The wet conditions failed to dampen the spirits of those gathered at Rabs Park Kerrykeel last Saturday to celebrate the life of Donegal’s FA Cup winning captain, Billy Gillespie.
Before the main event, football enthusiasts from near and far were treated to a Billy Gillespie tribute wall inside the fine clubhouse at the Kerrykeel ground. Featuring articles and pictures of the great man, the highlight of the exhibition was one of Billy’s Ireland jerseys which received plenty of attention from young and old.
MC for the day, Chris Ashmore, introduced the dignitaries to those present. These included, John Garrett (Historian) and Ian Cameron (Vice President) from Sheffield United, Jim McConnell from the FAI, Hugh Wade from the IFA, Joey O’Leary from Finn Harps, Sean Barrett from Derry City, John Joe McAteer from Kerrykeel 71, Fergus McAteer from the Billy Gillespie committee, Seamus Neely Donegal County Manager, Ian McGarvey Donegal Lord Mayor and Billy Gillespies family, his grand-daughter Jane Bull and her son Andy.
Fergus McAteer outlined the historic links Billy Gillespie has to the village and welcomed all to what was a truly great day for the area. Fergus informed the crowd that the Gillespie family and the Sheffield United representatives had visited the old barracks where Billy grew up that morning, and that it was a remarkable experience for all those present.
John Garrett the Sheffield United club historian gave a rousing speech speaking of Sheffield Uniteds pride and joy at being involved in such a day. John went into great detail on the tactical nous Gillespie had in his day – “A tactician well before his time”; he stated.
In what was surely an unique occasion, both the FAI and IFA spoke of their pride in being connected with the event and the impact Gillespie made both sides of the border. Joey O’Leary of Finn Harps and Sean Barrett of Derry City expressed their gratitude at being invited to Kerrykeel and the current Derry City manager Declan Devine was in attendance also.
County manager Seamus Neely pinpointed how important it was for the county to be involved in days like this and highlighted the importance of the Gathering to the people of Donegal. Donegal Lord Mayor Ian McGarvey spoke of his pride as being a football man himself and in seeing so many football people present. He also stated how important it is for the young of the county to continue to explore sport and outdoor activities and that days like today can only help in that regard.
Jane Bull and her son Andy were then asked to unveil the magnificent plaque at the side of the clubhouse, along with John Garrett of Sheffield United. Garrett spoke once more to the delight of those present, outlining the welcome they had all received in the county since they arrived and there would certainly be plans put in place in Sheffield for future links with Kerrykeel and the Donegal area.