As 2017 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on the year past, particularly Donegal’s GAA’s happenings. It was a year that will be remembered for the sad exit of our senior football team from the All-Ireland series to Galway and the harsh treatment that our players and especially our manager Rory Gallagher had to endure on social media in the aftermath.
It was also the year when the Donegal squad of 1992 were honoured in Ulster and countrywide 25 after history was made in the county. It was the first time ever that I was guaranteed a ticket for the premier event of the GAA football season.
Kilcar dominated the senior football club scene while Milford and Naomh Colmcille represented Donegal in the intermediate and junior club Ulster championships respectively. Only Naomh Colmcille remain.
After a protracted interviewing process, Declan Bonner eventually was appointed Donegal senior team manager filling the position vacated by Rory Gallagher. The All-Ireland winning squad of 2012 were reunited once again to mourn the untimely passing of their goalkeeping coach Pat Shovelin. At the tail end of the year, Mick McGrath, having served on the Donegal county GAA officer board for aeons, was elevated to the position of Chairman.
2017 was indeed a special year for those of us involved in Donegal’s All-Ireland success 25 ago. A Jubilee is a milestone. We were a close-knit unit for many years up to and after that famous victory over Dublin. Our first official gathering was for the Ulster final last July. We were hoping that the current Donegal team would be contesting the final. Unfortunately, the ould boys of ‘92 were Donegal’s only representatives that day.
We met in a tranquil Donegal Town early that Sunday summer morning. Magees attired us with magnificent suits and fussed over us in their shop restaurant before we departed by bus with Francie Marley for Clones. Many memories were revived and the craic was mighty.
The show moved on to Dublin in September where we congregated at the Skylon Hotel. We had a two-night stay on that All-Ireland final weekend. Again, we were feted like kings and were paraded with military precision on the hallowed turf of Croker before the final took place. Most in attendance were uninterested, not because of us but probably because Croke Park and RTE don’t afford these events the prestige that they deserve.
Anyway, it wasn’t really about those in attendance or the television viewers: after 25 years it was once again about us who put in the hard yards and made the sacrifices all those years ago. And once again, we experienced those moments of glory, if only for those few precious minutes to allow us remember and recall all that happened in 1992.
The Donegal County Board honoured us in the home of Donegal GAA football, the Abbey Hotel in October. It was a fabulous night which signalled the end to the official engagements for the 1992 party. More recently, most of the lads were hosted by Tir Chonaill Gaels in London. Unfortunately, some of us were unable to travel but, by all accounts it was another fantastic occasion.
1992 has been parked and the players of that era have once again been put out to pasture. This time, it is for good. And that is the way it should be. We cannot live in the past and must always look to the future. People change. Circumstances change. Priorities change. Attitudes change and time does not stand still for anyone or anything. It was great to remember but it is ever better and healthier to look forward and hope. It is important to state something that I’ve never written or said publicly about winning the All-Ireland in 1992. While most admired and still admire our past football exploits, there are those who live with enmity towards me and I assume towards the other lads. I used to greatly care what other people thought of me. That has long since passed.
Because we are made imperfect, there are imperfect misperceptions. I cannot change history and I cannot change the fact that I won an All-Ireland medal. Begrudgery is an awful sentiment that makes a person bitter and unable to have a fruitful and healthy life. My detractors probably don’t read this column because it may prove too painful. If by chance you do, turn over a new leaf for 2018. Embrace those who achieve because deep down they are no different than you are. They just tried harder.
I always say that sport at a serious, or what is termed now, “elite” level is a mirror image of life. You get back what you put in. 2017 was a special year of reflection for the squad of 1992. During those years, I sometimes wished that I had never won the All-Ireland title. I could then be normal like everyone else. But living a normal life was never for me. Achievers are different and have a competitive nature. Like wine, 25 years has matured and mellowed us.
I witnessed first-hand a great revival in Donegal football in 2012 as part of the backroom team for Jim McGuinness. Most of those winners have gone by the wayside as a new crop of players emerge and fly the flag for our county. I now wonder what the next 25 years hold for us and if we’ll be above ground to experience another All-Ireland title.
As Padre Pio said, “Pray, hope and don’t worry”.
Wishing everyone a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Keep the faith!