cubs that have made such an impressive jump to senior football over the last two seasons. “Some of us older heads; it was only so far we could bring the thing. They’ve made a huge difference. To win anything you need legs. Believe me, the way football has gone you need lads that can motor.

“Going down the stretch there, with 15 minutes to go, back a few years ago we probably would have let that kind of advantage slip. But look at how the young lads drove it all on. There was chance after chance. We did concede a late goal, yes. But did it faze them, not one bit.

“That’s the big difference this season.”

McFadden, or ‘Ginger’ as he is known to his teammates, is now into his 13th season in the senior ranks for Gaoth Dobhair. He is adamant that failure simply wasn’t an option ahead of last weekend’s decider against Naomh Conaill.

He explains: “I came in in 2005. It doesn’t get any easier. No word of a lie. Before we came out onto this pitch we had a good word between ourselves. We had to win today. There really was no other option. If we didn’t win today, then who knows what route we’d have gone down?

“People were asking, ‘do Gaoth Dobhair have it?’ We’d questions to answer. But flip it. Those young lads, none of them have ever lost a final. I think that showed today.”

Given the manner in which they’ve disposed of all comers in 2018 domestically, Gaoth Dobhair’s name is unavoidably up there now that talk has turned to the Ulster club. McFadden doesn’t shy away from the question.

Donegal sides’ record in the competition is poor to say the least. But there is no doubt that Gaoth Dobhair have the personnel to give it a serious rattle.

“We haven’t talked about Ulster once this term,” he said. “How could we? People had us as favourites for the championship but we’d no call to be taken in by that kind of talk. But now, of course we have to look at it.

“We have pace, we have power. We have a good blend of youth and experience. But our young lads are experienced also. That’s a big thing for us. We’ll definitely be looking to give it a good shot. But the celebrations of this has to come first. That’s what we’re looking forward to at this moment.”

 

The Donegal Democrat speaks to ‘The Special one’ Eamon Magee

The Special One! Eamon McGee, tall blue-eyed citizen of Dore and Gaoth Dobhair, has long been one of the county’s greatest natural talents.

And it is surely a mystery why he did not get at least one All-Star award in 2012 or 2014 which his vast array of talents demanded.

It is about two minutes after Gaoth Dobhair have taken their 15th county title and Eamon is, as always, standing tall and straight before the world with his daughter, Daisy, in his hands.

And quiet pride and joy is written deep in his face.

Life has been good to McGee in recent years, but that was not always the case, as he is a man who has clearly seen the two days.

Eamon has tasted life through the teeth, but has always been unfailingly courteous, thoughtful, with a real sardonic wit that makes a rarity in an era of boring cloned clichés.

He is one of the most graceful, intelligent players Donegal has ever produced, an outstanding soccer player, who still glides over the ground at 33 and can draw an opponent and pick out a colleague with a killer pass.

And there are very few players who could get away with telling you directly: “I wish I had Ricey’s (ex-Tyrone star Ryan McMenamin) vocabulary.”

But eternal maverick souls tend to make their own rules and McGee is also a keen admirer of wit.

For true mavericks and free spirits always make memories brighter in these declining days of autumn when Mother Earth flings out her fruit before dying in ice.

Safe was never a word you could use about Eamon as you could never quite guess exactly what he was about to come out with next.

Maybe Eamon was not too sure himself, but who really cares, as it only added to his humanity and life would be very dull if we did not have that je ne sais quoi, that frisson that keeps you mostly awake, alert and expectant.

But safe is certainly a word you could use about his masterly display of superb creativity in attack and calm influence in defence.

He is naturally young at heart and seems to be drawing great energy from playing with so Many Young Men Of 20 and they are so very dependent on his ability to slow down matters when necessary and ability to draw defenders and create space for their youthful invincibility.

Back to Ballybofey on Sunday and Eamon eloquently shows his sheer delight in a special day as he picks up his third county medal, an honour he shares with brother Neil McGee, Kevin Cassidy and Christopher McFadden.

“Twelve years is a long time since we won the last one in 2006.

“They talk a lot about tradition in Gaoth Dobhair.

“But you only have a tradition if you are winning and you are there and we haven’t been there enough, so hopefully this is the start of building another strong tradition.

“For the older lads this is a big thing as we have a lot of miles on the clock so it is another medal, three for four of us.

“The younger bucks have a big future ahead of them

“So hopefully that is the first of many for them.”

