In the ode ‘The Day Leitrim played in Croke Park,’ Leitrim bard Seamus O’Rourke, recalled his native county’s big day out, in 1994.
A number of lines from O’Rourke’s humorous verse spring to mind this week as Donegal prepare to take on the mighty Dubs on the hallowed sod on Jones Road.
O’Rourke recalled seeing his namesake and Meath star forward of the time, Colm O’Rourke, ahead of Leitrim’s All-Ireland semi-final clash with Dublin, on that historic August day, a decade ago.
“The land is better in Meath, than it is in Leitrim. That is why he left. Pity, pity,” lamented Seamus O’Rourke after spotting the Meath star on his way into the Hogan Stand ahead of the game.
Colm O’Rourke, better known these days as one of the ‘RTE Sunday Game’ analysts, was one of the leading forwards in the 1980s and early ‘90s. He was born in Leitrim, but when still a young boy the Rourkes moved to Meath, and better farming land.
Twenty-two-years on and Donegal followers in Croke Park on Sunday next might be forgiven if they have similar thoughts as Eoghan O’Gara and Michael Darragh Macauley - two young men with strong Donegal ties - race out from under the Hogan Stand in the blue and navy of Dublin.
O’Gara has a Donegal mother - Ann Brennan, from Donegal Town, and his grandmother Eileen Brennan is still hale and hearty at 86 and lives in the Glebe in the town.
He also has a number of aunts, uncles and cousins living in and around Donegal.
Eoghan also has a connection with Glencolmcille. His great grandmother, Cassie O’Byrne, hailed from Malinbeg and met his great grandfather, Martin O’Gara, from Roscommon, in Chicago.
Paddy and Moya O’Byrne, Malinbeg, are cousins of the Dublin star and his father, Feargal, insists the family have always had always cherished that Donegal connection.
Macauley’s late fathe,r Michael - who sadly died in 2012 - was born and raised just north of the Gweebarra Bridge, in Leitirmacaward, in the Rosses.
I’m not sure if the quality of the land had anything to do with Ann Brennan, or the O’Gara’s before her and Michael Macauley, packing their bags and heading for the bright lights.
But just maybe, if the opportunities among the ‘Hills’ were a little greater Dublin’s two prized possessions could very well be central figures in Jim McGuinness’s plans this week, instead of being key cogs in Jim Galvin’s highly rated Sky Blues.
One thing’s for sure, if green and gold were Eoghan and Michael Darragh’s colours this weekend, the reigning champions would not be the runaway favourites they are being touted.
Michael Darragh, who is 28, plays his club football for St Enda’s, Ballyboden, in South Dublin. He is already an established member of the Sky Blue army. He is a double All-Star and All-Ireland winner and succeeded Karl Lacey as Footballer of the Year in 2013.
Eoghan O’Gara, is also 28 and plays his club football for Templeogue/Synge Street, also in South Dublin. He boasts among his treasured possessions two All-Ireland medals, one National League winners’ medal and three Leinster titles.
“He didn’t play minor footballer for Dublin. He may have played U-21, but I’m not sure. He has only really come to prominence since making the senior team,” said his uncle, Manus Brennan, from Donegal Town.
“He was drafted into the senior squad in 2009 and was lucky to be part of the 2011 All-Ireland winning set-up and again last year.
“They tend to use him as an impact sub though he has been getting more starting berths this season. This is down to a combination of the strength of the Dublin panel and a number of serious injuries which have hampered him in recent seasons.”
“He had problems with both his hips in 2012. In fact the day Karl Lacey had the operation on his hip in the Santry Clinic, Eoghan had both hips done.”
The third in a family of ten, Eoghan was a regular visitor to Donegal in his younger days. Due to his football and study commitments those visits to the North West have been few and far between in recent years.
“Between football and studies he simply doesn’t have the time but I still get to see him regularly at family gatherings and we are very proud of him,” said Manus.