Peter Campbell email@example.com @dgldemocrat
Tomorrow (Friday) John James McLoughlin steps away from a lifelong career with CIE but his GAA journey will continue indefinitely.
For 46 years he has served the rail and bus network of Ireland, mostly in the office in Stranorlar. In his early career, he worked in Dublin and in a host of towns in the West of Ireland.
But no matter where his employment took him, John James remained loyal to Naomh Columba - as a player and later as an administrator.
Hugely popular, John James has a gentle nature, and it is hard to imagine that he was a teak tough corner or half-back, who could mix it in feisty local derbies against Kilcar and Ardara.
There is a picture of himself and Michael Oliver McIntyre with the Dr. Maguire Cup in 1978 after Naomh Columba lifted their first senior championship which is priceless history.
When you talk to John James about those times, his eyes light up. “They were great times. We came from nowhere,” he says, and then paints the picture of winning two U-14 titles in 1965 and 1968, which included future county players Michael Oliver McIntyre, Finian Ward and the Carr twins, Seamus and Padraig.
John James spent three years with the Marist Brothers in Athlone and then completed his second level education with two years in Holy Cross, Falcarragh, which had a good number of fellow students from the South West including the aforementioned Carr twins and Michael Carr from Kilcar (who was often a guest on Naomh Columba underage teams!)
“I was approached by Paddy Beág Gillespie one Sunday after Mass in 1971 to play on the senior team. The following Sunday we played Kilcar in my first game and they went on to win the Donegal Junior Championship that year,” says John Joe.
There was heartache with Junior final defeats in 1972 and 1973 (to St. Naul’s and Termon) but persistence paid off and in 1974 the double of league and championship success launched Naomh Columba to senior football where they remained for over 30 years.
“We won the All-Ireland Gaeltacht in 1978 and then went on to win the Donegal Senior Championship that year,” said John James, who again spoke of the progress of almost lowering St. Joseph’s in Fintra in 1976 and losing to eventual winners, MacCumhaill’s, in 1977.
“The Gaeltacht success gave us great confidence. We were hosting the All-Ireland that year and we met Clonbur in the final. We were not expected to win and they had players like Stephen Joyce and Stephen Kinneavy. We played a short-ball game while they played the ball long. Even the locals didn’t think we could win, but we did,” said John James.
“There was no collective training then as most of the team worked away from home. We trained on our own. I trained with Craobh Rua in Sligo. There was still a great camaraderie and willingness to return to Glen for the weekend games,” said John James, who said that Jimmy Cunningham was the main man driving the team.
1978 turned out to be a great, winning the Dr. Maguire, but there was a different emotion in the club the following year when they defeated Kilcar in the opening round, but were then thrown out of the championship because of an objection - an issue that still elicits deep resentment in the south-west.
“That killed us; that protest in ‘79. It knocked the stuffing out of Glen that time. We had the league won and we had Kilcar beat, but them things happen,” says John James, who went on to play until 1985, but feels that it was just the end of one era. Indeed, he won a Junior B Championship in 1985, defeating Lifford in the final, which was his last game for the club.
“Then came the Hegartys, Gavigans, Cunninghams and John Joe (Doherty) and Naomh Columba were back on the top again in the 1990s.”
While the rivalry with the neighbouring clubs was always strong, John James is the sort of person to rise above any bitterness.
“In 1978 we went down to Ardara and they beat us. Then in the second game we beat them in Glen. In the play-off in Donegal Town Josie Gallagher was injured and we were lucky to get through.
“Gaoth Dobhair were fancied for the final. Finian Ward was away in America but he came home for the final. He didn’t start but he came on,” said John James.
He also remembers the Shield final of 1979 when there was a huge crowd in Fintra for their clash with Ardara. “They beat us. (Anthony) Molloy came on and got a goal. He was only 17 years of age. I think we won the Shield in 1981.
“We had some great battles with Kilcar. I didn’t enjoy playing on the old Towney field as it was very tight for a small player. The new Towney field suited me better,” says John James.
When put on the spot who was the best Glen footballer he has seen, he names a triumvirate of Noel Hegarty, Finian Ward and John Joe Doherty, and when nudged would have Finian Ward as probably his best.
“There are some great underage footballers in there now. Look at the likes of Aaron Doherty, who can use both feet,” he says.
At county level, he points to Martin McHugh as the best from the past but he feels there has never been a player to match the present Donegal captain, Michael Murphy.
Away from the playing field, John James has lived in Stranorlar for most of his latter working life, but he maintained the link with home and carried out a small bit of farming on the home farm.
“I might be able to do a little more and maybe travel a little.”
But there is also his continued service to Naomh Columba. For close on 20 years he was their loyal PRO. He also acted as club registrar and was Oifigeach na Gaeilge.
Indeed, in recent years he has been a participant and mentor in Scór. Along with Danny Cunningham, he has overseen success at All-Ireland Scór na nÓg trath na gceist on two occasions in recent times, 2014 and again only a couple of weeks ago in Belfast
He admits that he was asked a few times to join MacCumhaill’s but remained loyal to Glen. But he can be seen at times with a steward’s bib at MacCumhaill Park and he hopes now with time on his hands to be able to see more games, especially those involving Naomh Columba.