The heading in the Donegal Democrat was ‘One that got away’. And after looking up the files on the Donegal-Cork All-Ireland Minor semi-final of 1991, it was an accurate account.
The game’s best memory - it was my first game reporting in Croke Park - is of a mountain of a full-back playing for Cork, who looked much more than 18 years-of-age.
His name was Brian Corcoran (a future All-Ireland hurling winner) and speaking this week to the Donegal captain, Darragh Dolan, it is one of his first memories of the Cork team also.
Donegal lost out on a 0-12 to 1-6 scoreline, but they had chances and will point to a very poor opening when they had the breeze at their backs.
Donegal, under the management of the late Sean Ward from Dungloe, had defeated Tyrone in the Ulster final by 1-10 to 1-9 and had then accounted for Warwickshire in the All-Ireland quarter-final played in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey, the week before the All-Ireland semi-final.
For most of the team, it was their first game in Croke Park and quite a few of the panel were just 17 years-of-age.
“We needed to be four four five points up at half-time, such was the strength of the breeze,” said captain Darragh Dolan, looking back on the game.
“We started very badly and were something like five points down before we got a score. I remember we tacked on a few points and Donal Buggy won a penalty for Mark Boyle to score before half-time which left us level, but we needed to be ahead with the breeze.
“We battled hard to keep in touch in the second half, but it was a struggle. I remember their centre half-back coming up and scoring a great point from 50 yards; it was that sort of breeze.
“We did have a few goal chances near the end, which would have brought us level, but we lost it in the first half,” said Darragh, who is part of the management of the Donegal Masters team who made a comeback last week.
“I’m giving John McNulty a hand out. We have a few of the 1991 team on board - Kevin McGettigan, Kevin ‘Cookie’ Gallagher, Sean Boyce, Emmett McCormick and Oddie McBride,” said Darragh.
The memories of the game are not great, though, for Dolan, who still has the tape, but doesn’t watch it much.
“It was the first and only game that I was involved in that was taped in full. I didn’t watch it for up to two years because of the disappointment and I haven’t watched it now in over 20 years.”
The Bundoran clubman remembers the Cork team as being a big side. “I remember looking up the field and seeing Brian Corcoran at full-back marking James Ruane. He looked more 30 than 18. There were others that went on to play senior like the midfielders Fachtna Collins and Pat Hegarty and Mark O’Sullivan. They also had a big lad, Harrington, who Peter McGinley was marking, and then they had Joe Kavanagh at centre-forward, although he went off injured,” said Darragh.
Looking forward to Saturday next, is there any message for the young Donegal side who will go on the same journey and visit Croke Park for the first time.
“No doubt if the game was being played in Portlaoise or Tullamore, it would be different. Getting to know Croke Park and getting the nerves out of the way will be important. I would suggest that they need to get there early and have a good look around. They need to get that out of the way and get back to concentrating on the game,” said Darragh.
It will be the third meeting of Donegal and Cork in the Minor Championship and hopefully, it will be third time lucky.
A brief synopsis of the 1991 game: Cork led by 0-5 to no score and 0-7 to 0-1 after 13 minutes, but Donegal held them scoreless for the next 27 minutes.
Eamon McMenamin got Donegal’s first point and a penalty won by Donegal’s best player on the day, Donal Buggy, was converted by Mark Boyle on 26 minutes to leave the sides level at the break, 1-4 to 0-7.
Donegal twice took the lead in the second half and had a number of goal chances. Two of them came late on when Sean Boyce was denied by the Cork ‘keeper and Donal Buggy was denied a second penalty, although it was felt the referee was reluctant to award Donegal a second spot kick.
The teams were -
Donegal: Eunan Doherty; Paul Diver, Darragh Dolan, Peter McGinley; Damien Diver, Kevin McGettigan, Kevin Gallagher; Declan Boyle, Paul Callaghan; Mark Boyle (1-1), Donal Buggy (0-4), Ronan McLaughlin; Corny Brennan, James Ruane, Eamon McMenamin (0-1). Subs., Sean Boyce for McMenamin; Anthony McGrath for K Gallagher.
Rest of panel: Sean Diver, Al Travers, Declan McGarvey, Odhran McBride, Martin McShane, Pauric Brennan, Seamus Doherty, Martin Bonner, Emmett McCormack, Adrian McGinley.
Cork: Kevin O’Dwyer; Donal O’Callaghan, Brian Corcoran, Brian Murphy; Gerard McCullagh, Tadhg Og Lynch (0-1), Alan McCarthy; Fachtna Collins, Pat Hegarty (0-1); Sean Barrett (0-2), Joe Kavanagh, Paudie O’Mahony (0-5); Kevin Harrington (0-2), Mark O’Sullivan (0-1), Paul O’Rourke. Subs., Donal O’Mahony for Kavanagh; Finbar O’Mahony for Donal O’Mahony.
Referee: Seamus Prior (Leitrim).