Karl Lacey, Paul Durcan and Colm McFadden are about to reach another milestone in their glowing football careers in the upcoming Ulster final on July 19th.
This a new record for Donegal players. Going into next weekend’s showdown with Monaghan, the three have already featured in six finals. McFadden played in the 2002, ’04,’ 11, ’12, ‘13 and ‘14 while Lacey and Durcan featured in the 2004, ‘06,’11, ‘12, ‘13 and ‘14.
Martin McHugh and Joyce McMullin from that great Donegal team of the late 1980s and early 1990s, played in six finals, too, and seven if you take into account the 1989 final replay against Tyrone. They both played in 1983 and then the five in-a-row from 1989 to 1993.
“It is a fantastic achievement and is a true testament to their dedication and commitment to the game and the county,” said former Donegal star of the not too distant past and club colleague of Karl Lacey and Paul Durcan, Barry Monaghan of Four Masters.
“They have been so successful as well; they are all going for a fourth Ulster medal in the space of five years.
“I remember when Paul and Karl joined the squad and us chatting on the way over to training and saying that it would be great to win an Ulster championship. And here are these lads now, they have won three and going for a fourth.”
Barry remembers not only when Karl Lacey and Paul Durcan joined the county squad first back in the early to mid 00s. He also recalls them graduating from having been very successful at underage to playing senior football.
And even back then still teenagers they made their mark.
“We were very lucky that a very talented bunch of players came into the senior team (club) all at the one time in 2002.
“You had Paul, Karl, Barry Dunnion, Michael Doherty and Benny Byrne, they had all come from a very successful underage team that had won championship at all grades on their way up through the age groups.
“Ironically, they had many great tussles back then with Colm McFadden and St Michael’s. They were a huge boost to us and gave us the impetus to go on and win the senior championship the following year, in 2003.”
“Shane Carr and myself were on the county team at the time and they joined us, Paul, Karl, Barry Dunnion and Michael Doherty, and all of a sudden we went from having two in the squad to six.
“Unfortunately, Barry and Michael’s careers were cut short by injury.”
Paul Durcan is now an All-Star goalkeeper and in the eyes of his old club and county playing colleague the best netminder currently playing the game.
“He is best known as a goalkeeper and has made his name as a goalkeeper. But people may not realise he was a good outfield player. He also played outfield for the club growing up and we even played him at full-forward on the senior team and he was very effective.
“He also played soccer and other sports and was an all round good athlete and sportsman.
“But it is as a goalkeeper he has excelled. I know I’m biased, but I think he is the best goalkeeper in the modern game. I know there is a lot of talk about Stephen Cluxton (Dublin) being the best ‘keeper, but I think Paul is a better ‘keeper.
“I don’t know the exact statistics, but his goal-to-game ratio is exceptional and I know again people will say it is the defensive system that keeps out the goals.
“And there can be no denying that fact but Paul is also a big part of it too and he has made crucial saves down the years. You have to look no further than his one handed save against Derry the last day out.
“His kick-outs are in the top rank. He can boom them long and kick the ball 60 to 70 yards down the middle or he can pick out a man with pinpoint accuracy with a short kick-out. I’m always amazed at how he can be looking one way and find a man short on the opposite side.
“This part of his game have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and is an area of his game that he has really worked hard on. And that hard work has paid off and is what ranks him so high in my book.”
Karl Lacey is Donegal’s most decorated player. His trophy cabinet boost of one All-Ireland senior Celtic Cross, three Ulster winners’ medals, four All-Stars, Player of the Year, a Donegal Sports Star of the Year award and a host of other individual awards and honours.
None of which comes as any great surprise to Barry Monaghan, who has watched him grow from boy to man and one of the top Gaelic footballers of the modern era.
“Karl is the complete footballer. He has got everything. He can defend. He can attack. He can kick points. He can open a defence with his foot passing.
“He can play sweeper and he has won All-Stars at corner back and at centre half-back. He has great balance and is one of the best tacklers that are about.
“He is very dedicated and meticulous in his preparation and he works very hard on his game and is an example to any young sportsperson. He is a great example of ‘you only get out what you put in’.
“He is also a very driven individual and I suppose that is best illustrated by the way he come back from a serious enough injury a few years ago. It was a long hard road but he stuck at it and he is back this year playing as well as ever.
“He is a great leader, too, and is very much a leader by the way he leads on the field rather than anything he says. That does not mean he does not have his say in the dressing room, but he is not into banging tables and thumping chests. That’s not his style.
“What can one say about Karl that has not been said before other than pound for pound he is as good as I have ever seen playing the game.”
Barry Monaghan joined the Donegal squad at the end of 2000 and he had already nailed down a place in the team when Colm McFadden joined the squad the following Autumn in 2001.
And they were teammates for the next nine years with the exception of 2006 when Colm opted out of the squad for a season.
“I joined the squad the year before Colm but I was well aware of him and his reputation as a quality player before he joined the squad. I had seen him a lot at underage playing for St Michael’s against Four Masters and I always felt he was a very talented player.
“I was proved right. Colm is one of the most talented players I ever played with or against.
“I don’t think I have ever seen a better player when it comes to one-on-one with the goalkeeper. He rarely misses.
“He is a big strong man and is able to hold his own in the physical stakes with the best and toughest corner-backs. He has taken a lot of abuse down the years but has never picked up any serious injury and has rarely had to be replaced because of injury.
“He is also deceptively quick and he has a lethal left foot and has kicked some massive points for Donegal down the years. Even the last day against Derry he kicked two brilliant points.
“He has also shown this year he is not just a corner-forward that shoots on sight. Rory Gallagher has used him in a more withdrawn role in the last couple of championship games and it has worked well and Colm has played well and seems to be enjoying the freedom of the new role.
“He has won his fair share of ball out around the half-forward line and he has used it well and sprayed the ball around and is able to give a good foot pass off his left.
“His record speaks for itself. He has played 58 senior championship games which is a record and some achievement in itself.
“Like Paul and Karl he has been one of the top players in Ulster in his time playing with Donegal and if you were to pick an Ulster team over the last ten years he would be on it. As would Karl and Paul; all three are quality players and I’m delighted I got the opportunity to play alongside them.”
Barry Monaghan played for Donegal from 2001 until 2010. The highlight of his career was the 2007 Allianz National League Division One final win over Mayo.
Barry was centre half-back on that team, which was captained by Neil Gallagher. In his time with Donegal he also won three Interprovincial titles with Ulster. He still lines out for Four Masters in Division One of the All County Football League.