Owenie McGarvey in action for Naomh Muire Photo: Anne McFadden
This is the story of Owenie McGarvey, the bounding boy from Ranafast in the Rosses, who was at the heart and soul of his club Naomh Muire for a remarkable 23 years.
He may not have been the tallest of midfielders, but the ever-youthful Owenie could spring like a salmon for the high ones and was a key figure in his club’s county championship wins in 1998 and in 2013.
Incidentally, Owenie may have been 35 for that last victory, but he was still at the centre of the action for a star-studded team.
Sadly, only two of that multi-talented side are still wearing the green geansaí in and around the Banks.
Teak-tough Brian Gillespie and Paddy McCafferrty are still battling away, but once again, the curse of emigration has robbed Naomh Muire of several key personnel.
Owenie retired in 2017, and although living in Dungloe, is very much involved in the underage set up which is flourishing in the club.
Two years ago, Owenie’s minor squad won the Southern A Divisional Championship which is quite an achievement, given that Naomh Conaill, Ardara, Kilcar, Four Masters and Aodh Ruadh also inhabit that space.
Those county title victories are also remarkable given the problems of emigration that has seen the gifted three “Yank” Boyle brothers depart for foreign shores, among several other talented players.
But the ever-optimistic Owenie is confident that some of them will return to bolster a very youthful promising side in the near future.
Earlier this year Owenie lost his beloved father Paddy McGarvey, who was a great GAA supporter, and our deepest sympathy goes to Owenie and his extended family.
The programme for the Donegal Intermediate finals in 1994
On a happier note, he is enjoying his time as a reporter with Raidió na Gaeltachta along with broadcaster Damien O’Dónaill and he has also been added to Donegal U-20 manager Gary Duffy’s backroom team along with Eamon McGee and Leo McLoone.
Owenie was born in Ranafast in 1977 in an area renowned for some great Gaelic and soccer players.
“Naomh Muire was founded in 1980 and Rosses Rovers was the team in the Rosses in the 1970s and they got to a senior county final in 1970 when they were beaten by St Joseph’s.
“It was a huge area from Gweebarra Bridge to Crolly Bridge.
“They were very strong and one year they won nearly all the underage competitions, including three U-14 titles in a row from 1978-1980 but they had the Bonners and Tony Boyle in those days.”
And way back in time, Owenie’s own Ranafast won a Donegal Junior Football Championship in 1969 and those heroes were honoured at a later anniversary celebration.
Naomh Muire won their last Intermediate title when they beat St Naul’s in the final.
“There were a few Dungloe people on that team.
“But Rosses Rovers were very strong and that is where Naomh Muire, Na Rossa and Dungloe came out of.
“Dungloe were very strong in the 1950s and 1960s and it was then Ranafast before Rosses Rovers took over.”
He added: “Playing for the local club in the Rosses would have been seasonal as quite a few people worked in Scotland from the area and came back home to save the hay and the turf in the summer months.
“They would go away in the winter- time and that is why the teams in the Rosses were decimated at that time.
“They had good footballers, but they were not always around.”
And there is also a massive soccer tradition in the Rosses which is also connected with the Scottish link.
“A lot of people went to Glasgow and that is where the connection with Celtic comes from and there would be a lot of Celtic supporters clubs in the Rosses, Falcarragh and Gaoth Dobhair and that explains the number of soccer clubs in the area.
“There was a soccer club in Annagry for a good few years, and that tradition came from Scotland and with Celtic winning the European Cup in 1967, the links grew even stronger and when people came home they were inspired to start soccer clubs.
“Many young people would have been born in Glasgow and then their people would have come home when they were six or seven or eight years of age and they brought that soccer tradition with them.”
He added: “The numbers in the primary schools in Ranafast and Annagry rocketed in the late 1970s and early 1980s when people came home with families.
“And there were quite a few families of six or seven children and that is why we now have three clubs in the Rosses.
“Naomh Muire started in 1980 as the numbers were huge and it was a big area as well.”
