Naul McCole - a man for all seasons

Naul McCole - a man for all seasons
Tom Comack @dgldemocrat

The inscription on the award said it all about the man - “for services to club, county and province”.

Naul McCole, former Donegal GAA chairman, team mentor, footballer, coach and long serving member of the Ulster Council was the man.

The award was the Ulster GAA President’s award which was presented to Naul McCole at last month’s Ulster GAA Annual awards night in the Armagh City Hotel.

The Dungloe clubman and Burtonport native is your quintessential veteran GAA official, who has been there, done and wore the t-shirt.

“It is great to get an award and it is all the more satisfying when you are getting it from the Ulster Council and the inscriptIon on it says for your services to club, county and province,” says Naul of the award.

Like all GAA men, it all began with his local club, Dungloe.

“I won my first medal with Dungloe, a minor medal, way back in 1956,” said Naul.

“That was the start of it and the following year, 1957 we won the senior championship and won another in ‘58.

Back in those days there was no underage football, minor was the only one.”

Naul was on a Donegal county minor team a team that was dominated by St Eunan’s College Mac Rory Cup players.

“The unusual thing about that team was that the late Johnny Wilson, former Cavan All-Ireland winner and later Government Minister, was in St Eunan’s College, in Letterkenny.

Colm, my brother, who is a year younger than me, had made the minor team before I had done.

“He went to school in St Eunan’s while I went to school in Colaiste Eanna in Galway.

“The team in ‘57 was dominated by the boys from St Eunan’s that had played in the MacRory Cup, but I ended up full-back.”

Dungloe had a great crop of young players at the time. Seven of them were in the ‘57 minor squad and six of them made the starting team.

Naul and his brother Colm, Manus Ward, the late John Campbell, the late Joe O’Donnell, all from Burtonport and Donal Boyle from Dungloe were on the team. And Dermot Logue from Kincasslagh was on the panel.

Naul tells an interesting story about 1957 and the selection of the team.

Owenie McBride from Gaoth Dobhair was one of the top young footballers in the county at the time.

But somehow despite this he did not make the team for the championship.

“The Lagan Cup started in September of that year and Owenie was selected at right half-forward on the Donegal senior team.

“It was a huge injustice at the time. The late Charlie Campbell from Dungloe was driving us and he certainly made a case for Owenie but to no avail.

“He gave great service at senior level for years after and if we had him we would have probably won the Ulster Championship.”

In college in St Enda’s, he played Connacht Colleges football and then when he moved to St Patrick’s Teacher Training College in Dublin, he played in the Dublin Senior Championship.

He was in St Enda’s for four years from 1953 to 1957 and attended St Pat’s from ‘57 to ‘59.

Part of his earlier primary school education, though born and reared in Burtonport, was in Gaoth Dobhair, at Knockastolar National School.

His teacher in Knockastolar was Johnny McGinley, a big GAA man of the time and a county chairman for one year, in 1956.

“I went to Knockastolar to improve my Irish and we also played a lot of football at Knockastolar too.

“Johnny was highly involved in the GAA at the time and he had also set up leagues between the different schools in Gaoth Dobhair.”

St Pat’s played under the name of Erin’s Hope. They had won the Dublin championship the year before Naul went to the college in 1957.

“We played in the Dublin league and championship and it was playing a game in Dublin that I got knocked out for the first time on a football field.

“It was in a league game out in St Mary’s in Saggart and we had been invited out to play the game because it was the close of a Mission and we were seen as good college boys.

“We were a light, young and fast team and unfortunately a little too light and when we started to pull away from them they got physical and unfortunately and I was one that was singled out for special attention.”

Following his graduation, Naul’s first job was in Meenban, outside Ballybofey, and he taught there for nine years.

During these years he continued to play for Dungloe despite numerous overtures from the local club in Ballybofey, Sean MacCumhaill’s.

But all those overtures he remained loyal to his home club.

“At that time Sean and the late Ben O’Donnell and Manus Ward were working and living in Lifford.

“Sean turned down several approaches from Tyrone clubs to join them and he set the example for us all, you stay with your home club.”

Naul returned home and took up a teaching job in Keadue NS.

Within a year he had the sleeves rolled up and had become highly involved with Dungloe, both on the administration and coaching.

“I became the club secretary and I was training teams.

“We enjoyed great success in the ‘60s. We won a county U-16 championship and we won three minor championships on the trot, ‘66, ‘67 and ‘68 and won an U-14 championship in ‘66 as well.

“They were tremendous teams and great footballers but unfortunately emigration was the curse of the area.

“The only two players from the three in-a-row minor team that gave a lifetime service to the club were Enda Bonner and Gerard McElwee.

“All the rest, boys like Jim McElwee, qualified as a pharmacist and went to live and work in Mountmellick. Danny Boyle emigrated to Australia, James O’Hagan, who is back now with the club, was over in London working as a miner. James McCready also emigrated for a while and then gave up football very young.

“That was the curse, you were losing players all the time and transport was another issue, trying to get players from Dublin or Galway was a hell of a lot more difficult than it is nowadays.”

Naul also served as Donegal minor board chairman for three years in the late 1970s.

And he then served as Donegal senior chairman in the early 1990s and had the honour of being chairman when Donegal won that historic first senior All-Ireland in 1992.

“It was a great honour to be chairman when the county won its first senior All-Ireland. Not many people have that honour.

“I was also a member of the 1992 management team which made it doubly special.”

After completing three years in the top job in Donegal. Naul joined the Ulster Council in 1995 as one of Donegal’s two representatives on the provincial body.

And he has been a member of the Ulster Council in one guise or another for the last 21 years and remains on the provincial body to the present day.

Among the positions he has held at Ulster include eight years as chairman of the highly influential Ulster Coaching Committee.

And among the highlights of his eight years on the coaching committee was a coaching initiative involving inmates at the H-Block prison.

Naul McCole was also honoured with a special services award by the Donegal GAA at their recent awards banquet. And in 2007 he was honoured by the then GAA President Nicky Brennan with a National President’s award for his lifetime contribution to the association.

He is still a member of Dungloe GAA and at provincial level he is the treasurer of Seamus De Faoite Irish Language Course and a member of special trophies and cups committee.