Four Legends of the Fall chasing glory in twilight years

Four Legends of the Fall chasing glory in twilight years
Time is often a merciless and malignant thief, but there will always be strong men who walk tall and refuse to go gently into that dark night.

Time is often a merciless and malignant thief, but there will always be strong men who walk tall and refuse to go gently into that dark night.

In Donegal we have four iconic true Legends of The Fall who continue to strive for the Dr Maguire Cup, even though they no longer wear the bright and invincible armour of youth.

Big John Haran (39th year) Brian McLaughlin (38th yeare) Johnny McLoone (37th year) and Michael Hegarty (36th year) are true legends in St Eunan’s, St Michael’s, Naomh Conaill and Kilcar as we prepare for this weekend’s county semi-finals.

It takes men of exceptional calibre to continue playing club football past 30 in an era when the game has become so much more demanding.

That’s why their sheer longevity is just so remarkable in a time when youth and beauty is everything.

Haran, McLaughlin, Hegarty and McLoone have all worn the county jersey and Johnny McLoone was brought on to take a free in an All-Ireland minor semi-final in 1996.

But all four are simply colossal in their respective clubs and could have a big say in the destination of Dr Maguire this year.

Big John Haran from St Eunan’s has always been a feisty force of nature.

Two weeks ago he ran through the Glenswilly defence like a red headed Usain Bolt before setting up Conal Dunne with the perfect pass for an easy goal.

He also set up Lee McMonagle for the vital converted first half penalty.

John has seven official county titles but insists he has eight after St Eunan’s were stripped of their county tile in 1997.

Either way it is a fantastic record for a man who relishes the big stage and will always talk to the press in sunshine and in shadow.

John was on the Donegal squad from 2002 to 2004 having made his championship debut against under Mickey Moran in 2002 and played in the same half-forward line as Michael Hegarty and somebody called Jim McGuinness.

“For me John Haran is as good a club player that has been seen in Donegal,” said former great Tony Boyle.

At a mere 45, the Dungloe team boss has played with all four legends, but rates Haran as something special.

“John is the ultimate club player and clubman.

“When he is not winning matches for St Eunan’s he is out selling tickets for them at half-time.

“He is almost 39 but still has a great head and was a bit unlucky in his county career that there were so many good midfielders around when he was breaking into the squad.

“John is a great provider and always plays with the head up.

“John came on against us and made a real difference and he was just brilliant in the semi-final against Glenswilly.

“He plays on the edge, aggressively but fairly and loves the rough and tumble and has always been a man for the big occasion.

“And John will always talk to you and tell it like it is no matter what the circumstances”.

Big John will be faced by another experienced giant called Brian McLaughlin from St Michael’s, Tir Chonaill’s most enigmatic club by a country mile.

The Creeslough/Dunfanaghy men have been the county’s nearly men for the past five or six years.

6’4” Brian got to play in a county final in 2011 but came out on the losing side.

He was first called on to the county squad under PJ McGowan after a quite stellar career as a true ‘boy wonder”.

At underage, he had few equals as he racked up some phenomenal scoring rates from the edge of the square.

And Brian went on to captain the Donegal Vocational Schools to an All-Ireland title back in 1995, hitting 1-7 in the final against Leitrim.

He was a bit unlucky not to be born a few years later as he would then have been closer in age to Christy Toye and Colm McFadden, two of St Michael’s key players for over a decade.

Brian made his senior county championship debut against Antrim in 2001 and was on the squad from 1997 to 2004.

“Brian was a truly outstanding underage player and always knew where the posts were.

“And he still has a tremendous imposing presence even though he comes off the bench for St Michael’s quite a lot.

“He was a great underage leader for Donegal and was around the squad when I finished up around 2000-2002.

“Brian was very unlucky in the sense that St Michael’s were not near as strong when he was at his prime.

“And he often found himself as a very marked man as a result but he never reacted and always played the game.

“This is a very critical year for St Michael’s as there is a feeling that if they don’t win the Dr Maguire, then time may have passed them by.

“They were well ahead of St Eunan’s in the county semi-final last year but they got caught.

“And Brian McLaughlin is still a very key figure for them coming from the bench”.

Meanwhile over in Glenties, Naomh Conaill’s elegant utility man Johnny “Butcher” McLoone continues to defy time.

And, while he may be 37, Johnny can play end-to-end football with the best.

A big heart and a huge engine means that he is usually picked around midfield.

It takes an exceptionally fit man to survive in such an environment.

But genial Johnny also has the extra attribute of already having two senior county medals in his locker from 2005 (when Jim McGuinness showed the blanket defence for the first time) and again in 2010.

Glenties have been big underachievers in the interim, but they did show glimpses of their true capabilities as they demolished St Eunan’s a few weeks ago.

“I would put Johnny McLoone very much in the same bracket as John Haran,” says Tony Boyle.

“He will always give you 100% and has a truly great engine.

“Johnny is still able to play around the middle of the field and can also play up front.

“He often swaps places with Leo McLoone during matches and is a true utility player.

‘In a way his versatility probably got in the way of him getting a county career as he had no one specific position.

“But he is still a very important part of this Glenties side who have some very good scoring forwards.

“It will be a very close encounter between them and Kilcar and much depends on the fitness or otherwise of Paddy McBrearty,” says Boyle.

And of course much will also depend upon the fitness of one Michael Hegarty, skillful citizen of Towney and one of Donegal’s most elegant players.

Hegarty in full flight was truly a thing of beauty, as he seemed to sail over the ground like a purring Mercedes.

Young Ethan O’Donnell from Naomh Conaill has similar grace.

Michael Hegarty made his championship debut for Tir Chonaill in a drawn Ulster Championship clash with Armagh in Ballybofey.

His famous hanging basket point tied matters at the end of a truly thrilling affair and he was a key player at centre-forward before picking up a long overdue Ulster medal in 2011 under Jim McGuinness who cajoled him out of saying Slan.

But, elegance apart, there is a sinewy steel in the Kilcar man as he can hold his own with the most robust of opponents.

It seems incredible that the men from Towney have not taken a county title since 1993.

And Michael Hegarty has not even played in a county final.

All that could end this weekend, but like St Michael’s the clock is ticking for Hegarty and Co.

“Michael was a real old style centre forward as he sprayed passed to the inside men and always worked well with Brendan Devenney and Adrian Sweeney,” says Tony Boyle.

“He seems to have been around for Kilcar for ages.

“And Kilcar really need to win a county title.

“Despite his age he is in great shape and is a really big player for them.

“Michael was always very good on the ball going forward.

“But he is also quite strong and has a great partnership with Ciaran McGinley around the middle of the field.”

This weekend could effectively decide the future careers of these Donegal Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Haran, McLaughlin, McLoone and Hegarty may be the undisputed Old Boys, but they remain forever young where it really matters, on Tir Chonaill’s eternal green fields of dreams.