Michael Ward in action in Community Games in 1990 All-Ireland semi-final
Tom Comack firstname.lastname@example.org @dgldemocrat
Milford’s victory in Division One and Aodh Ruadh and Termon in Division Two were the standout results last weekend as the 2017 Donegal AllsportsStore.com All-County Football Leagues got up and running.
Gary Merritt (2), Kyle Black and Luke Barrett scored the goals as Milford marked their historic first outing in Division One with a 4-11 to 1-11 win over Bundoran in Gaelic Park, Bundoran, on Sunday afternoon.
Daire McDaid and Ricky Gallagher hit the net as Termon claimed the points in their 2-9 to 1-11 win over Sean MacCumhaill’s on the wide open spaces of MacCumhaill Park.
And Aodh Ruadh marked their promotion to Division Two, after six seasons in Division Three, with a one point win over relegated Ardara, in Pearse Park, Ardara.
David McGurrin stole the show for the Ernesiders with six points as they came from four points down at half-time, to edge a 0-11 to 0-10 victory.
Mickey ‘Sticky’ Ward, the veteran in what is a very young Aodh Ruadh team, also got his name on the scoresheet.
Ward is the holder of two senior championship winners’ medals and one Division One League winners’ medal in over 20 years playing senior football with the famous club. He made his senior debut in 1996, as a 19-year-old.
“It was a great result for what is, by and large, a young team against a club like Ardara, and especially in Ardara,” said Ward, who turns 40 in August of this year.
“Coming up from Division Three and we hadn’t played any challenge games, we did not know what to expect.
“We knew what to expect from Ardara alright, but we weren’t sure about ourselves.
“We have a good young side and a lot of quality players coming through after a good few lean years.
“But we are after spending the last six seasons playing in Division Three and coming mighty close to going to Division Four, it is good to be back in Division Two.”
In 2012, the year Aodh Ruadh were pipped by Termon in the Intermediate final, it took a play-off to save their Division Three status.
“Termon beat us by a point on a Wednesday night in Ballybofey and a week later we beat Carndonagh in a play-off to avoid relegation to Division Four.
“That is how close we came to playing in Division Four and the Junior Championship.
“So when you take into account the last seven or eight years, it is great to be back in Division Two.”
Sticky Ward was a Division One and senior championship player for well over the first ten years of his senior playing career.
He also had the honour of captaining Ballyshannon to a Community Games National title in 1990.
And his trophy cabinet boasts of a Division One (Democrat Cup) medal from 1997 in only his second season playing senior football.
The cabinet also contains two championship medals from three Donegal Senior Championship finals in-a-row, 1997 1998 and 1999.
Aodh Ruadh lost the ‘97 final to St Eunan’s by a point (2-7 to 1-11) but won it in the boardroom afterwards following a dispute over the eligibility of St Eunan’s player Leslie McGettigan.
That ‘97 final is one that Mickey does not wish to dwell on for two long.
Aodh Ruadh defeated Naomh Columba in the 1998 final before losing the ‘99 final to St Eunan’s.
Less than a decade later as the recession hit, Aodh Ruadh found themselves down a division and playing Division Two football for the first time in close on 20 years.
After a brief period at the end of the 1980s, Aodh Ruadh won the Division Two league in 1990 and were promoted back to Division One.
“The recession hit Ballyshannon hard and a lot of lads were forced to emigrate and at one stage eight of the team were in Australia. I emigrated myself. They were lean times for the club.”
And the fear of emigration stills haunts Sticky and is the reason he is cautious about the future and making any bold predictions.
“We have a very talented and good crop of young players at the minute and we will have a bright future if they all stay about the area and at least remain in the country.
“But the problem is these lads are all in College and going onto further education. There aren’t as many working boots in the dressing room on training nights now as when I started playing first.
“The jobs these young lads are being educated for aren’t around Ballyshannon and only God knows where they will be in a few years time when they finish College.”
It is for that reason that Sticky is in no mad rush to get back up to the top rung of Donegal football and Division One.
For the veteran of two decades it is all about consolidation in Division Two and giving that elusive Intermediate championship a right good rattle.
“If we can consolidate our place in Division Two for a season and target winning the Intermediate championship and succeed in doing so it might convince some of those young lads to stick around for a few years.”
Looking around him in the division, Sticky does not see too many easy games and is not expecting any handy points.
He also feels that Ardara and Termon, the two teams that made the drop to Division Two, may not find it as easy to get back up.
“MacCumhaills, Buncrana and Naomh Columba are the top teams in the league as I see it.
“I know MacCumhaills lost last Sunday to Termon, but they were short a good few players due to soccer. I feel once they get everyone back they will be strong.
“We played Buncrana last year in Division Three and they were by far and away the best team we played.
“And Naomh Columba, like ourselves, have a good group of players and are strong right through the field and I expect them to be in the running at the end of the season.”
As for Division Three, he feels it is a three horse race.
“Burt won the Intermediate championship last year and are in the senior championship this year.
“I would expect Burt, St Naul’s and Naomh Muire to be the main contenders in Division Three.”
Kilcar, St Eunan’s and Naomh Conaill, and in that order, are his top three in the race for the Division One League.
“It is hard to look past Kilcar, given the quality of their players, while with St Eunan’s it is a matter of how serious they take the league.
“Naomh Conaill have a lot of quality and a number of good young players coming through; they will also be in the running.”