Any reminiscing about Donegal’s success in 1992 will inevitably touch upon the scoring display by Manus Boyle in the final when he accounted for half of Donegal’s tally of 0-18.
We should not have been surprised as Boyle had almost always performed when it came to the big day. His scoring exploits in major games for Donegal at Vocational, U-21 and senior was unequalled.
Yet despite that, the Killybegs man only started two games in the six-game series in 1992 - the first and the last. He lost his place after the first game in Cavan and was only used as a substitute in the replay and the Fermanagh game. He didn’t see action of any kind in the Ulster final before making his mark when brought in at a critical stage of the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo.
It could have been all so different! His ability to find the target was discovered by a stroke of luck. Throughout his underage career, Manus was a half-back, on the wing or in the centre. “Even as a minor under Pat Conaghan, my first starting game was at wing half-back. We went to Sligo to play St. Mary’s one day and he told me to play up front because we had too many backs. I got on the end of a couple of balls and he then kept trying me there,” said Manus, who said his first senior game for the club was at corner-back.
“I was only 15 at the time and I remember my first senior game in Fintra in Division 3, playing with the likes of of Pat Conaghan, Pat Cannon and Baker Boyle. We played St. Eunan’s in the championship that year and I was corner back. The next time I played St. Eunan’s at senior Anthony Gallagher marked me, I was at full-forward.
“When I was put up front, I did practice. I trained exceptionally hard with my left foot because I wasn’t blessed with the speed of Tony or Declan,” says Manus, ever ready to get a dig in.
Later on Friday evening was the evening for practising. “Many evenings it was me and ‘wee man’ (Maritn McHugh) in Fintra or in Towney kicking frees.”
Manus missed out on most of the great success achieved by Killybegs at underage level because he was a year older than the Cunninghams, McGowan, etc., but he did win minor titles at county and Ulster level.
“I remember my first game for the club, at U-12 and we were beat out of it by Rosses Rovers. We kept meeting Rosses Rovers who had the Bonners. Half the county were playing for then. They had the pick from Glenties to Gweedore. Bonner’s managing most of them anyway,” quipped Manus.
From any conversation with the Killybegs man, the names of Declan Bonner and Tony Boyle loom large. The bond that was established was not just on the football field; hardly a sentence is uttered without some connection. They just seem to bounce off each other, slagging and praising in equal measure.
The night before the All-Ireland final of 1992, the full-forward trio were billeted in the same room and Manus, a laid back character, didn’t get a wink of sleep.
“I don’t know how it happened but I ended up in the middle bed. Between Tony having nightmares and Bonner up and down to the toilet because he was drinking that much water, nobody got any sleep. Mad men, the two of them.”
There were more memorable nights though, not least one in the Great Northern Hotel, just over a week before they met Fermanagh in the Ulster semi-final. “Brian told the lads to have a few drinks, but he didn’t tell how few. It became a legendary night,” said Manus.
But apart from the bond that was built with the ‘Killer Bees’ in the full-forward line, like most of the bunch of players, there was a bond between the Killybegs lads and Martin Shovlin, who travelled to training in the same car on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “We tried to sign Shovlin for Killybegs.”
“There were great times and some serious characaters in that squad. It was serious between Noel (Hegarty), Tony and Bonner. Nobody got a word in, but there was a great atmosphere and they kept things going, especially when things were not going well. Bonner especially was worth his place in the squad for that alone. Everyone was in the firing line, from McEniff down. Personalities didn’t matter, he just went for the jugular,” said Manus.
The journey to success was not without its difficulties, losing his place after the opening game.
“I watched the Ulster final from the dugout with Barry Cunningham. Never got out of the dugout even to warm up. But we enjoyed it just as well as every other man. Barry McGowan got on and took his chance.
“He went on at wing half-forward and Brian had wee James (McHugh) in the backline, but the boys switched,” said Manus, who hinted that it was more by accident that McGowan became a very good county corner back.
“Myself and John Joe (Doherty) competing with one another between the Ulster final and the All-Ireland, trying to get a place; trying to get as fit as we could to get a place for the semi-final.
“Just trying to get yourself fit and myself and John Joe would have been competing with one another. We knew we were not far away in 1990 and Down went on to win in 1991. We were beating Down regularly and we knew then we were not far away,” said Manus, who felt there was never a moment during the year when he felt the All-Ireland success was on.
“There was an expectation there that we would get to the Ulster final in those years.”
