Glenswilly and their winter ways

Alan Foley


Alan Foley

Glenswilly and their winter ways
For whatever reason, it seems Glenswilly are the only club in Donegal to be perpetually involved in pivotal matches in the depths of winter.

For whatever reason, it seems Glenswilly are the only club in Donegal to be perpetually involved in pivotal matches in the depths of winter.

Since their heartbreaking loss in the AIB Ulster Intermediate Club Championship eight years ago, the Foxhall club have been training into November or December.

But with the biggest prize on offer - the AIB Ulster Club Championship - against Ballinderry Shamrocks at Healy Park on December’s first Sunday, Glenswilly will aim to warm the cockles of their supporters’ hearts.

More often than not, their endeavours as the evenings darkened earlier have proved enough to dispel a winter of discontent - but not always.

In the 2005 Ulster Intermediate final, Glenswilly were in touching distance of a famous win against Inniskeen in Enniskillen.

Glenswilly led 0-10 to 1-5 but Inniskeen pounced to snatch the provincial title by a point with the sloppiest of injury time goals.

Inniskeen went on to capture the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship while Glenswilly wondered what might have been.

“We were cruising in that game on a bad, wet and slippery day,” Ciaran Bonner says. “We got caught with a high ball at the very end of the game. It went into the net and we were beaten.”

On St Stephen’s Day 2006, Glenswilly won the All-County Football League Division 1B final against Four Masters at a chilly O’Donnell Park.

Twelve months later, a minor sense of disappointment filled the air following the 0-12 to 1-3 loss in the RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta SFC final against a more streetwise St Eunan’s.

However, Glenswilly realised, if anything, the occasion might’ve come a little to early and were content to stablise.

By 2010, there were no worries about the drop but a galling semi-final loss in the championship against Naomh Conaill in August, when Anthony and Leon Thompson scored goals in the last two minutes to seal a 2-13 to 2-8 win, meant for an early start ahead of 2011.

In 2008, 2009 and 2011 - the year Glenswilly lifted their first title - they pulled enough together to keep their heads above the relegation line by coming through relegation play-offs against Gaoth Dobhair, Kilcar and Malin respectively on frosting pitches. Last day survival, it seemed, was off to a tee.

That 2011 season also saw the appetite whetted in Ulster with a win at Cavan Gaels.

But Glenswilly put on what they freely admit to being their worst showing of the season to lose an Ulster quarter-final, 0-10 to 0-9, to Latton from Monaghan with Michael Murphy only off the plane from Australia after the International Rules.

“We just didn’t perform at all on the day,” says Eamon Ward.

Last year, Glenswilly were missing Murphy and Neil Gallagher for large chunks of the campaign due to county commitments, as Donegal won a second All-Ireland.

Gaoth Dobhair stood in wait but for once, Glenswilly went to the well and came back with an empty bucket. They were hammered 4-9 to 1-8 and went down.

“It was a huge disappointment and we had to pick it up from there,” Gary McDaid, the Glenswilly manager, says.

That 10-point reversal was one year ago this weekend. Who, in their right mind, would’ve thought Glenswilly would turn it around so spectacularly they would be facing into an Ulster final.

“The Ulster club championship is a big step-up and you’re probably playing against a better calibre of players,” says Gary McFadden, with one eye on Healy Park. “You’ve less time on the ball, it’s hard hitting and the fields are heavier. It’s a different sort of game.”

A different sort of game it is but it’s a time of the year that Glenswilly have inevitably been movers or shakers in.

In 12 months, they have turned their fortunes around so quickly. And a win over Ballinderry would have them in a winter wonderland.