DONEGAL GAA

SPECIAL DONEGAL DEMOCRAT FEATURE: Donegal's top 25 players of last six decades

NOS 11 TO 25 NAMED THIS THURSDAY

Peter Campbell

Reporter:

Peter Campbell

SPECIAL DONEGAL DEMOCRAT FEATURE: Donegal's top 25 players of last six decades

In tomorrow's (Thursday) Donegal Democrat, we carry the first of a two-part series naming the Top 25 Gaelic Footballers over the past 60 years.

Taking a look back at the last six decades of Donegal football and trying to narrow it down to 25 players was always going to be a mammoth task.
But doing so in the company of five experts/supporters made it an exciting affair. To pick just 25 was the problem, because the last six decades was the golden era for the county.
Prior to that a Donegal man (Columba McDyer) winning an All-Ireland with Cavan in 1947 in the Polo Grounds or Hudai Beag Gallagher, Gaoth Dobhair, winning Railway Cup medals were the highlights.
The first signs of a breakthrough came in 1956 when a Donegal minor team captained by Sean Ferriter won a first Ulster title. From that team, apart from Ferriter, emerged the likes of John Hannigan, Paul Kelly, John Campbell and Mick McGinley.
In the early 1960s a Donegal team made it to the first Ulster senior final with Seamus Hoare, Bernard Brady, Fionn Gallagher, P. J. Flood, the Breslins, Donal and Cormac, Mick Griffin, Des Houlihan, Harry Lafferty and the McFeelys, Frankie and Brendan.
On the same day in 1963 in Breffni Park, while the seniors were heavily defeated, a Donegal minor team lost out narrowly to Down.
Donegal would win three of the first four Ulster U-21 championships in 1963, ‘64 and ‘66 from which the likes of Mickey McLoone, Frankie Campbell, Anton Carroll, Declan O’Carroll, Anthony Gallagher, Pauric McShea, Brendan Dowling were added to the mix.
Suddenly Donegal had a panel of players which were capable of mixing it with Cavan and Down. But despite reaching four National League semi-finals and another Ulster final in 1966, there was no breakthrough.
It eventually arrived in 1972. And it came after the return from Canada of one Brian McEniff, who would go on to mastermind five Ulster winning titles for the county, two of them as player manager, before he led Donegal to the ultimate, a senior All-Ireland in 1992.
There were a number of stepping stones along the way, not least two All-Ireland wins at U-21 level in 1982 (under Tom Conaghan) and 1987 (under P. J. McGowan).
There was also a third Ulster senior title in 1983, while Donegal hit a purple patch from 1989 to 1993 reaching five Ulster finals, winning two.
The underage revolution was also to the fore with All-Ireland schools’ titles for St. Eunan’s, Letterkenny in 1979 and De La Salle, Ballyshannon in 1980; Vocational School All-Irelands in 1984 and 1985; an Ulster minor championship in 1985.
There were great players who never won anything in different eras. Apart from the minor success in 1956 and the U-21 titles in the 1960s, most of that era had retired when Donegal won Ulster in 1972
After the All-Ireland win of 1992, there was a barren patch of 19 years to the next Ulster success, which came under the guidance of the new Messiah, Jim McGuinness. The Glenties native would lead Donegal to their second All-Ireland in 2012 and lost out narrowly in the final two years later.
Now, on Sunday next, Donegal will appear in their seventh Ulster final in eight years - breaking new ground for the county.
Any graph of Donegal football will show that it has an upward trend in the period under review - the last six decades.
There have been other attempts at selecting teams over the period. The Donegal Democrat picked a Team of the Millennium while for the 125th anniversary of the Association, we selected the top 125 players in 2009.
What we tasked the selection panel with this time around is much more difficult, because of the smaller number involved.
The decision of our selectors in putting together the top 25 players from that period will hardly be met with universal approval. But then picking any team is one of personal choice. Everybody has their favourite players from the period.
But the final selection, in my opinion, is a very good reflection of the good and not-so-good times.
Hopefully, Donegal can add to their honours list when they play Fermanagh in the Ulster final on Sunday next. With a good number of players appearing in their first Ulster final, there could be new heroes born who will feature in future selections.
This Thursday we publish the selection from No. 11 to No. 25, while next week we will publish the Top 10. We will then invite views, whether in agreement or if anyone wants to put forward an alternate selection.