After coming on for the All-Ireland semi final and kicking a few frees, getting selected for the final was something the sharpshooter had to deal with in the lead up to the final.
“I remember coming home in the car on Tuesday night. Because John and Barry were not picked, it wasn’t easy. You’re happy for yourself, but we were disappointed for them. We wanted all the boys on.”
In preparing for the final, Manus tried to retrace other big games. “I thought back to 1987 when we beat Kerry (in the U-21 All-Ireland replay). I tried to think of things that got me in the right place. Everybody has a routine,” said Manus. “I was probably not good to come on as a sub. I needed to get into things early on.”
“I worked until the Friday and didn’t get involved with tickets. I knew all my family and Ann’s family had got tickets. In fairness to the Co. Board, they gave us 10 tickets and gave us an option to buy 10. 20 tickets was a good shout and it helped that the Co. chairman Naul McCole was part of it.
“Fellas who you worked with would never let you get you too far ahead of yourself and the older people would have kept you on the ground.
“I enjoyed days like that. It was something to work for. But there were days when finals didn’t go well for me; I can remember the Ulster club final against Castleblaney when I didn’t turn up. I just couldn’t get it no matter what I tried.
“I would have been quite relaxed. McEniff would have said I was too relaxed at times, him and a lot more.”
Even yet Manus is reminded of his goal miss early in the game. “Someone asked me recently ‘how do you hit the bar from six yards’?
“The shock of getting the pass from Tony was what done it because he was never fond of passing,” quipped Manus.
“I can remember the first free kick I got, hitting into the hill. Paul Curran wouldn’t have been more than six or seven yards from me waving. The only time I seen him would have been on the Sunday Game that night. All I saw was the two posts.”
The Killybegs man can’t remember identifying anyone after the final whistle, only being engulfed and men crying. “Afterwards when I had to go up to RTE radio, to see Noel McCole, who had played for Donegal and St. Eunan’s; you could see the emotion in him. The crowd were so happy for you, so happy for the county,” said Manus.
“Then when I went back into dressing room and then hearing that Joyce’s brother was okay.”
But like most of the 1992 panel, Manus pays tribute to Martin Shovlin for his part in the victory. “The biggest player we had was Shovlin because he told the truth. If there was a spur or a moment or a line, it was Shovlin. He might never have kicked a ball, but he pushed the team further than anybody.
“When you looked around after the final Razda, Big G, Mulgrew, Sylvester, Tommy Ryan, who should have got Ulster Player of the Year that year. They were all happy for the team,” said Manus, who also enjoyed meeting the Dublin lads the next day. “They were very gracious. They won in 1995 and that it made it easier for them. Leaves us on a par when we meet nowadays.”
The Killybegs man also lavishes praise on the management under Brian McEniff. “McEniff’s secret and greatest talent was that he brought the right people around him at all times. He could come and speak to you and he knew how to man manage. He was good enough to take the likes of Michael Lafferty, who I would have unbelievable regard for because Lafferty knows football and had the respect. He took no messing from anybody and when he spoke everybody listened.
“Seamus Bonner, the quiet man. When he spoke, you could hear that people respected him. Anthony Harkin developed his own ability over the years away doing courses and he got us very fit. He got players fitter than other trainers.”
Manus thinks about the great players who played for Donegal with no success. “You think of Adrian Sweeney, Barry Monaghan, Damien Diver, Brian Roper. Brendan Devenney; it is unreal, so many good players. People ask would many of the present team get into the 1992 team; it’s just a different era. That was a good team. Jim (McGuinness) has a programme now. McEniff had no programme yet Joyce McMullan went back into the backline; James McHugh went back into the backline; Anthony Molloy knew to stand in a certain place. He wasn’t told that, it came natural. Declan Bonner knew to run out of the corner to make room for Tony. It came natural to us,” said Manus who felt that the 1992 players all stood out for their clubs Sunday after Sunday.
“If you played Glen, you knew that Noel, Paddy and John Joe were the men to watch. It was the same with Kilcar with Martin and James; Tony was the main man for Dungloe; If you were playing St. Eunan’s, even though he came in for criticism, Mulgrew was the man that made them tick. Charlie always sniffed a goal when nobody sniffed a goal.”
In all his time with Doengal from 1985 to 1998, two speeches stand out - one by John Cunningham at half-time in the 1987 All-Ireland U-21 final replay and by Anthony Molloy before Donegal took the field for the 1992 All-Ireland final.