Former Roscommon star feels Donegal hold all the aces for Hyde Park clash

Damien Donlon on Sunday's Allianz League encounter

Former Roscommon star feels Donegal hold all the aces for Hyde Park clash

Tom Comack @dgldemocrat

As rivalries go Donegal and Roscommon would not rank up there anyway near the great rivals in the game of Gaelic football.

The counties have met 12 times in the National League and once in the senior championship.

The record stands 6-5 in favour of Roscommon, with one game ending in a draw.

There have been a couple of meetings at under age , the All-Ireland U-21 All-Ireland final clash of 1982, the most high profile of those.

Donegal won that final 0-8 to 0-5 on a wet and murky day in Pairc Sean MacDiarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon, to capture an historic first All-Ireland crown.

Damien Donlon played for Roscommon for a decade, 1990 to 2000, but he only played against Donegal twice in all that time.

His first was a charity game in 1990 and his second a National League encounter in Ballybofey, was two years later.

For the rest of his playing days, lean years, for the Saffron and Blues, the county’s paths never crossed.

“I only played twice and strangely enough the first time was my first time to put on a Roscommon senior jersey,” said Damien, who now lives and works in Donegal.

He is a physiotherapist with the HSE and is married to a Donegal woman, Cecelia Tinney, a sister of Glenswilly clubman and assistant county treasurer, Paddy Tinney.

Damien and Cecelia live in Tullygay, Newmills, on the outskirts of Letterkenny.

“It was a strange debut too. It was a Goal Charity match played the morning of the 1990 All-Ireland final; I think it was at the St Vincent’s Club Grounds,” he added.

“Back then, the beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists used to meet in a charity match in aid of Goal, on the morning of the All-Ireland final.

“Myself and a few of my friends were up from Strokestown for the All-Ireland and we had no tickets.

“So we headed out to the game in the hope we might pick up a ticket. As it happened Roscommon were short so they asked me to play and I ended up borrowing a pair of boots from Paul Earley and playing.

“As far as I recall I was being marked by Martin Shovlin. That was my first game and I was drafted into the squad after that and played on for the next ten years until I broke my leg in 2000, which ended my career.”

Roscommon were Connacht champions in 1990 and they won Connacht again in 1991. But Damien, who had played in the league, had to be happy with a place on the the subs bench in ‘91 for the Connacht final win over Mayo. His brother, Michael ,who is a couple years older, was on the team.

Donegal were Ulster champions in 1990 and lost the All-Ireland semi-final to Meath. Cork beat Roscommon in the other semi-final.

“We went through a lean few years in Roscommon after that and we did not win Connacht again until 2001, the year after I broke my leg, and was forced into retirement,” explained Damien, who was equally at home at either centre half or full-back, and who was a replacement All-Star defender in 1998.

His second meeting against Donegal was in Ballybofey, in a Division IB league game in the 1991/1992 league played in the Spring of 1992.

“I was playing centre half-back that day and I was marking James McHugh.”

It wasn’t a good day for Damien and Roscommon as Donegal inflicted one of their five league wins over Roscommon on a 0-15 to 0-6 scoreline.

The defeat and the margin of it was tempered by the fact that it was the last game of the league and Roscommon had already their quarter-final place booked ahead of the game.

“We played in one of those mixed team leagues the following season and due to some weird results we dropped down two divisions and ended up in Division Three,” said Damien.

Donegal travel to Roscommon on Sunday next to face the locals in a round two game, in the Allianz Division One league.

And already after Donegal’s three point home defeat to Kerry in O’Donnell Park, last Sunday and Roscommon’s six point away defeat at the hands of Tyrone in Healy Park, Omagh, Sunday’s tie is already being billed as a four pointer.

The general feeling among most neutrals and even the more realistic in both counties is that the losers of Sunday’s Hyde Park,shootout are as good as doomed to Division Two next season.

And Damien Donlon does not disagree.

“Roscommon and Donegal are rebuilding,” said Damien, who was in O’Donnell Park last Sunday for the Donegal Kerry game.

“Kevin McStay’s appointment is for three years and I can see what he is doing. He is building for the future,” he said.

McStay has taken over the job on his own following an autumn of unrest along the Shannon and the departure of Fergal O’Donnell who was joint manager with McStay, last season.

“The average age of the Roscommon squad is 23 which is very young. Roscommon lost a number of key players since this time last year and since they played in O’Donnell Park.

“Geoffrey Claffey, Neil Collins, Ian and Senan Kilbride and Cathal Cregg are all gone. They were all key central players and have left a big void to fill.

“David Keenan and Donal Shine, two younger members of the squad, are no longer part of the setup, something which also baffles the Strokestown man.

“The other thing about Roscommon this season, Kevin seems to have gone for small fast and pacy players.

“David and Donie are two big men and I would like to see them still in the setup given the lack of power and size in the squad.

“The Roscommon squad, by and large, is made up of players from fairly successful minor and U-21 teams over the last five to six years.

“They are very young and inexperienced and I just think it is going to be a long hard Spring for Roscommon.

“Seanie McDermott and Cathal Shine, who is coming back from injury, are the experienced men. And our best forward, Diarmuid Murtagh, who is a member of the young set, is struggling with injury and they are struggling to get him on the field.”

Damien was mightily impressed with Kerry last Sunday and he felt they were very sharp for the time of year.

Donegal, even though they were ten points down at one stage in the second half, also impressed him.

“I think Donegal and the young lads, in particular, will have gained great confidence from the way they came back into the game in the closing ten minutes and cut Kerry’s lead to three points.

“Donegal will take a lot of heart from that closing quarter and when you add Michael Murphy, Ryan McHugh and Patrick McBrearty into the mix, and the experience that is gone from the Roscommon squad, I think you have to sway in favour of Donegal,” insisted Damien.

However, he is hopeful that a return to Dr Hyde Park, and the new sod, after being away for a season, will give Roscommon the lift required.