Red the dominant colour at the end of another big local derby

Red the dominant colour at the end of another big local derby

Where were you in ’72? They are all talking about the bitter “Battle of Ballybofey” a year later, but trust me, the seeds were firmly sown for some neighbourly rivalry on a rainy day in Clones when Donegal took their first ever Ulster title by beating Tyrone and my dad Willie cried tears of joy and had several “rozeners” to suitably commemorate in a border pub called “The Congo” because of its truly “eclectic” clientele!

Make no mistake, Donegal and Tyrone has a history of local bile dating right back to 1972 on a rainy day in Clones when the Seamus Bonnar inspired Donegal outmuscled a Tyrone side that, in John Early, had a Mark Bradley type figure in attack and he came in for some heavy hits just like Michael Sweeney who got some “Ryan McHugh type attention” on the edge of the Donegal square.

But for Tír Conaill, that first cup was surely the sweetest and we were able to talk to one of our local heroes every day because the speedster that was Seamie Granaghan was our local milk man and we could talk to him every day as he had no airs or graces even though he was a real big star in our eyes.

And we travelled to that match in a green Volkswagen with the registration of HEI 713 for our neighbour the late great Willie Rogers and still is our greatest local hero, a fair haired Adonis with merry blue eyes, winkle pickers and a nonchalant ability to put a gaping hole in a pint of the black stuff while never missing a beat and gently deflating wind bags with a searing one-liner.

Those are sweet and deep memories as we prepared to take on Tyrone who always had the name of being sassy, defiant, edgy, rebellious and often downright thran.

But our father Willie always reminded us that our big first cousin Seamus “Congo” Kane lined out for the Red Hands and hit frees for them in the mid 1960s.

And when we asked about what was so good about that, he replied:

“He is a marksman and a soldier of Ireland.”

So even though this hack often bristles at the Red Hands’ sheer chutzpah, there is a small part that likes them to do well, if only in memory of our late cousin “Congo”.

But sure how could Tyrone miss as this hack watched wide mouthed as Conor Meyler, scion of a great footballing dynasty, effortlessly kicked points with the left foot and the right foot on the pitch his dad and late granddad Sean graced for many years in Healy Park on a quiet Saturday evening.

This was about two hours before Donegal Ladies qualified for the All-Ireland semi-final in brilliant sunshine.

24 hours ago it was as quiet as a chapel on a Monday morning in Healy Park, a sharp contrast to the baying cauldron that was Ballybofey on Sunday as hordes of bloodthirsty Red Hands came looking for revenge for those two bitter defeats in 2013 and 2015.

Up in the Overflow press area, my cup overflowed with a real flavour of how the crowd looked at this battle between their respective gladiators on the Banks of the Finn.

The stand was an even mix of red and white and green and gold, neighbours sitting side by side, an almost visceral tension beneath the de rigeur banter and bonhomie before battle began.

But just before the match began this crusty old hack was a bit star-struck as GAA royalty in the shape of Colm “Gooch” Cooper strolled in as casually as you would lick an ice cream.

And so Noreen Doherty decided she wanted a pic with the Kerry legend as former Donegal GAA PRO Paddy Mullen, a stalwart MacCumhaill’s man now, obliged with the technology and although one does not do pics, you just have to make an exception for “Gooch” who will always look like that nice boy next door that would not keep your only daughter out late at the Debs!

At 1.40 pm a suitable song was sung and it was stirring

“This is my homeland

“The place I was born in

“No matter where I roam.

“It's in my soul”

“My feet may wander a thousand places

“But my heart will lead me back to my Donegal”

Now if that did not warm the noble blood of Clann Conaill then nothing would, as five peak capped gardaí carried out their pitch inspection.

And still the songs that reared us were belted on with Wee Daniel O’Donnell and the incomparable sister Margo; maybe he could be our secret weapon and lull Tyrone into a false sense of security and make this day “Destination Donegal”.

And then we had the immortal “Goats Don’t Shave” who coined that timeless phrase:

“You see those chicken ranches?

“I’d legalize them all

“We’ll have our own Las Vegas

“In the Hills of Donegal”

Around 2pm those lucky enough to get stand tickets in MacCumhaill Park landed, usually those who are involved with clubs, heavy hitters and the GAA elite who have mastered the art of amateur politics to ascend the ladder to the Gaelic stars.

And then we have the army of stewards from the nine counties of Ulster, ready for anything after a stirring team-talk from Monaghan’s John Connolly.

For many, this is the real Ulster final and an All-Ireland quarter-final all in one.

At 3.02 pm Donegal take the field led by the eternally bounding boy that is Michael Murphy and then they blasted out Las Vegas In The Hills of Donegal just to let “them uns” from Tyrone know where they are.

Speculation about Eoghan Ban Gallagher intensified as he was togged out and wearing 26 as they went through their drills and Declan Bonner strolled about with his hands behind his back like a farmer looking fondly on a field of bright corn.

As for the match, it was heartbreaking and joy when the Little and Large duo of Ryan McHugh and Michael Murphy combined for Murphy to rip the net.

It was the perfect time to go in front, just before half-time and we led by four points by the 53rd minute.

But Tyrone’s bench came on and hit us for 2-5, Harry Loughran's goal the real killer in the 57th minute, and it was all down hill thereafter.

The Tyrone choir grew louder in the stand and there was no way any official was going to deny them their unmitigated scenes of joy on MacCumhaill Park on a balmy August evening.

And they serenanded their Red Hand heroes with that old Tyrone classic “Come On Tyrone” “Come On Tyrone”; “Come On, Come On" to the air of that truly awful Gary Glitter hit back in 1974.

But it is they who were sprinkled in stardust this August evening as Donegal reflected on a sharp lesson in the sad school of experience.

However, we are still Ulster champions, a good year for a young team whose day will come.

Tiocfaidh ár lá!