Glenswilly’s great journey in the Ulster championship continued on Sunday last when the club’s footballers defeated Roslea from Fermanagh.
Last Sunday’s victory over the Erne County champions Roslea was Glenswilly’s second in the AIB Ulster Club Senior Championship. And it booked the men from Glen, one of Donegal’s youngest clubs, a place in the Ulster final against Derry giants, Ballinderry.
Glenswilly’s rise in Donegal club football is a remarkable story, given that the club are only eight short seasons playing senior championship football. “It is unbelievable and hard to take in that a small country club like Glenswilly are through to an Ulster final,” said tenacious and long serving corner back Brian ‘Shorty’ McDaid.
And Brian is better placed than most as he is one of the longest serving players, having lined out for the club for the first time at senior level all of 18 years ago.
“Imagine when I started playing first for the club we were in Division Four, and now we have won the Donegal Senior Championship for a second time and looking forward to an Ulster final.
“Gerard McGrenra and John McFadden are the only other survivors from that first year when I played senior football. John would have graduated to the senior team the same year,” explained Brian, who was captain of the 1996 Minor B championship winning team. They defeated Bundoran by 13 points in the final. John McFadden was also on that minor team.
Other than the ‘96 minor success, it was far from an instant take off for Glenswilly following the arrival of Brian and a number of that minor team.
They moved up and down between Divisions Three and Four for a number of seasons and lost a junior final to Milford in the early years of the new millennium.
By the time the first major championship success came at adult level in 2005 - the Intermediate Championship - Brian had done a number of years on his travels.
This included an eight month stint in Boston and two years in San Francisco, where he played football with the Sean Treacy’s Club. He also worked for a short time in Dublin, too, before returning home for good.
“I wasn’t on the team that won the Intermediate championship. I played a few games at the start of that season. But I had just returned home from Dublin and been away for a few years and I was trying to find my feet work wise.
“I spoke to Francie Martin; he was the manager at the time, and it was just that I wasn’t able to give the commitment and I just played for the reserve team that year.”
Brian was back on board and at corner back on the seniors the following year for the club’s foray into the senior championship, and up with the big boys.
In their first senior campaign, in 2006, the new kids on the block took St. Michael’s to a third game before bowing out.
The following year, they went all the way before losing to neighbours and arch rivals St Eunan’s in the final.
They may have been well beaten on the day, but Glenswilly had left their calling card and what’s more, the players and the club had got a taste for the big time.
“I know we were well beaten, but we enjoyed the whole experience. I remember going to finals as a young lad and seeing teams like Kilcar and Killybegs in finals and seeing the crowds and the whole occasion and thinking wouldn’t it be great to be playing in a final and then all of a sudden in 2007 we were there. The whole sense of the occasion got to us on the day and we just didn’t perform.”
Despite the promise shown in 2007 and the arrival of a young Michael Murphy, Brian McDaid and Glenswilly had to wait another four seasons before they were back in Ballybofey on county final day.
That was in the 2011 final when St Michael’s were conquered and the Dr Maguire Cup was taken back to the Glen for the first time.
The celebrations and the lap of honour lasted long into 2012 and the new champions’ form dipped dramatically. A shock quarter-final defeat to the Adrian Sweeney inspired Dungloe was followed by relegation from the top tier in the league to Division Two.
“Last year didn’t go well at all. The management changed, a number of lads took a year out and went travelling and I suppose when it came down to it, we lost the appetite.
“But Gary McDaid returned as manager and he sat us down at the start of the year and got our focus back and we set out our stall and goals for the year.
“He said there was four or five teams above in the pecking order and that we had to get back up there.
“He also told us that we had to get our heads down and get back down working hard again and putting the effort in training.”
The championship win over St Michael’s down in Dunfanaghy, without the injured Neil Gallagher, was the defining game for Brian, in this year’s campaign to date.
“That was a big result for us. It was a game we had to win and to win it without Neil and to lose Ciaran Bonner and Leon Kelly, both to injury, in the game was a big result. It gave us the belief that we were back where we were two years ago and good enough to go and win the championship.”
For Brian it was a similar story when it comes to Ulster following the first round victory over St Gall’s.
“St Galls came to Ballybofey with a big reputation in the Ulster championship and while we survived a few scary moments in that game, we came through it in the end.
“We have now beaten Roslea and are in the Ulster final and it is now between us and Ballinderry. It is going to be a hectic build up to the final and while Ballinderry are another club with a big reputation we are relishing the challenge. We are looking forward to the game and giving it our best shot and hopefully we are good enough on the day.”
While, Brian and Glenswilly will enter the game as underdogs, the small country club definitely have the X factor and don’t rule out the dream continuing on past Sunday week.