It's 17 years since that memorable day in 1992 when Donegal senior gaelic footballers lifted the Sam Maguire for the first time. Seventeen years on, ALAN FOLEY reminds us about the men who brought glory and joy to the county and he finds out what they are doing now
The Croke Park dressing room after a victorious All-Ireland final is supposed to be a place of endless joy.
Away from the backslappers and bandwagon jumpers, those who have put in the numerous sacrifices have a few brief moments together, before departing to a life that will always be different. Donegal started the 1992 final badly, but when Dublin's Charlie Redmond blasted a first half penalty wide, the Ulster champions freed themselves from novices' stage fright.
"We always knew that Dublin, because they were playing at home, would come at us like a train," explained manager Brian McEniff. "But we knew that once we weathered that initial spell, the game would settle and we could then begin to impose ourselves."
They led 0-10 to 0-7 at the interval, playing with freedom and verve, and continued to progress in the third quarter. But as nervousness gripped the Donegal camp, Paddy Cullen's Dublin reduced the arrears to once more to three points, and Sam Maguire, it appeared was slipping through Donegal's fingers.
A year beforehand, Martin McDermott had roomed at the Great Northern in Bundoran and shared a pot of tea with his host, the hotelier McEniff. The Roscommon manager described how he could see his team losing the initiative to Meath in that year's All-Ireland semi-final, but felt helpless to stop it.
Now McEniff took the law into his own hands. Wounds from the 1992 League quarter-final, when two Dublin goals in the last 90 seconds defeated Donegal 3-6 to 1-10 at Breffni Park, were still raw. After a quick word with county chairman and selector Naul McCole, to whom he briefly explained that the county board would undoubtedly receive a fine in the weeks that followed, McEniff made his move.
Within seconds, he was in the middle of the pitch clutching captain Anthony Molloy by the arm and vehemently giving instructions, before being ushered off. He returned with similar commands, just to be sure.
"Martin McDermott told me that Meath gradually pushed Roscommon back" McEniff added. "He said that they didn't even go for goals; just point after point until they won. I could see Dublin doing the same to us and I had to do something." The fine would be the best 600 the Donegal county board would ever spend.
With the shadows lengthening, referee Tommy Sugrue called time with Donegal four points up, 0-18 to 0-14. The riverbanks of Croke Park burst as Martin McHugh wrestled for the match ball with the official. Donegal were champions. The hills were alive.
Back in the dressing room however, there was just an eerie silence. Brian McEniff's side had just grasped their first All-Ireland title but Sam Maguire lay alone as everyone sat in a state of shock. The silver lining seemed to have brought with it the darkest of clouds.
Half an hour before Donegal had taken to the pitch that sunny afternoon, McEniff had been informed that wing-forward Joyce McMullan's brother Gerard had died of cancer. McEniff decided to reveal the news only after the final. "I didn't know what to think," recalled McEniff.
"Everything had gone so smoothly but when I heard that I was knocked for six. Luckily, the lads were outside watching a bit of the minor match. I stamped up and down before deciding that Gerard would have wanted Joyce to play. When the team came back, they could see something was wrong with me, but I managed to hold it together."
While Donegal's public celebrated on the Croke Park pitch smiles had turned to frowns in the dressing room. The manager, Fr Brian Quinn and Dr Austin O'Kennedy ushered McMullan to the showers for a few sombre words. The Four Masters player, who was wearing only his togs and socks, emerged teary-eyed.
As the word got around, there were condolences. In what was supposed to be their defining moment, Donegal's players had lost their appetite. But with McMullan scampering to make plans, the door flew open. It was his sister Maureen making a beeline towards her brother. "Maureen had waited outside the dressing room for ages," explained McMullan.
"She was told it would be quite a while before the team came out as one of the player's brothers had died. She put two and two together. "She had just been talking to Gerard from a public phone and he was alive. It's hard to describe what I felt, a mixture of joy and relief. It was a weight off my shoulders, and I was emotional and tired."
McEniff scurried up to the press box, dialled the McMullan family home and had the story confirmed by Joyce's mother Bridie. McEniff then called his own mother, Elizabeth, who told him that Bundoran was a wash of green and gold. Weight lifted, he made his way back to his players and told them that Gerard McMullan had sent his best wishes. He and Joyce stood in the corner and it was only then they fully understood what it felt like to be in the winning dressing room at Croke Park on All-Ireland final day. Sadly, Gerard McMullan died a year later aged just 40.
1 - Martin Shovlin
Described as one of the fittest players ever to play football, Martin Shovlin was still playing with his club Naomh Ultan last year. Shovlin will be best remembered for being the luckless man whose stiff neck injury failed to clear up the morning of the 1992 All-Ireland final. An employee of Eircom.
2 - Paul Callaghan
The reserve goalkeeper, who was Gary Walsh's understudy, hailed from Burt and took until 1997 to make his championship debut. He is now employed by the Ulster Council in a full-time coaching role.