When asked about Gaoth Dobhair’s great combination of youth and experience, he said: “The young lads have that bit of drive and we provide that wee bit of wit and wisdom sometimes.

“So it is a nice combination and anything we can do to help those lads progress and to drive on Gaoth Dobhair we are more than happy to do that.”

So does this victory encourage Eamon to keep pulling on the famous green and white jersey.

“You don’t retire from club football, club football retires you.

“So until Mervyn says to me or any club manager says move on or do something else I will still be about Gaoth Dobhair, unless St Eunan’s come knocking on my door,” he quipped.

So what did it really mean to this tall legend of the Fall?

“Your club is your family.

“You don’t choose your family and we have been through lows and highs and have seen boys grow up and to share that moment with them is just brilliant.

“And to share all of that with your club is just the greatest feeling you will have.

“We will enjoy this for a while and hopefully we can push on in Ulster.”

So Eamon now has three county medals, but he is already looking forward to “try and test ourselves in Ulster.”

“There is a lesson to be learned by county senior boards from the great work that has been done by the minor boards in bringing young lads like ours through.

“There are a lot of men who don’t want any plaudits, who put the hard work in and they are why we in Gaoth Dobhair have a medal, because they put the work in.

“And they deserve to be mentioned.”

Yes indeed and I suspect that we will continue to see quite a bit more of Gaoth Dobhair and Donegal’s very own Special One!

Gura fada buan thu, a chomradai san ait is aille ar domhan!

 

The Donegal Democrat speaks to Gaoth Dobhair manager Mervyn O’Donnell

Genial Gaoth Dobhair manager Mervyn O’Donnell and his men have been drinking deep from the wine red rose of victory for, not only can they play, the could always party.

But five days on from that historic victory in Ballybofey, they were back training, as the more serious business of making a real impression in Ulster approached.

A very experienced Cargin side lie in wait with home advantage in Belfast on Sunday.

You would think there would be some nerves in this relatively young squad, but there is a remarkable calmness about this group of young men that are likened to the great Kerry team of the mid 1970s in terms of their youth.

“Yes we have been celebrating but it is important to enjoy the fruits of victory.

“Winning the county title means everything to Gaoth Dobhair and we have suitably remembered it and now we will be focusing on Cargin.”

And if you are waiting for a full dossier on the Antrim side, think again, for Mevyn and Gaoth Dobhair have the self-possession to work on their own game.

Of course, they have already sussed out some relevant challenges that might present themselves, but this Gaoth Dobhair team does not panic or speculate.

It also helps that Mervyn has been with them since U-10 and is also U-21 manager, so there is an impressive tight bond in the group.

Speaking to the Democrat ahead of last weekend’s scheduled U-21 match against Glenfin, Mervyn was not happy about having to play the fixture.

“Six of our senior starting team are still under 21, Gary McFadden, Odhran McFadden Ferry, Dáire Ó Baoill, Naoise Ó Baoill, Eamonn Collum and Michael Carroll are the players involved.

“That team is that good that they would win Ulster again.

“That is poor management that the two things are on at the same time and I just think it is crazy.”

But more pertinently, there has been a bit of speculation in Donegal that the Gaoth Dobhair senior team can also win Ulster.

However, they face a Cargin side laced with considerable experience with the like of Tomas and Michael McCann major players.

Add in quality county performers like Kevin O’Boyle, Justin Crozier, James Laverty and Tony Scullion and you see the very real challenge which the Antrim champions possess.

Both teams will fancy their chances which could lead to a good open game on the excellent surface at Corrigan Park on Sunday.

Cargin’s final against neighbours Creggan Kickham’s was a snooze fest, just like last year’s Donegal county final.

“They seem to be pretty experienced and we know Ulster is going to be tough, so it is a question of getting the minds focused again after a big win in Donegal.

“Winning a county final takes a lot out of you but these lads are pretty young and they will recover pretty quickly.”

Despite their youth there is a calm sense of confidence in the Gaoth Dobhair squad.

“That has come from winning right the whole way up from U-10 and I have watched them develop into a really special group.

“It has been a great journey and they have already won two Ulster titles.”

So what is so special about this group?.

“It is their mental attitude, they fear nobody and that has been the same the whole way up with them.

“There is no fear in their heads, they are very sensible, very proud of their parish and all they want to do is play football.”

Mervyn reports no injuries from the final apart from a swelling around the knee of Odhran McFadden Ferry.

“Apart from that we are grand.”

