Democrat Editor Michael Daly took time out last weekend to attend the All Ireland Feile gaelic football boys finals where Aodh Ruadh, Ballyshannon, were among the teams to compete. He wrote from a personal perspective on what turned out to be a memorable weekend where friendships were made and where the great hospitality of people and the GAA community shone brightly against the backdrop of fantastic weather and fabulous football. The photos with this piece were taken by Brian Drummond at the homecoming, the team image at the start of the slideshow was talken by Chris Kelly.
I have a confession to make. As I left on Friday evening last to go to the All Ireland Feile boys finals in County Louth, I did something I thought I would never do.
I went into a shop in Belleek and asked them for a Fermanagh flag - without the word Fermanagh on it.
The woman gave me a right look, laughed and sold me the flag.
There was method to my madness, my home club Aodh Ruadh, share the Fermanagh colours, green and white, and I wanted to have the flag to wave during the games. Well to be more precise, my young lads Joey and Ben wanted the flag.
As it turned out we had lots of luck with that flag and the weekend was one of the best ever for so many and in particular for the young lads from the town of Ballyshannon and its environs who will remember those three days in the sweltering heat long after I am done arguing football and more with St Peter at the pearly gates. (I will be arguing because I may not get in, but that's another story).
The team, on a bus driven by Kevin Byrne, left earlier on Friday and their cute manager Alan Sweeny had organised a swim in Carlingford Lough for them two hours before they kicked a ball in Lordship.
It was a master stroke - no pun intended.
Their first game was a contrary affair; they got off to a bad start, and so did I. I fell out with a linesman who gave out to me for giving out about the referee. He was right, and he was wrong and so was I. Nothing new there.
But, bit by bit Aodh Ruadh pulled back a 0-4 0-1 deficit and began to move slickly in the second half. They won handily in the end.
As we were to see time and again, Aaron Neilan, an athletic centre half back, drove Aodh Ruadh on. Many impressed most of the time during the six games, Aaron impressed all the time.
It's not recommended to name names with young players, but I feel I should mention some stellar performances.
Danny Breen Brosnan proved a goal machine, Damian Webber a knife in so many defences. Ryan Keenaghan, tall and slender, ran a marathon or two.
For me it was a player less noticed, Shane Delahunty, who was my man of the weekend. You wouldn't know he was there until ther was a problem. Time and time again he solved the problem. He is an exceptional player.
They all deserve favourable mention but space works against me.
What struck me most, watching on, was how they improved, game by game, how they became a team.
As for the ethos that is Feile, it too must be mentioned. It is truly one of the better ideas the GAA has come up with.
In Aodh Ruadh's case they were given the St Joseph's GAA club as their hosts.
This club is based around the village of Dromiskin. They have lots of Donegal people helping out and the mix is countrywide, many of them guards, teachers, in the financial service and more.
Among the many I met was local resident Gerry 'Scoop' McDermott formerly of this ‘parish’ who sends his best regards to all in Donegal. He hasn't changed a bit, not a grey hair in sight, feck him!
The kindness of the host families was what made the weekend. They took the Ballyshannon lads in to their homes and their hearts.
My son, Ryan and his buddy Aaron Cullen, stayed with Diane and Mick. Mick is originally from Buncrana, a garda based in Dundalk. Great people. For three days and nights they spoiled them rotten and the other lads told the same sceal.
I ended up in a house with a family who put the H in the word hospitality. I met a magnificent lady called Madge Reilly. A dote of a woman, she has had to battle back from two serious car accidents and more recently is recovering from eye surgery. At 73, a real trooper.
No matter when we came in or out, she was there with a cup of tea and something sweet. When we said our goodbyes on Sunday morning she handed me a home-made tea brack. Michael Ayres, also in the same house with his kids, was gifted a banna cake and there was a half stone bag of sweets for the young ones.
Ours was an interesting house, Madge's son Liam recently elected chairman of Louth County Council. I met a class guy called Ross Hendrick there too - a brother of Ireland star Jeff. Small world.
Back to the football
After two group games, on Friday evening in Lordship, the second against a northern side with an edge to some of them I didn't like, Aodh Ruadh won easily. No one will be exchanging Christmas cards here.
On Saturday a win over host side St Joseph's led to a quarter final against a Drogheda team who struggled to contain Aodh Ruadh. Match 5 saw Aodh Ruadh get the better of a game O'Briens Foreglen side from Derry.
By Sunday more parents and families had arrived to support Aodh Ruadh, among them Breege Campbell who flew from the Josh Lacey/Karla Gallagher wedding on Saturday to ensure she would see her son Séimí play.
And there too were the Aodh Ruadh girls feile team and their mentors who had been competing in Meath. I often saw less support in the Fr Tierney for a 'big game'.
In the final Danny Breen, took out and scored goals like they were going out of fashion.
But it was a team win, they all played brilliantly and captain Aaron Cullen showed just how good a keeper he is, with one outrageous save to thwart the plucky Offaly lads from St Manchan's.
After that it was party time. At Tommy Daly's Celtic Weave the team bus was met by Kenny Neilan in the fire jeep and with lights blazing and sirens howling, the town was beeped from top to bottom.
In Aras Aodh Ruadh manager Alan Sweeny and mentors Kerry Ryan and Barry Sweeny spoke eloquently. For those young lads last weekend will live forever in the memory.
Aodh Ruadh Abu.
The panel was: Aaron Cullen, Danny Breen Brosnan, Eoghan Kelly, Damian Weber, Aaron Neilan, Shane Delahunty, James Gallagher, Aonghus Sweeny, Ryan Daly, Jack Gallagher, Fionn Gallagher, Darragh Flood Dolan, Pauric Daly, Ryan Keenaghan, Cian McKenna, Drew Ryan, Séimí Campbell, Robbie Murphy, Oisin Daly, Oisin McGlinchey, Kenzie Lee Ayres, Troy Killalea, Shane McGloin, Tommy Winters, Aidan Sweeny and David Roper.