BRIAN MCENIFF COLUMN: 1972 was a big breakthrough year for Donegal GAA


BRIAN MCENIFF COLUMN:  1972 was a big breakthrough year for Donegal GAA

It is a difficult time for everyone in the county and country at the moment with the spread of the virus. I would urge people to heed the warnings and stay away from each other. It is a small sacrifice for the overall good.
I see that Declan Bonner has added a few new faces to his backroom team - Anton McFadden and James Gallagher - and I wish them well.
It doesn't look as if we will have much sport this side of Easter so for the next few weeks I will have a look back at some of the good times for Donegal.
I am going to start with the first win in Ulster in 1972 - the breakthrough year for Donegal.
The lead into the Ulster championship of that year would have come when we played our last match before Christmas against Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon. Things were at a low ebb.
We sat down afterwards and had a chat and what we were doing and why we were there. We had had a bad run in the games before that, the only team we beat before Christmas was Armagh, who were poor at the time.
Leitrim hadn't won a match, I believe, for over 12 months and they beat the lard out of us.
We had lost in the opening round of the championship in the previous three years. In '69 and '70 Antrim beat us. They had a good squad at the time, they were after winning the U-21 All-Ireland.
In '71 Down beat us but we put up a reasonable performance. I happened to be captain of the team and I met Tull Dunne of the great Galway three in-a-row team and he took Galway up to Ballyshannon and gave us a very good challenge match.
We went into the Down match reasonably well prepared and it was only in the last maybe five-seven minutes that Down put us to bed in Newry.
Then we started in the spring of the year of 1972 and we weren't setting the world alight. We met Monaghan in Ballybofey, I think the match might have finished in a draw. We met Cavan in Ballyshannon and I think it was the first day I saw the Fr Tierney Park pitch really wet. I remember falling on a bit of mud, which wasn't part of that pitch, and I got really wet and I never got warm again.
We were playing Down in the first round of the championship and as it materialised we had to play them in the McKenna Cup. We played them and drew over in Newry on a sunny day. I remember Andy Curran got a point that day and it hopped over the bar, we slagged him about it. They beat us well enough in the replay but I decided not to play a very strong team.
Gerald McElwee played on Dan McCartan, he was in the squad but he wasn't on the team, and he gave him a lot of trouble. Dan couldn't comprehend this sidestep and swerve that Gerald had. It was something I kept for the Ulster final a couple of years later.
Then we played in Ballybofey in the championship and I can remember us togging in the Butt Hall and going down to the match. No one was expecting us to come next or near Down. Dan McCartan was always susceptible to a bad kick-out, the full-backs used to kick the ball out that time.
And he kicked a ball from the right side out to right half-forward where Seamie Granaghan was. Seamie got the ball and came in like a rocket and John Hannigan, being the cute man that he was, pulled Dan McCartan out and Seamie hit the top of the net. That was the goal that kept us that bit apart from them.
A Donegal man was heard calling a short time afterwards 'hit everything above the grass'.
I was on the Ulster Council at the time and Cavan's home pitch was Clones but with a good bit of cajoling I got them to fix the match for Irvinestown. It was a wet, damp oul day and we went in at half-time eight points down. And Cavan left us standing in the rain at half-time and a Cavan voice came in from the crowd saying 'send out the jersies'.
But Dodo Winston had one of those days when he was kicking points for fun and we brought in Mickey Sweeney and he definitely upset the Cavan backline. He was a big addition and we got a draw.
We were playing them in the replay in Clones and Cavan thought when they got us back to Clones they would do the business but we just started to play that day. We came together and Sweeney made a significant difference at full-forward and we beat them.
Then we were all set for the Ulster final and we thought we would have been playing Derry because Derry were the form team at the time in Ulster. They were a big strong team with a lot of good players. But Tyrone surprised them in the semi-final, which happens in local derbies.
On another wet day, I can remember it for another reason. There was a small fire in the kitchen of the hotel that morning and a man came and woke me at 6 o'clock in the morning and I wasn't in good form going out on the pitch that day.
To make it worse, Brendan Dolan from Aghyaran boxed a goal before half-time to give them a five point lead. So things were not good. I remember coming into the dressing room at half-time and I was out of sorts. I remember I went in and had a hot shower and I changed togs and we came out and we played a great second half.
But we were a wee bit lucky too. We were finding it hard to break Tyrone Down. I remember kicking a good point from a distance and then shortly after that Seamus Bonar kicked a high ball in and the Tyrone goalkeeper from Carrickmore lost it; it was a wet day. I remember then getting the ball from the kick-out and kicking a point and that put us one up and we just pulled away.
I can remember the Donegal crowd, there wasn't anything like the crowds now because there was no such thing as women going to games. The Donegal crowd that were there were solid GAA men and I remember I met men with tears in their eyes on the pitch. It was a great day.
I remember Frank Muldoon was organising things in Donegal Town and we had a meal in the Central Hotel afterwards. It was a kind of celebration dinner. I remember then I wanted to get home so I hired a taxi.
We got ready then for Offaly in the All-Ireland semi-final and I had been out in San Francisco and had played against Offaly on the All-Star trip. I said to myself, what's wrong with Donegal; we have a lot of good players, as good as these Offaly men and Kerry men that I had seen. I tuned the boys up as good as I could from what I had seen. We went out and for some reason the Roscommon referee disallowed a very good goal by Martin Carney just before half-time which would have given us a very significant lead.
But be that as it may, we conceded a goal, a slack enough goal, a block down by an Offaly forward and it ended in the Donegal net. It was the only goal they scored.
Donegal played some fine football that day.
It was a pity that a number of very good players missed out on that first Ulster medal. Sean Ferriter could have been still playing and did come back a number of years later. Bernard Brady and PJ Flood were gone and Mickey McLoone had retired through injury. Those players would have made a significant difference. Neilly Gallagher, too, was away in 1972 but was back for the second win in 1974.
It was a great time. That squad of players throughout the '60s were a match for any county in Ireland at the time.

Brian McEniff was in conversation with Peter Campbell

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