Clones has been a happy hunting grounds over the last two years for Jim McGuinness and his Donegal team. Now the dream of a mouth-watering prospect of back-to-back Ulster senior title awaits. But mention that and 2012 finalists Down in the same breath at your peril.
17,330 fans were there to cheer on their teams last Saturday. A good sprinkling from Donegal but there have been bigger turnouts for the green and gold. Many loyal warriors in the bad times as well as the good, continue to follow. They’ve attended hundreds of Donegal games down the years. They have long memories, experienced pain and esctasy.
In 1991, we were at the same stage. 1990 had been good to us. We defeated Armagh and the Grimley brothers in the 1990 Ulster Final. It was cat and mouse right up to the very end against Meath in the All Ireland semi final. The following year we pitted ourselves for the back-to-back against Down. A tough game was expected, but it was a poor Donegal that turned up and we got a good roasting. So ‘be warned’ as Tom Conaghan would say, if he were talking about the kindness of strangers or the Greeks.
His old buddy Pat Spillane before the game, was talking about a Donegal team on the ascendancy and Tyrone on the decline. Pat gets well paid to stir the hornet’s nest. He is there to provoke and get reaction. He does that job well.
When analysing the game at half time, a cameo roll saw Donie Carr from Bundoran pass by the camera. Donie was in St. Tiernach’s Park representing Donegal at the half time football exhibition. I would put a house on Donie’s GAA memory giving Spillane or Kevin McStay a run for their money anytime. Donie has never played in an All Ireland final, but his GAA pedigree is just as good.
His parents Jim and Madeline are fervent GAA fans. A proud Four Masters couple, they later adopted well to their new home in Bundoran. Madeline recalled a time when she and friend Mairead McCollion from Waterloo Place got stuck overnight at the Customs Hut in Belleek, because of the lateness of the hour coming back from Clones. They stayed in the bus until the hut opened the next morning. Later it was off the bus and straight to work. Meanwhile Jim was attending Donegal games when getting to the match was an adventure in itself. Jim saw his first Ulster final when Antrim were brokering with Cavan for the Anglo Celt Cup. It was the year before Kerry and Cavan met in the Polo Grounds in New York in 1947. The Saffrons of Antrim broke the stranglehold of Cavan 2-8 to 1-7. He saw the Donegal minors win in ‘56 but it was 1963 against Down before he saw Donegal in an Ulster senior Clones final. So each time a Donegal team dons the county jersey, they carry the hearts of thousands on their sleeves. There to support in good times and bad. Thanks to last weekend, those same diehards and new recruits will be full of pounding hearts and anticipation on July 22nd.