3 - John Joe Doherty
Doherty was a reliable corner-back who stepped into the wing-back berth vacated by the luckless Martin Shovlin on final day, his first championship appearance of that year. Won an All-Star the following year, when Donegal's dreams died in a quagmire against Anthony Tohill's Derry. The Glencolumbkille man was captain in 1998, and successfully managed Naomh Mhuire before becoming the county senior team manager, replacing Brian McIver after a long-winded and controversial process, in November. He is a sales rep for Wurth Ireland.
4 - Matt Gallagher
Gallagher from Ballintra was the full-back in 1992, when he also won an All-Star. Ten years beforehand, he lifted the All-Ireland under-21 championship, when Donegal beat Roscommon, alongside his brother Pauric, who tragically died in a car crash in the United States in 1989. Gallagher played senior county football until 1997. After that, he spent two years alongside then manager Declan Bonner. A sales rep.
5 - Noel Hegarty
The left corner back from Glencolumbkille lost five county finals with Naomh Columba, but would not be denied in 1992 with Donegal. Having only made his championship debut a year earlier, Hegarty and Tony Boyle were the babies of that team. A builder and developer, he is currently player-manager of his hometown club.
6 - Gary Walsh
Goalkeeper Walsh from Ballyshannon kept goal for Donegal first in 1984 and remained between the sticks, consecutively in the championship, until 1996. On the way to the Sam Maguire, Walsh conceded only three goals in six matches. After winning county championships with Aodh Ruadh, he was also a multi-championship winner in Down with clubside Burren. Walsh has shown huge commitment to this home club and only recently he collected a Division 4 League medal with his home club Aodh Ruadh. He has also coached goalkeeping at underage level for various Donegal county sides. He now lives in Derry and is an accountant with the Derry City Council.
7 - Brian Murray
Centre-fielder Murray played for the Civil Service at the time of the All-Ireland in 1992. Another Ballyshannon man, he played soccer in the Sligo-Leitrim League with Cliffoney Celtic. Went on to win championships with Aodh Ruadh alongside his brother Val and still lives in Kilcock, Co Kildare, and is a garda detective working out of Kilmainham.
8 - Barry McGowan
One of the most talented footballers ever to represent the county, McGowan's 1992 altered from omission to substitute; wingback to corner-back. He was a member of the Donegal under-21s who won the 1987 All-Ireland, when they beat Kerry in a replay. He represented Donegal for the last time in the championship in their heartbreaking Ulster final loss at the hands of Derry in 1998. Along with Manus Boyle, McGowan co-managed Killybegs until last year. He is employed by the ESB.
9 - Declan Bonner
Na Rossa's Declan Bonner bagged the last score of the final when he cut inside his marker in the shadows of the Hogan Stand. The flame-haired forward would go onto manage to county, the closest he would come to an honour being the 1998 Ulster final when Joe Brolly's last minute goal stole the Anglo-Celt Cup from his grasp. A sales rep, who guided Gaoth Dobhair to the league and championship double in 2006, Bonner was recently embroiled with the Donegal county board after he and Charlie Mulgrew missed out on the post.
10 - Donal Reid
A starter at right-wing-back, Donal Reid enjoyed a diverse and fruitful career that culminated with the 1992 Croke Park win. Reid was a Bundoran player in 1982, when he played in the middle of the field when Donegal won the under-21s. Also had spells as a hurler with Setanta and football with Red Hugh's, who he went onto manage, as he did with Clan na Gael, Gortin, Aghyaran, Robert Emmet's and MacCumhaill's. Retired from football in 1993 after breaking a shoulder bone against Armagh. A physiotherapist by profession.
11 - Barry Cunningham
The Killybegs clubman came on for calf injury victim Brian Murray early in the second half and lined up impressively at centre field. Like Barry McGowan, he was another 1987 under-21 winner. Won five county championships with his hometown club, taking the Dr Maguire home in 1988, 1991, 1992, 1995 and 1996, as well as reaching the 1991 Ulster final. Cunningham is now employed as a quantity surveyor.
12 - Paul Carr
Full-forward Paul Carr remains the youngest player ever to represent Donegal when he made his bow for the senior panel in 1978, aged just 16. Full-back in the 1982 under-21 winning side in Carrick-on-Shannon, Carr managed Drumcliffe soccer team during his time in Sligo and has now returned to Letterkenny. An accountant, last year he was last year appointed treasurer of St Eunan's GAA club and is highly involved in the underage teams at O'Donnell Park, as part of the club's under-13s who won the county championship in November.
13 - Sylvester Maguire
Sylvester Maguire won five county championships in his time with Aodh Ruadh, the last of which came in 1998. Along with the late Pauric Gallagher, was a used substitute when Tom Conaghan's under-21s won the All-Ireland in 1982. Maguire recently took the managerial hotseat once again by the banks of the river Erne. A teacher in Colaiste Cholmcille, he was part of Anthony Molloy's backroom team with the Donegal minors in 1996.