Owenie is too young to remember the foundation of the club but Tony Doherty and well-known local politician Seamus Rodgers were prime movers.
His earliest memories are of tagging along with his older brother Hughie to go down to training with Naomh Muire U-12’s in 1987.
“I was just nine and we used to train in Carrickfinn.
“My dad was Paddy McGarvey, and my mother is Nora McCafferty.
“Poor dad passed away three months ago, and we are very sad at his passing, but he was at home with us. We have to be thankful for small mercies as a lot of people did not get the chance to see their loved ones pass away with the pandemic.”
“My father was a massive Celtic and Donegal GAA fan and he also worked in Scotland and he and mum got married in Scotland. One of my sisters was born in Glasgow and then they came home like many others.”
Hughie, Suzanne and Noirín are Owenie’s siblings.
The first time Owenie pulled on a Naomh Muire jersey was in 1987, that same year, and he was given five minutes at the end of a game that Naomh Muire were winning by about 30 points.
The Naomh Muire line-up for the Donegal Intermediate Championship Final in 2013
He made his senior debut in 1994.
“I was down training with the seniors a few nights and there was an injury crisis.
“I was asked to play in Convoy with the seniors on a Saturday evening in May.
“We were in Division Three at that time.”
In 1991 the club won the JFC and Division Four in the same year and those were its first major triumphs.
“The team was managed by Jimmy Doherty and Patrick McGinley.”
And then in 1994 they won their first ever Intermediate title by beating St Naul’s in the final and Owenie was corner forward as a 16-year-old.
“It will never happen again that a sixteen-year-old will win a county title with the new U-17 grade.
“I started the final and I kicked two points.
“And I won a penalty as well, and Joe Boyle put the ball into the River Finn,” he quipped.
“We have had very few county players, but that 1994 team was backed by Frankie “Pat” Gallagher in goals RIP, Danny Doogan, Owen Bonner, Joe Boyle, Johnny Gallagher and Kevin White who came from Killybegs and they were a strong group.
“We also won Division Three that same year and it was a great achievement for the club.”
He also won an All-Ireland Vocational Schools medal with Donegal in 1996.
Owenie played on until 2016 which was 23 years in the cause.
“We won the Intermediate in 1998 and also in 2013, 19 years after my first Intermediate title.
“I played with scores of players all over the years.
“We only played senior for one year in 1995 and were beaten by Dungloe in the championship and you could only play in that grade if you were in Division One which was a 15- team group.
The front cover of the programme for the 1998 Donegal IFC Final
“We were up to Division Two, but Dungloe beat us narrowly in the championship and there was a big crowd at both matches.
“Naomh Muire pick from the Crolly Bridge and draw their players from the Annagary and Kincasslagh parishes.
“The rivalry is still fairly strong with Dungloe who have dropped down to Intermediate and we are Intermediate as well so it could be renewed.”
“By 2003 Naomh Muire were back down to the junior grade and we did not get out of junior until 2007 under John Joe Doherty and the club got back-to-back promotions from Division Four to Division Two by 2008.
“We had the “Yank” Boyles on that team, Paul, Hugh and Shaun, Paddy McCafferty, Harry Harden, Owen Grant and Dara White came on stream.
“Charlie Boyle is the father of the Yanks and is a fine writer and has a good interest in the club.
“Danny O’Donnell took over from John Joe in 2009 and he was the manager when we won the Intermediate title in 2013.
“But, all the “Yanks” are away as is Dara White, Owen Grant, Harry Harden and Robbie O’Donnell.”
Out of that 2013 team, of whom Owenie was the oldest at 35, only Paddy McCafferty and Brian Gillespie are still around.
“I was playing midfield and I always liked the freedom of the area and it was where the action was.
“But we expect the Yanks to be back, and we are now working at the underage again after taking our eye off the ball for a few years.”
Owenie has been looking after the minors for the past few years and reckons Eoin Martin, son of county secretary Declan Martin, is a good prospect.
