There was a gala atmosphere which was fitting as the boys of 1992 got together to mark the 20th anniversary of Donegal’s first (and only so far) All-Ireland win with a charity gala banquet in the Abbey Hotel, Donegal Town on Saturday night.
All the ingredients were there - the team, the Sam Maguire, the fans including the likes of Mickey Bonner, Packie Ellison, Danny McMenamin and Edmund Brennan and the inimitable Micheal O Muircheartaigh.
It would have been a night the late Follower (Cormac Mac a Ghoill) would have dreamed about.
The 1992 heroes - all kitted out in formal dress - stood out in the huge crowd, which was a nice touch. For the organisers - Tony Boyle, Donal Reid and Joyce McMullan - it all came together at the end and they can take great credit for that.
Credit also to Patricia Wilson and the Abbey Hotel staff, who put on a sumptuous meal that was real value for the 25 euro price tag.
The night was organised to aid three local charities - Donegal Cancer Fund, Alzheimer’s and Living Links.
The guest of honour on the night, Micheal O Muirchartaigh, made a huge sacrifice to be present, leaving a family engagement party and missing out on his greyhound running in the third round of the Derby at Shelbourne Park.
He said that he had been approached by Tony Boyle earlier in the year and had put a question mark opposite the date, but he was glad that he was able to make it.
“1992 was special, something that was not done before,” said Micheal, who recalled being asked by team captain Anthony Molloy to accompany them on the bus from the Leitrim. “Anthony said you’re coming into the bus with us for the rest of the journey. I won’t forget that,” said Micheal.
The RTE legend commented on the great shape the team were still in. “I hear Martin Shovlin is lining out at midfield for Naomh Ultan tomorrow.”
He recounted stories about the difference between professional and amateur sportsmen and told a story of a discussion he had with Martin O’Neill regarding his decision to take up the chance to play soccer professionally, and how his O’Neill’s father had disapproved.
“I asked him later if he did the right thing and he said: ‘ I don’t know’ and that it would have been nice to be part of a Kilrea team winning a Derry Co. Championship.”
O Muircheartaigh also told tales of All-Ireland medals being presented to players 25 years after they were won and made a promise that if Donegal won Sam again this year, he would be at the bridge at the Donegal border in Bundoran to welcome them home again.
Among the other guests was Peter Quinn, who was President of the GAA in 1992. Quinn recalled the greatness of the team at the time, with special mention for Martin Gavigan’s display in the Ulster final and the travesty that Barry McGowan had not won an All-Star during his years with Donegal.
The MC for the night, Charlie Collins, also conduced interviews with team manager, Brian McEniff; team captain Anthony Molloy and Naul McCole and PJ McGowan, the respective chairmen in 1992 and presently.
The biggest cheer of the night was reserved for a member of the team that didn’t play in the final. The Donegal Democrat have been running a series of articles on the team members and on the night, framed copies of the pages were presented to two team members, captain Anthony Molloy and Martin Shovlin, who had to withdraw from the final through injury. The specially prepared mementoes (presented in association with RTE Raidio na Gaeltachta) saw Shovlin get a standing ovation, a reflection of the courage that he had shown on that All-Ireland morning when he declared himself unfit.
Overall, it was a special night which allowed the players to meet and talk about times past and present which continued into the small hours.