Glenswilly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in years in Donegal football with their county final win over a highly fancied Kilcar.
There may have only been a point in it at the end but Glenswilly, twice winners of the championship before in 2011 and 2013, were worthy winners.
They out-fought and out-thought the men from the south-west, who strode into Sunday’s showdown in Ballybofey as the form team and raging hot favourites.
Glenswilly, on the other hand, struggled in the league, lost their first championship game and only showed any kind of form in the latter stages of the championship.
Speaking exclusively to the Donegal Democrat, veteran Glenswilly forward, turned sub goalkeeper, Gerard McGrenra, says their path to a third senior championship crown was not paved in gold.
The veteran of 25 years revealed poor levels of fitness early; poor numbers at training and a team struggling to win a game in the league in the first half of the season.
The 42-year-old, who won his third Donegal Senior Championship medal on Sunday, also explained the raw emotion and tears that were witnessed following the final whistle on Sunday evening.
“It was more emotional than in 2013 because we were hot favourites in 2013 and we had good form going into the final in 2013,” said Gerard.
“We had, on paper, what people thought were better players. This year we had five fellas started their first final.
“James Gallagher, the goalkeeper, started his first final. Paddy McFadden started his first final at 34 years of age as did the younger lads Ryan Diver, Cormac Callaghan and Ciaran Gibbons.
“Four of them were in defence and we had struggled in the league all year.”
A spate of injuries to key personnel, the absence of Michael Murphy and Neil Gallagher and a late start to training meant that Glenswilly were well behind others when the league season began.
“The team was not fit early on and we were well beaten in most games. We weren’t close in any of those early games in the league.
“Last year we put all our eggs into the first game in the championship against Gaoth Dobhair and we went down to Gaoth Dobhair and beat them.
“This year they went at it a totally different way altogether and they did absolutely no training at all in the early part of the year.
“We met for the first time the week before the league started and then went at it. I was involved with the reserves at that stage.
“We played Bundoran in a league game at home early on and they were that stuck that they put me on in the end up; we just couldn’t get scores.
“Things were bad early on and we were in a bad place.
“We had fellas carrying injuries and of course Michael and Neil were away with the county.
“Things got so bad and attendances at training were so poor they asked me and Charlie Bonner, and my brother Charlie and Paddy McConnell to make up numbers at training.
“One night we were training and ‘Copper’ (Gary McFadden) was on about it yesterday, we only had enough players for a four-a-side game.
“And four of the eight were myself, Charlie Bonner, my brother Charlie and Paddy McConnell and three of us were over the age of 40.
“It went on like that for a while and we got a few fellas back from injury and then we had the famous game in the league against St. Eunan’s, that we won 0-3 to 0-2.
“We got a lot of stick for it at the time which did not help things either.
“Surprisingly the mood wasn’t bad because we always felt if we could get boys back from injury and get Michael and Neil back that we would be alright.
“The positive thing was that we were blooding young players and they were getting a chance and some of them were taking the chance and others weren’t.
“Caoimhin Marley and Ethan Sweeney had started in our first championship game over in Ardara or had at least come on.”
The turnaround came in the league against old adversaries and neighbours St Eunan’s.
“We beat St Eunan’s twice in the league, even though one of them was the famous 0-3 to 0-2 game and they helped to steady us in the league.
“The focus was always on the championship and we weren’t looking past Dungloe in the second round at home.
“We knew we had to beat Dungloe or we were out. We had played them a few weeks earlier in the league, on a Friday evening at home and they beat us well.
“We had planned on winning that game. It was one we had earmarked to win. But we were well beaten. They were just the better side on the day.
“Then when the championship game came around everything seemed to go right for us.
“We still had no Michael, but we had Neil back and he was a big help and other players stepped up that day too.
“Cathal Gallagher played well and the young boys played well and we won the game by three points and we knew after that we were on the turn.
“We played Bundoran next in Bundoran, and we were expecting a really tough game against Bundoran.
“We had to win that game which was good because it meant we were more focussed and it panned out a lot easier than we expected because Bundoran had beaten Ardara the week before.
“Things took off from there. The draw worked out for us too and while it was not a handy draw we were happy enough we got MacCumhaill’s in the quarter-final.
“MacCumhaill’s went out to play open football against us and the game went well for us. We scored 2-20, more than we had scored in a good few years in the championship.
“Before we played the semi-final we had a must win game against Ardara in the league, which we won.
“We did not look to the semi-final against Malin until we had the Ardara game out of the way.
“I don’t know what it was and whether it was the fact that we were favourites going into the Malin game. But things did not go that well for us in that game and we struggled against Malin.
“Malin were well set up but once we got in front we knew they needed a goal to beat us and we did what we usually do and we ground out the result and were through to the final.l
The fact that Kilcar had swept before them and had chalked up big scores on the way to the final did not faze Glenswilly.
“It was our fourth final in six years and we are used to the build up to the final by this stage.
“We don’t look at the papers; everyone says the Monday morning paper after the final is the most important paper.”
The fact that they were being written off beforehand and given no chance against a Kilcar side that were among the favourites for the Ulster championship was a motivating factor. But so too was the hurt of losing the 2014 final to St Eunan’s and the manner in which they lost it.
“Two years ago we felt we did not do ourselves justice in the final against St Eunan’s. St Eunan’s were better than us on the day.
“We felt we left a lot of things behind us in that final. We felt we did not do ourselves justice and we did not do the club justice.
“We felt we owed it to a lot of good people in the club and we owed it to ourselves.
“We were being written off but being honest we did not read too much into Kilcar. They had beaten Glenties and they had come through a tougher side of the draw.
Glenties had knocked St Eunan’s out and then Kilcar blew Glenties away.
“We were all up that day at the Kilcar versus Glenties game and I’m sure we were all thinking coming down the road if we play like Glenties did we are going to be in bother.
“The feeling was that we are going to have to play better than Glenties had done and hope that they do not perform as well as they had done against Glenties.
But the feeling was that we had a chance and we also had a good record against Kilcar in the championship when it came to knock-out.”
Glenswilly had beaten Kilcar in the years they had won their previous championships, 2011 and 2013, at the quarter-final and semi-final stages.
“At the back of our minds we felt we could beat them. We felt as a group we had the players and we Michael and we had Neil.
“We also felt for the first time in a long time we had good subs. We had Ciaran Bonner, Darren McGinley, Savvy (Kealan) McFadden, Leon Kelly, Christopher McMonagle all on the bench.
“When we looked around us the feeling the squad was better than it had been for a long time and that we were good enough to beat Kilcar. And thankfully it worked out that way.”