14 - Martin McHugh
Perhaps the most decorated of all Donegal footballers, centre-forward Martin McHugh was voted an All-Star in 1983, when Donegal lost to Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final. In 1992, he repeated the feat and also won Texaco Footballer of the Year. McHugh, whose brother James also played against Dublin, managed Cavan to the 1997 Ulster championship. He currently broadcasts for Highland Radio, BBC Northern Ireland and is a newspaper columnist with The Star. Outside of the GAA, McHugh owns MCM Spirits and Liqueur Limited.
15 - Joyce McMullan
Four Masters wing-forward Joyce McMullan won county championships with the Donegal Town outfit in both 1982 and 1984. The left-half-forward, who was an All-Star in 1990, went on to win the 1992 All-Ireland championship and played his part in the Donegal Masters' wins of 2002 and 2003 alongside many of the 1982 team. Today, he works as an assurance broker, having previously been employed by New Ireland Limited.
16 - Manus Boyle
Crucially, scored nine points in the All-Ireland final on his recall to the team, mainly due to his free-taking abilities, although he hit four from play too. An All-Ireland Vocational Schools winner as a schoolboy, Boyle was a consistent forward for club and county. A stint as joint-manager of Killybegs followed a trophy-laden career at Fintra. Played for the club's seniors last season as they returned to Division 1A of the All-County League. Currently self-employed and is a columnist with this newspaper.
17 - Tony Boyle
A towering young full-forward in 1992, who only came into the team against Fermanagh in the Ulster semi-final, Tony Boyle would wear the Donegal jersey until 2001. A 1992 All-Star. With all the talk on the day of Dublin's number 14, Vinnie Murphy, it was Boyle's contribution that carried more substance. The Dungloe clubman, who played for their reserves last season and won a league title, is now part of John Joe Doherty's backroom team having managed Dungloe in his time. He's arep with Wurth.
18 - Anthony Molloy
The Ardara man would be the first Donegal man to lift Sam Maguire when he famously exclaimed "Sam's for the hills" as he stood on the Lower Hogan. He had his appetite whetted a decade earlier when Donegal beat Roscommon in the under-21s. In 1996, he managed the Donegal minor team to become Ulster champions and was in charge of his native club just two years ago. Molloy spent much of his time since 1992 in sales, property, the pub trade and insurance.
19 - Martin Gavigan
'Rambo' played at centre-back against Dublin and gave an inspirational performance, one that led him to an All-Star award in the position. Possessed a fearless style that supporters loved in his time in the green and gold. Now a teacher in Columba's in Stranorlar, and he still coaches underage with his local club, MacCumhaill's.
20 - James McHugh
The scorer of two points in the final, wing-forward McHugh worked tirelessly in the number 10 shirt. The Kilcar clubman made his championship bow in 1990 against Cavan and featured until 1996. An All-Star winner, he won county titles with his club in 1985, 1989 and 1993 and is now employed by ESB.
21 - John Cunningham
Sent off versus Derry in a claustrophobic Ulster final, 'Razda' Cunningham was not to regain his place on the starters. Won a bucketload of honours with Killybegs and also managed the team afterwards. He is a building contractor.
22 - Jim McGuinness
A native of Glenties, McGuinness would go on to play for the county team until 2003. Two years later, as player-coach, helped his hometown club Naomh Conaill to their first ever county title, when they defeated St Eunan's after a replay when his involvement on the field was that of substitute. He is now a lecturer in sports psychologist in the North West Regional College in Limavady and a much respected fitness coach.
23 - Charlie Mulgrew
A native of Maghery, in Co Armagh, Mulgrew was 12 when he moved with his family to Letterkenny. Unlucky to miss Donegal's senior Ulster title in 1983 when he sustained a broken jaw in the semi-final against Monaghan, he captained Donegal to McKenna Cup success in 1991 and was an unused substitute in the All-Ireland final against Dublin a year later. A successful manager who guided St Eunan's to a county championship and Fermanagh to the 2004 All-Ireland semi-final, Mulgrew works with Irish Distillers and was recently unsuccessful in his efforts to take over the Donegal job with Declan Bonner.
24 - Michael Gallagher
Regularly played in the middle of the field for his county, was just pipped by Barry Cunningham for selection when Brian Murray was replaced. A clubman of Naomh Conaill in Glenties and carpenter.
25 - Mark Crossan
Letterkenny native Crossan was a 1992 panel member but would not obtain a championship debut until the following year against Armagh and would remain part of the panel that reached the All-Ireland semi-final in 2003, also under Brian McEniff. He won two championships with St Eunan's, in 1999 and 2001. Now a coach of Gaelic games.
26 - Tommy Ryan
Ryan, from Termon, was man of the match in the titanic Ulster final win over Derry in Clones, but lost out on final day to Manus Boyle. A Kilmacrennan publican, he took Termon to only their second ever county final last season, when they upset the likes of Gaoth Dobhair and Dungloe along the way. Also part of Doherty's new set-up with the county.