Donegal take to the field in St. Tiernach’s Park in Clones this Sunday, where they will commence battle with rivals Tyrone for the Ulster title.
This is Donegal’s sixth successive Ulster final, yet, it will be the first time that the new generation of Donegal and Tyrone footballers clash on Ulster’s grandest stage.
One of the stalwarts of the current generation of Donegal players is Martin O’Reilly of Seán MacCumhaills in Ballybofey. Having made the panel for the first time under Jim McGuinness in 2012, O’Reilly has gone on to secure his place on the starting fifteen under Rory Gallagher, and has been a top performer so far in this year’s championship, most notably producing a man of the match performance in the semi-final replay with Monaghan.
At 23 years of age, O’Reilly has been immersed in football all of his life. His father, Terry, is a native of Bellmullet, Co. Mayo, and currently chairs the Seán MacCumhaills club. Terry’s roots are steeped in GAA and it is his involvement in the national sport that has encouraged and interested Martin from a very early age.
He is also related to Willie Joe Padden, the two-time All-Star who lined out for Mayo between 1977 and 1993. Padden has also been voted the 35th best GAA player ever, as well as being ranked the 4th best midfielder of all time in the national media. The love for the game, the culture of the GAA and success, it seems, is in Martin’s blood.
The competitive nature of the GAA demands dedication, hard work and enthusiasm. These are attributes which O’Reilly has always had and they are the basis for his inter-county career. Gary Dunnion, along with his brother Joe, coached O’Reilly at U-12 level, as they became the first Seán MacCumhaills side at that level to win a county championship.
Along with long-time friend and co-captain, Rory Dunleavy, Martin set an example for the young players in the club and was a driving force behind their victory. That same example stood by O’Reilly as he moved through the age levels, and is still present as MacCumhaills lifted the U-12 county championship last Saturday, 11 years on from their first victory.
Outside of football, O’Reilly is an exemplary member of the Twin Towns community and is highly regarded in circles beyond the GAA. During his Leaving Certificate year in St. Columba’s College, Stranorlar, O’Reilly was selected as Head Boy of the school. A selection, which his former vice-principal Tom Rowan explains, reflects O’Reilly’s great persona.
“Martin was always a dependable, reliable young man. His personality is the big thing about him. He’s determined to do well and gave all he had to the school. He played every sport and represented the school on the Ulster Vocational School team where he won an All-Ireland medal. He used to go away with teams and always brought his books with him,” he said.
Mr Rowan added: “He was an all-rounder, he excelled and involved himself in everything. He always did his best and it’s no surprise that he’s one of the shining stars of the Donegal team. It’s all down to the hard-work, determination and application, the same characteristics he showed in St. Columba’s.”
Until last year, Brendan Dunleavy managed Seán MacCumhaills’ senior side. Dunleavy, who was an inter-county footballer for 14 years, playing 137 times for Donegal in the pre-qualifier era, winning an Ulster championship in 1983, has known O’Reilly since he was a child and has seen him develop on and off the field.
“His dedication and ability from an early age set the standard for his progression. His balance, speed and penetration is really important for Donegal. He can get past tackles and when Donegal play a more penetrating game he is very effective. He can take on and go past most defenders. His ability to hold on to the ball is brilliant, he rarely loses it,” said Dunleavy.
“There are very few players as accurate as Marty, all he needs is a split-second to look at the target before he pulls the trigger. Himself and Eoin McHugh, and the pace they have, are vital for any success in Donegal this year, next year and for the foreseeable future,” he added.
It seems that O’Reilly’s time has come, and all that has gone before, both in his GAA career and outside of it, has prepared him for his central role in this current Donegal side. He has proven his ability on the pitch and has applied his much-praised work ethic in contributing to Donegal’s progress thus far.
There is no doubt that the entire Twin Towns parish, the county, and a few torn Mayo fans will be behind O’Reilly and the rest of the team come Sunday’s showdown. All going well, the result will be in Donegal’s favour and it will be the beginning of the success that O’Reilly and the Rory Gallagher-era will achieve.