Killybegs in the late 1980s and the first half of the 1990s were one of the top teams in Donegal and recognised as one of best club teams in the history of Donegal football.
Between 1988 and 1996 they won five of the eight championships out of seven final appearances.
The team was littered with household names, not only in Donegal but at right around the country.
Barry McGowan, John Cunningham, John ‘Ban’ Gallagher, Barry Cunningham, Manus Boyle and Conor White were All-Ireland U-21 medal holders by the time they won the first of their five championships in 1988.
David Meehan, Stephen Burke, Mark Boyle and Barry Cunningham jnr had worn the Donegal jersey in the Ulster Minor Championship and also played U-21 football for Donegal.
And Barry McGowan, Manus Boyle, Barry Cunningham and John Cunningham went on to win All-Ireland senior medals in 1992.
In 1988, they defeated neighbours, Kilcar, for only the club’s second championship as they bridged a 36 year gap.
They lost the 1990 final to Naomh Columba before bouncing back to claim the number one prize again. In 1991, they defeated Red Hugh’s in the final.
And in the words of Jimmy White, the then player manager they were ‘lucky’ to overcome the men from the Cross in the final. Killybegs defeated Red Hugh’s 2-11 to 2-9 in the decider.
“We were lucky enough to win that final. We had gone into the final as the hot favourites but Red Hugh’s had a very good team at the time and they were very unlucky not to win a championship in those years,” said Jimmy White, who had taken over from John Joe O’Shea at the beginning of 1991.
Kerryman John Joe O’Shea, a teacher at Killybegs Vocational School, had masterminded the 1988 success after a number of years of great success at underage level.
“I was just thinking the other day how things have changed since 1991, when you look at the large numbers in managements and backroom teams nowadays.
“In ‘91, I was player manager. I had no selectors and Michael Gallagher trained the team.”
As Donegal champions, Killybegs defeated Dungiven, the Derry champions and the Down champions, Downpatrick, on their way to an Ulster final.
In the provincial decider they lost out narrowly on capturing an Ulster club title.
“We had a good run in Ulster. Dungiven were a good side. They had Kieran and Emmett McKeever, Brian McGilligan, Joe Brolly, who all went on to win All-Ireland medals with Derry in 1993.
“That game was in Ballinascreen. We played Barry Breen and Conor Deegan’s Downpatrick in Newcastle, in the semi-final to qualify for the final.
In the provincial decider in Healy Park, Omagh, Killybegs were pipped by a Eugene ‘Nudie’ Hughes powered Castleblaney Faughs. The Monaghan champions won that game by two points, 0-8 to 0-6. Tony Hegarty had a chance for a late dramatic goal for Killybegs, but drove inches wide.
“It was disappointing to lose the final but overall we had a great run and when you take into account that five of the starting 15, a third of the team, were on the high seas for most of the Ulster campaign, it illustrates just how talented a squad of players they were.”
Denis Carberry, Conor White, David Meehan, Rory McNelis and Rory McNelis were the five fishermen.
One of the other highlights from 1991 for Jimmy White was the emergence of two young stars of the future who went on to play for Donegal at U-21 and at senior level and one of them for Glasgow Celtic, Derry City, Sligo Rovers and Finn Harps.
“Declan Boyle and Peter McGinley broke into the team in 1991. They were only 17 at the time.
“Declan broke into the team at the start of the championship and played in all our championship games right through Donegal and Ulster.
“Peter didn’t play in any of the games in Donegal but he played in the three games in Ulster. And he went on to be one of our top players for over a decade.”
Killybegs with, by and large, the same squad went on after ‘91 to contest four of the next five Donegal finals, winning three of the them.
They were champions again in ‘92 - they defeated Naomh Columba in the final - and put titles back-to-back in ‘95 and ‘96. They defeated Naomh Columba in both. Kilcar, in 1993, was the final that they lost.
Killybegs defeated Ardara over two legs in the first round; Glenfin, in the quarter-final and Naomh Columba in the semi-final.
The 1991 final team and scorers was: David Meehan; Paul Carberry, Denis Carberry (c), John Cunningham; Darren Cunningham, Barry McGowan, Michael Campbell; Barry Cunningham (0-1), John Ban Gallagher; Declan Boyle, Conal Gallagher (0-1), Mark Boyle; Conor White (1-1), Manus Boyle (0-4), Rory McNelis (1-0). Subs: Tony Hegarty for Rory McNelis; Jimmy White for B Cunningham.
The rest of the squad was: Kevin White, John McGuinness, John Baker Boyle, Stephen Burke, Barry Cunningham Jnr, John T Murrin, Peter McGinley, Ian Cunningham, Paul Feet Murrin, Fintan Gallagher, Colm Cunningham.