Tom Comack email@example.com @dgldemocrat
Last Sunday, apart from the defeat, was a good day for St. Eunan’s Caolan Ward, making his first league start on his home pitch.
Donegal went down to Kerry, but Caolan’s patience and perseverance paid off after all the disappointments of last year.
Apart for a few minutes against Mayo (off the bench) in last years league, Caolan - recognised as one of the best emerging young defenders in the county - had seen only limited time, confined to challenge games and the Dr McKenna Cup.
He was by far and away Donegal’s best newcomer in the 2016 Dr McKenna Cup, and on the back of that was expected by many to be in the running for a starting berth in the back six for the league.
But those few minutes against the Connacht champions was his lot in the 2016 league.
“When you are a footballer all you want to do is play every day. But when you look at the lads that were there, you just have to bide your time,” said Caolan, when asked about how difficult it was to sit on the bench last season.
A final year Sports Science student at Carlow, it is not about looking back for the 25-year-old; it is about the future and grabbing the opportunity with both hands.
“The opportunity has come now for us when those lads stepped aside so it was a matter of biding your time and taking the opportunity,” he insisted.
“It could have come last year but it was a matter of putting the head down and working away on the training field and in the gym
“We met up around November and it was all building towards the Kerry game and pushing on for the Roscommon game and the rest of the league.
“Obviously it is disappointing that the result did not go our way against Kerry.
“But I think there are a few positives to be taken from the game performance wise and when the chips were down we stood up and we went for the jugular at the end.”
Caolan was originally named to start at wing-back against Kerry last Sunday, but found himself starting at full-back against All-Star Paul Geaney.
A daunting challenge for any full-back but even a bigger one for a young man making his first start on his home patch and in front of his home supporters.
“I was originally lined out in the half-back line and I only found on the morning of the game that Neil McGee was out sick and Rory came to me and said that I was playing in the full-back line.
“I didn’t know much about Geaney to be honest but when I was told that he was an All-Star and had been nominated for player of the year, I soon got my focus.”
The Kerry number 14 may have bagged 2-4 and was named man of the match, but the general consensus afterward that was down to David Moran’s dominance in midfield. And given the quality of the ball that was being delivered to the Kerry full-forward line, most observers felt that Caolan Ward had done well.
And he thought as much himself.
“I feel I handled him well enough. There were times he may have caught me on the slip but it was a 50/50 battle.
“I’m comfortable anywhere in the defence, full-back, corner-back, wing-back, centre-back, it would not faze me too much where I play in the defence.
“I play there in training, challenge matches or whatever and when you are marking Paddy (McBrearty) or Murphy at training, you are marking the best night after night; it prepares you for anyone you might come up against.”
Donegal face Roscommon on Sunday and the enormity of the game for Donegal after losing Sunday’s opener to Kerry, is not lost on the rookie defender.
“It is a big game, you are looking up the table already and two points are critical next week.
“Hopefully we get them. It is important this Sunday that we pick it up where we left off against Kerry and play like we did in the last ten minutes and take the chances that unfortunately that did not go our way against Kerry.
“If we get those next Sunday, it could make all the difference between winning and losing and between two points on Sunday evening and no points.
“We will put the head down now on Tuesday and Thursday night and go for it again on Sunday.
“There are no easy games in the division; we had Kerry last Sunday, we have Roscommon this weekend and we have Dublin after that in two weeks at home, all big games.
“You want to play against the best week after week. The games are going to get tougher and I’m loving the opportunity to pull on the jersey and play in front of your home crowd
“The Kerry game was a good day for mum and dad and St Eunan’s, my home club, and that is what drives me.
“Every day you play you are representing your family your club and your county.”