One month ago Donegal Rugby Football Club celebrated the 40th anniversary of its founding back in the days of 1973.
But this year is also the 40th anniversary of a challenge rugby match played in Glencolmcille’s ‘Pairc na nGael’ which created a bit of a ‘stir’ among GAA stalwarts at the time.
Donegal RFC had just been in existence for one year. Their matches starting to feature in the Democrat, as rugby as a team sport was relatively new to the county.
Throughout the 1970s in the ‘In Through’ area of Glencolmcille, many of its gaelic footballers featured on the GAA county team.Talented players like Padraig Carr, Sean Gavigan, Finian Ward, Michael Oliver McIntyre, Michael Gallagher and even going back further to Carrick’s John Brown.
In 1974 Naomh Columba won the County Junior Championship beating Cloughaneely which saw them promoted to Senior Championship Division One.
This was also the year the club celebrated the Golden Jubilee of its founding. Four years later they went on to win the County Senior Championshbip, All-Ireland Gaeltacht and Co League Championships
Down through these years the competitive Gaelic spirit was handed down from generation to generation and it was only natural these players, many who had never played rugby, relatively unknown in this area, wanted to test their mettle against a recognised team.
So a challenge was thrown down and accepted by Donegal Town RFC and the history making game was scheduled for a Sunday in mid October 1974
The majority of the Donegal forwards were experienced as all had played schools rugby and it was ironic that their tight head prop was Meenaneary publican Rory O’Donnell, a native of this area, who organised the challenge.
But experienced or not, surprises were to come hard and fast on this sandy pitch on this fine sunny Autumn afternoon.
Throughout most of the first half, what the majority of the ‘sons of Colmcille’ did lack in experience in the scrums, they certainly made up for in strength and determination, at times pushing Donegal all over the place.
The Glen backline were like rabbits in sand dunes, running here, there and everywhere, with unbelievable stamina and fitness levels that would make a triathlete proud.
Sean Burke and John James McLaughlin must have covered every blade of what grass there was on this windswept pitch. Like terriers after a badger, boring their way in and out of rucks searching for the ball.
The same can be said for the county wide known duo of Paddy ‘Beag’ Gillespie and Cathal Donoghue, only minutes on the field, with blood streaming down his face from a severe clash on the forehead, giving or asking ‘no quarter’ of the opposition.
But the Donegal front row of O’Donnell, McGinty, Doherty kept their composure winning the majority of the scrums and feeding ball back.The high jumping of Conor McBearty in the lineouts with scrum half Roy Irwin quickly passing the ball to the backs and in the dying minutes of the first half, the first try to Donegal’s Liam Brown and conversion was awarded.
As both teams came on field for the second half, standing staring each other down, the adrenalin was flowing, reminiscent of age old Celtic warriors facing rivals on the battlefield. Many teeth were gritted, the scrunching sound you almost imagine, heard as far in as Malinbeg’s Silver Strand.
This is Glen territory - game on – who immediately responded when Glen emigrant Donal Maguire scooped up a loose ball and crashed over the try line which was converted - the men from ‘In Through’ were on the scoreboard.
With afternoon shadows darkening, the sporting battle of this Gaeltacht area was taking its toll on the now weary players from both sides. Faces bloodied, injuries from head to foot, jerseys torn, all had given their all.
In the dying minutes in quick succession Donegal claimed a penalty for a high tackle and also scored their second try which was not converted.The final score Donegal 13, Glencolmcille 6 in what was the first and possibly to date, the only ground breaking rugby match ever played in Pairc na nGael.
Needless to say, later, both teams joined together in true sporting spirit in ‘Biddy’s bar’ for a singsong, camaraderie and the craic and to reminisce on the day’s events.
Glencolmcille and subs: John James McLaughlin, Paddy ‘Beag’ Gillespie. Cathal Donoghue, Kevin McGinley, Padraig Carr, Seamus Carr, Sean Burke, Michael Donovan, Donal Maguire, Brian Byrne, Conal Eamon Gillespie, Sean Gara, James Hegarty, Joe Joe Boyle, Cornelius Mockler, Jimmy ‘Beag’ Cunningham, Josie Gillespie, Bernard McIntyre,
Donegal; Barney McGroary, Charlie McGinty, Rory O’Donnell, John Cunningham, Conor McBrearty, Michael Doherty, Niall Fitzpatrick, Roy Irwin, Eamon Mullin, Alrick Thompson, Paddy Meehan, Liam Browne, Pat McGee, Albert Morrow, Andy Boland.