“We have a very young team now and so many of our players are in the US, London, Dubai and Australia.”
He added: “But we have some good young lads who are now playing senior, like Shane Boyle, Conor Cannon, Tuathal Lunny, Joey Gillespie, Fintan Doherty, Eoin Martin and Danny Ward.
“Ferdia Doherty is another fine prospect.”
And if the other “international” team came home, there is no doubt that Naomh Muire would be in a much higher grade.
“Of all my 23 years, through ups and downs I enjoyed every minute of it and travelling and meeting people.
“And whatever match I go to now I always see people I played against and have great friendships and you have chats at county games.
“That is one very big bonus I have from my playing days.”
Owenie is living in Dungloe with his partner Marie Therese Gallagher, who is a Sinn Féin councillor, and they have a nine- month-old baby girl called Patrice.
“There are great characters around like Jamesie Melly from Na Rossa who is a great man to chat with, and I often played against him when he was in goals for Na Rossa.”
The programme for the 2013 Donegal Intermediate Final
Meanwhile, Owenie guided the likes of Eoin Martin and Joey Gillespie to a Southern Divisional A minor title two years ago.
“We beat Naomh Conaill, Killybegs, Four Masters and Kilcar en route which is very encouraging for the future.”
Six of them are now on the senior team and a few others are on the bench.
He added: “We have a good base at underage, and we have about 40 coaches from U-6 upwards and we are all singing off the same hymn sheet and trying to get a few players on to the senior team every year.
“There are fine facilities here in the Banks at present. We want to make it a fortress again. When I was playing, every visiting team would say that they hate coming down to the Banks.
“We were always hard to beat in the Banks and we want to get that mantra back.
“We look after the teams and give them tea and buns when the match is over but for the hour of play we like to mark our territory.”
Radio na Gaeltachta
In another sphere Owenie is becoming a well-known craoltóir with Raidió na Gaeltachta.
“I started doing analysis with Damien Ó Dónaill in 2018.
“I was with him for a month or two and from 2019 I have been doing reports on my own.
“I really enjoy it as I would be going to the matches anyway and having played is also a very good help.
“I was lucky last year that I was getting to games through the media work - games that nobody else was allowed into.
“Yes, I do enjoy it very much and I would know quite a few players from before, having played against many of them so I have a fair idea on how they would be going to line out also which is a help too.
“It is when the championship is on and it suits me.”
So, what is his reaction to the news that Dublin have been breaking the rules on training?
“It’s an over reaction because nearly every county team if not all of them are doing something,” he replies.
“The halo slipped a wee bit on them but when the football starts it will be forgotten about.”
But Owenie has no problems with the senior inter-county training being officially pushed back to April 19 when it had been thought that it might re-commence last Monday.
“I don’t mind it being pushed back for a fortnight as long as we don’t have to shut down again.
“And I guess there is genuine concern about a spike in numbers after the Easter weekend.
“Inter-county first and hopefully then clubs and we could have a good year.
“Last year, with the clubs starting first and then the inter-county it really kept everybody going and they were well run off.
“It was great and older people were able to watch the games at the weekends through live streaming as well as with TV and radio coverage.
“So, I am looking forward to a summer of inter-county and club competitions.”
He added: “I am now along with Gary Duffy in the U-20s with Eamon McGee and Leo McLoone as selectors.
“I was honoured when Gary rang me, and I am looking forward to the challenge.
“I was always interested in how county set-ups work, having been around the club scene for so long.
“Gary is in the job a month now and we have been in touch through Zoom, phone calls, getting the lads individual programmes and we have spread the net wide.
“We are hoping to hear about the start for underage sometime this week.
“So, we hope to have clarity on when this might start.
“We have a feeling that it might be at the back end of the season, but we don’t mind that as it would give you a chance to have a look at the players.”
No better man than Owenie.
Ádh mor, fear na Rosann, o fhear eile as na Rossa!
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