MAC'S VIEW: Remembering '83, Ulster glory and a harrowing All-Ireland semi-final loss

38 years on - Brian McEniff still wonders how Donegal didn't reach that All-Ireland final

Mac's View

The Donegal team prior to the Ulster Final 1983

I have some great memories from 1983 which included an Ulster Final win over Cavan and a brilliant run to the All Ireland semi-final where we were unfortunate to lose out to Galway.
Looking back, we were very unlucky not to beat that Galway team that day. But would we have had enough to match a very strong and experienced Dublin team in the final that year?
I’m not so sure.
The season hadn’t started out too well for us. Back then, the National League was split either side of Christmas. We played four games before Christmas and three after Christmas.

I remember I managed to talk Paul McGettigan into rejoining the squad that year. I just felt we needed a bit of experience and Paul was just what we needed. He’d moved to Galway at that stage.
We started out in the league by losing to Clare in Ennis. We were in Division Three that season and that defeat meant a poor start to our campaign. We struggled in the league that year.
Our last match in the league ended up being against Fermanagh in Ballyshannon. They had done well in Ulster the previous year but like ourselves, they were struggling in the league and that match ended up being a shoot-out to see who would avoid relegation down to Division Four.
Thankfully we got the better of them and the following winter, we’d kicked on again and got promotion to Division Two.

Charlie Mulgrew, suffered injury against Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final in 1983 Picture credit; Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

We’d won the All-Ireland title at U-21 under Tom Conaghan in 1982 so we went into our opening championship match with Armagh in confident form.
We’d lost to a very good Armagh team the year before and we were drawn to play them at home again in MacCumhaill Park in the first round in ‘83. Charlie Mulgrew came up with a fine finish for a great goal in the second half and we went on to win.
It meant a semi-final with a very determined Monaghan team in Irvinestown.
That was the day Mulgrew suffered a broken jaw and it meant me would miss the Ulster final. Martin McHugh got injured in the Armagh game so he missed the semi-final. Paul McGettigan took up the free-taking duties.
We came through a really tough battle and we were back in an Ulster Final where we would meet an equally strong Cavan side. They really put it up to us. In fact I remember us struggling early on. Brendan Dunleavy was at half back alongside Michael Carr who wasn’t having a good game early on but then went on to be named man-of-the-match.
Martin McHugh took a knock with around ten minutes to go and had to go off. But we managed to hold on to win by four points.

Martin McHugh, part of the Donegal side that helped the county to Ulster glory back in 1983
Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

It was brilliant to win another Ulster and it set us up in an All-Ireland semi-final where we met Galway.
I’ll never forget that semi-final. How could I? Donegal supporters will still have nightmares about the goal that Val Daly scored.
Galway got a ‘45 which dropped short. Daly got it and I’m sure he was kicking for a point, but it took a deflection and ran across the sightline of our keeper Noel McCole and dropped into the net.
It put them a point up and soon after that one of the Galway half-back line caught a ball on his way back to his own goal. It was a fine catch, but he’d to take three steps before turning and taking four more and eventually clearing the ball. That’s seven steps and it should have been a free in which would have meant the equalising score.
The referee was from Kerry - Weeshie Fogarty - but he didn’t give the free and that was that.
Mattie McDonagh, the Galway manager, got in touch a few days later. They were preparing for the All-Ireland final where they’d eventually lose out to Dublin. He wanted a challenge match before the final and he asked if we’d play them.
I agreed and I gathered up our squad and we went down and played them in Tuam. We beat them by seven points.
That year’s final saw Dublin’s 12 apostles beat the 14 men of Galway in an ill-tempered, dirty match.
I must mention the backroom team that year of Pauric McShea, PJ McGowan and the late Austin Coughlan. Dr James McDaid was the team doctor.
We’d a good squad of players and I think one of the stand-out memories was the way the supporters really got behind us.
When you think back to that famous match against Tyrone in Ballybofey in 1973. There were 15,000 fans there that day - but probably 10,000 of them were from Tyrone.
But in ‘83, it seemed to change. Younger Donegal supporters began to come out and support us and they stayed with us.
It was brilliant to see a big crowd in Clones for that Ulster Final. It was a fantastic occasion and of course Cavan had big support that day too.
Losing out to Galway in the semi-final that year in Croke Park was a massive disappointment but I’m not sure if we’d have been able to match that Dublin team if we’d got to the final.

Brian McEniff was in conversation with Diarmaid Doherty.

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