RRed Hugh's celebrate an historic first Ulster Junior Football Championship in Celtic Park
Red Hughs, the Donegal and Ulster Junior champions, face Easkey from Sligo on Sunday next in the All-Ireland Club championship semi-final.
An All-Ireland final place and a big day out on the hallowed sod of the GAA’s holy shrine Croke Park beckons for the winners.
2018 was a great year for Red Hughs.
They won only the club’s second Donegal Junior Championship and a first ever Ulster crown.
And the dream continues next Sunday on what promises to another big occasion in the club’s short history.
But is it the biggest day in that 39 year history? Former Donegal player and a club playing legend Marty Carlin is not quite sure if it is.
Red Hughs came into existence in 1980. And Marty Carlin insists the club's two county senior championship final appearances were massive occasions for Red Hughs.
“It’s a huge day and a huge game for the club and 2018 was a brilliant year for all the boys and the club,” said Marty, one of the finest club midfielders in Donegal during a golden ten years or so for the club in the 1980s and early 1990s.
“But how do you compare it with two county senior final appearances, albeit we lost on both occasions?
“I’m not sure you can, but that does not take away from what the boys have achieved so far and from a national point of view and the profile of the club outside the county, it is by far the biggest day.
“But playing in those senior championship finals were huge days and huge achievements too, so soon after the club was formed.
“The club was founded in 1980 and we won the junior championship the following year, in ‘81. We beat Kilcar in the final.”
The following year Red Hugh's, powered by Marty Carlin in the engine room, reached the Intermediate final, but lost to Urris by a point on a very wet and windy day.
Five years after their junior final win and six years on from the club’s formation, Carlin was looking forward to the first of the club’s real big days.
In 1986 the new kids on the block faced their namesakes from the south of the county, Aodh Ruadh, Ballyshannon, in the Donegal senior final.
“It was a massive achievement so soon after being formed and from such a small area to reach the final. It was unbelievable at the time, and it is in a way still hard to believe.
“I know we lost the final. But Aodh Ruadh were a quality team with the likes of Tommy McDermott, Brian Tuohy, Sylvester Maguire and Gerry Curran to name but a few; all county footballers.
“They won by five or six points but they did not run away with it. We acquitted ourselves well enough, though we struggled to make any inroads up front against what was a very good defense.
“But for a club that had only been formed six years earlier and had only won a junior championship, it was a massive achievement and laid the foundation for a good seven or eight years for the club.
“I was only 16 when the club was formed and I was playing with Robert Emmett’s as were most of that first team, when we broke away to form the club.
“Donal and Bosco Reid, Hughie Gillespie, Brendan, Eamon and Tommy Kelly, Stanley Ewing, Brendan Brady, Liam and Gerard McColgan and the Gallens, Gerard, Liam and Josie were all playing with Robert Emmett’s too at the time.
“They were all good footballers so we had a ready made team from day one.”
After the ‘86 final defeat to Aodh Ruadh, Red Hugh's remained at the top table of Donegal football for the next eight or nine years culminating in another big county senior final day out, in 1991 and a Donegal League Division One title in 1994.
“We were right up there for the next few years and there were a few hard luck stories on the way, losing a couple of semi-finals before making it back to the final again in 1991.
“We played Killybegs in the final and that is definitely one that got away. They won by two points with John Bán Gallagher scoring late to clinch it.
“That was that great Killybegs team of Barry McGowan, John Cunningham, John Bán Gallagher, Barry Cunningham, Manus Boyle, Mark and Declan Boyle, the Carberys, Denis and Paul, Peter McGinley and David Meehan in goals. They were a quality side. But we should have beaten them.
“We had a very good team too. There were still a good few of the 1986 team playing but we also had a number of good young players come into the squad.
“Players like Gerard Kelly, Lyndon and Chris Gillespie, Ollie Reid, Mark and Paul Campbell and Brendan O’Meara .John Lynch had also joined us from Castlederg.
“It was a heartbreaking defeat and hard to take.”
There was a measure of compensation three years later for Marty and Reid when they won their one and only Donegal Division One league crown.
“We beat Killybegs 0-12 to 0-8 in the final game to win the league. It was a sweet win given our history and our biggest achievement.”
That team broke up after that and Red Hugh's fell off the pace and by the start of the millennium they were on the bottom rung once again.
There were green shoots in 2003 when they reached the Donegal junior final.
But alas with Marty Carlin now in his 40s, it was now no more than a dying kick as they lost to Naomh Brid, by two points in the final.
The famine continued until they rose Phoenix-like from the ashes in 2018. After two junior final defeats they finally claimed a second Donegal junior championship last Autumn and then went to capture a first Ulster a few weeks later.
“When we were formed we had a ready-made team, but underage was neglected until the late ‘90s and early ‘00s when men like Hughie Gillespie and Tommy Kelly got underage up and running.
“That has resulted in the current squad which is drawn from a number of age groups and is a real good side. And hopefully now they go on and reach the final.
“It is a great opportunity and one that may never come around again.”