So how did Mervyn feel when the whistle went in Ballybofey?

“Just wonderful and we had been waiting so long.

“When I was coming to the end of my playing days Eamon McGee took over from me at wing-back but you would not mind making way for a man like that.

“But I have been around these lads for 10 years and that makes it extra special and there is a great buzz about the place and it will shorten the dreary winter.”

He added: “All of these lads including the McGee’s, Kevin Cassidy, Odhrán Mac Niallais and Christopher McFadden are very professional and are very driven and self-motivated which makes them easier to manage.

“They know when the party is over and that is a big difference between this team and others and they are remarkably mature.”

So can Gaoth Dobhair beat Cargin?

“You have to feel that you can beat any team.

“That is the proper attitude to have going into any game

“We would be confident enough after winning that county final, knowing that we beat a very good Glenties side, a side that had a number of key players who played Crossmaglen Rangers in an Ulster final in 2010.

“And only for the late goal we would have won by ten points.”

Cargin’s Tony Scullion speaks to the Saffron Gael

As Sunday’s Ulster club championship meeting with Gaoth Dobhair approaches the Saffron Gael speaks to Cargin’s Tony Scullion. Tony has been a mainstay of the Cargin defence for more than a decade and had a long and distinguished career with Antrim before stepping down in 2016.

A strong and superbly fit half-back who served his county through many tough times, perhaps the highlight of his county career was the superb goal he scored against Kerry in the All Ireland qualifiers in Tullamore in 2010.

A no nonsense defender, Tony’s the type of man you would want on your side going into a battle and has found a new lease of life since Damian Cassidy took over as manager at the start of this year. Scullion has looked very much at home as the holding player in front of his defence and his speed and movement often leaves him available for the ball out of defence.

A brother in law of Michael, Tomas and Paul McCann the hugely popular, no nonsense Scullion can often be seen at his best when things get physical and could be a vital player if Cargin are to advance against a fancied Gaoth Dobhair at Corrigan on Sunday.

Tony has played in five of the Erin’s Own’s eight championship successes and credits his exceptional fitness to the amount of road running he has done over the winter. The Toomebridge building contractor took up road running a couple of years ago and took to it like a duck to water.

He decided to hang up his county boots after a long career and with a young family was finding it increasingly difficult to give the time and commitment. “At 36 I decided it would be hard to do both. I suppose in my younger playing days the county football helps your club career but as the years roll on its only fair to give back what’s left in your legs to your club.

Always a man with a quick wit, I put the question to Tony, “Cargin have won three of the last four championships in Antrim but have failed to perform on the Ulster stage, what if anything is different”.

Quick as lightning he relied with a wry smile. “The Cargin social club ran out of drink this year after the final due to the extensive renovations going on”

In a roundabout way Tony believes that a long spate of injuries during the league may have benefited his team in the long run. “The management team of Damian Cassidy and Ronan Devlin nursed those players slowly back to fitness with the bigger picture of the championship in mind”.

This necessitated the introduction of quite a number of young players so the squad is stronger as a result and more competition for places can only be healthy”

I put it to Tony “You looked to be heading out of the championship in your opening game against Lamh Dhearg before that late equalising point and after impressing in the replay against the Hannastown men at Corrigan you again came back at the death against St. Gall’s. Do you think Cargin’s name was on the cup after that”?

He answered “I’ve been defeated in too many championship finals to prematurely print any names on the cup until the final whistle is blown”

When I asked him what he knew about Gaoth Dobhair the quick wit returned as he replied “well I know they mainly speak Irish”

I put it to him “The match has been fixed for Corrigan. The Whiterock Road ground should hold fond memories for you. It was there you beat St. Gall’s in the final in 2015 and of course you have represented Antrim there on a number of occasions. How do you feel about the venue”?

Again his answer was short and to the point “Personally to me grass is grass, no matter where the venue is it’s always a privilege to line out with the Cargin crest on your chest”

I put it to Tony “the team have not done themselves and their support justice in previous Ulster campaigns. Do you think previous experience coupled with the new management will stand you in good stead this time”?

He answered “The thing about football is anything can happen on the day of a game, if we express ourselves as a team and play as we know we can, it certainly could be interesting”.

Whatever happens on Sunday one thing is for certain. Tony Scullion will be in the thick of the action giving his all and like most Antrim Gaels we at the Saffron Gael wish him and his team every success on the day.

 

 

 

 

 

Ulster Senior football club championship preview

Geordie McGuckin previews Cargin’s Ulster SFC opener against Gaoth Dobhair

Erin’s Own Cargin v Gaoth Dobhair (Donegal)

Corrigan Park Sunday (2-30)

Cargin start their journey on the Provincial trail on Sunday as the Antrim champions take on their counterparts from Donegal. The highly rated Gaoth Dobhair make the long journey to Corrigan Park on Sunday and will start as firm favourites.

The men from the Gaeltach region made their way through the group stages of the Donegal championship with wins over both Michael Murphy’s Glenswilly, the 2016 champions and then the reigning champions from Glenties before easily dismissing the challenge of Bundoran and an easy semi-final success over Sean Mac Cumhaill’s concluding their path to the final.

Having beaten the men from the Glenties in the group stage the Naomh Conaill men were fully expected to provide a stiffer test for Gaoth Dobhair in the decider, but although the opening period proved close, Gaoth Dobhair hit the ground running in the second half and powered their way to an impressive victory.

More than a few observers have been duly impressed as have the bookmakers, making the Donegal champions favourites to take the title and bring home the Seamus Mc Ferran trophy to the “Hills of Donegal”.

Cargin have obviously not caught the eye of the pundits nor indeed the bookmaking fraternity and the Antrim champions are quoted at odds of around 7/2 to win on Sunday which is similar to the odds quoted by the same source for Gaoth Dobhair going all the way in Ulster this year.

The Toome men have improved steadily through this year’s championship in a campaign in which they had to rely on a super Tomas McCann injury time strike to deny St Gall’s in a semi-final tie which proved memorable in the extreme.

They required a replay to get past reigning champions Lamh Dhearg in the quarter final, and their 0-05 to 0-04 win over their near neighbours Kickham’s Creggan in the final before a huge audience will not reside long in the memory. Few in the Erin’s Own club will grumble however as the MacNamee trophy resides for another term on the banks of the river Bann.

The Toome men certainly have a hard core of individuals who have been there and done it with club and county but Damien Cassidy has introduced a good number of youngsters and given game time aplenty to the likes of Ciaran Bradley, Michael Clarke, Jamie Gribbin, David Johnston and Jamie Kennedy.

The present Cargin teams are far from strangers to the Ulster Championship and although they have exited in the opening round in the recent past, the likes of Michael, Paul and Tomas McCann, Justin Crozier, Kevin O’ Boyle, Tony Scullion, James Laverty, Gerard McCann, Ciaran Close and Michael Magill, have experienced life on the Provincial trail.

They lost out to Monaghan champions Clontibret in ’06 after a replay and again in 2015 when they were beaten by Crossmaglen at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh, but the Toome men did not go down without a fight in that one. They will point to one or two questionable decisions in that game and the loss of mid-fielder Gerard McCann to a red card early in the second half.

Ciaran Bradley, John McNabb and Michael McCann hoping for success on Sunday

Gaoth Dobhair haven’t won a championship  in Donegal for twelve years prior to this year’s success and may lack experience on the Ulster route but former county regulars Kevin Cassidy, the McGee brothers Neil and Eamon, Chris McFadden, Odhran McFadden, Odhran McNiallais, Cian Mulligan and Daire O’Boill have all impressed on their way to the Donegal title.

The rise to prominence of Gaoth Dobhair has coincided with the arrival of new blood in the ranks as the likes of the O’ Baoill brothers, Naoishe and Odhran Mc Ferran, Cian Mulligan, and Michael Carroll all figured prominently in the Creggan sponsored Ulster club under-21 championship this year where they lifted the Paddy McLarnon Cup.

They will make the long journey of 120 plus miles on Sunday in a confident mood and are likely to take a big support with them but as a team many of them will be dipping their toes in the waters of Ulster competition for the first time. Donegal teams as a whole have enjoyed little joy in this competition with Ballybofey’s Sean Mac Cumhaill’s being the single recipient of the Seamus Mc Ferran trophy to date, way back in 1975.

The Cargin men will not be bothered by the tag of underdogs and Damien Cassidy and his assistant Ronan Devlin will have their charges well prepared for this one on a ground in which they always seem at  ease.

Gaoth Dobhair will arrive at Corrigan expected to advance to the next round but the Cargin men have got better and better as the year advanced and have the balance of youth and experience to upset the odds.

Marty Kane, Tony Scullion and Michael Magill bring a lot of experience to the Cargin side.