The exact date I'm not sure of but it was sometime in July 1970 that my worklife started in Dunlevy's Printing Works on the Diamond in Donegal Town.
Almost 51 years later it is time to step back and take it a little easier. The work journey has taken me full circle from Donegal Town to Ballina, to Ballyshannon and finally back to Donegal Town.
To say that I was a raw 15-year-old back in 1970 would be an understatement but you have to learn quickly. Those first learnings came in January 1971 when I landed in Dublin for the first time in my life on a AnCO Block Release Course in Bolton Street. If you had asked me then or since what AnCo meant I wouldn't have been able to tell you, but thanks to Google I can now reveal that it stood for An Chomhairle Oiliúna or in English “the training council”.
That was also the year of decimalisation when the old pound, shillings and pence along with the half crowns and thruppenny bits went out of existence.
Three months without the home comforts or friends was a game changer but there were lots of learnings, especially how to stay safe in the big city.
There would be two further three month shifts in Bolton Street in 1972 and 1973. However, by 1973 the first big work change had come to pass. In the summer of 1972 Dunlevy's closed its printing works and I took the bus to Ballina and the Western People gave me the opportunity to complete my apprenticeship.
Five years would pass before I joined the Donegal Democrat in June 1977, having had a brief spell with the newly-formed Western Journal. In the five years spent in Ballina, I doubt if I spent more than ten weekends there, and most of those were in the opening few months. The arrival of a colleague from Dunlevy's, Steve Meehan, changed that with his VW Beetle taking us home on a Friday evening and back on Sunday evening in double quick time.
Back in Ballyshannon with the Donegal Democrat, I wasn't a stranger as two other former Dunlevy's men, Rollie Harron and Gordon Morrow, had made the transfer.
And so the Democrat journey had begun and it was one that lasted just short of 44 years. A landmark birthday in March of this year was supposed to have been the cut-off point but Covid-19 and temporary lay-off put paid to that. But the plan remained and while there was no retirement party, I have moved sideways to working just part-time and the Sports Editor job will have a new and fresh face come next week.
To reflect on the 44 years is a most difficult proposition. The amount of changes that have taken place in the Democrat are just staggering. When I joined it was housed on Tirconaill Street, moving to the Donegal Road in the late 1970s before the big move to Donegal Town in the early Noughties.
The changes in the newspaper industry are very well mirrored by what has happened in the Donegal Democrat, from being a completely self-contained business with its own printing press to being part of a much larger group of newspapers (Iconic News) which has central printing facilities.
In the early years, the workforce needed to produce the Democrat was much greater and it was all hands on deck on production day, Thursday.
Now it is all about getting the pages away via computer with print deadlines the deciding factor.
The biggest change in my worklife with the Democrat came in the late 1980s. I was always interested in sport from a very young age. There may not have been organised sport as we know it today when growing up in Drimarone in the 1960s, but we still made our own.
The work change I'm referring to is becoming a journalist. Initially I remained in the printing section of the Democrat while doing match reports, before becoming a full-time reporter in the mid 1990s.
Those early years were hectic with Donegal perennial Ulster finalists and of course we had the never to be forgotten All-Ireland in 1992 when Molloy proclaimed 'Sam is for the Hills'. When you add in doing part-time analysis alongside Tommy Marren on North West Radio along with reporting and doing my ordinary shift - I just wish I had that energy now.
Recently on my almost daily walk around Munday's Field with groups of underage training groups spread out over this wonderful facility, my mind went back to what we did as eight and 10 year olds. We didn't have a 'Munday's Field', but we had other fields (once the hay was saved) and we had Drumboarty crossroads, where four coats were goalposts and we played for hours. We had those tight and crowded situations every evening, almost a replica of what county teams use as warm-up drills in the present day.
It was much the same at Ardbane National School where the late Cathal Coughlan would keep the lunchtime game going until he was on the winning team or we heard the sound of a car approaching.
As for organised club training, there was none. My first taste of club football was for St Naul's in the old Drumbar grounds, an U-14 match against Drumbar. I think it was in 1967 and I was one of the youngest at 12. As was the case throughout my short St Naul's career, Willie O'Driscoll was in charge. I can still remember we were getting a hammering and myself and Michael Rose (who was even younger) pestering Willie to get on.
He eventually relented and I got my first touch of the football and headed towards goal. I was probably exhausted but I remember getting a free and Sean Gillespie pointed. It was one of the few scores that we got.
Those were great times and wouldn't have happened without the late Willie O'Driscoll, who set out from Mountcharles on the evening of a match and did the circle to Drimarone, Frosses and Doorin to gather up a team. We didn't worry about togging out on the Doorin Line and flying down the field to a pitch that was just about playable at times. I can only imagine how the modern day 12 year-olds would think of it.
St Naul's U-16s 1970. Peter Campbell 2nd from left middle row.
Sport was our only outlet. We might not have liked it but there was farm work that was part of life, especially the hay and turf. To say I was a reluctant participant would be an understatement with the best part being building the hay stack and turf stack; that meant that it was over for the year.
As for my adult sporting career, it was brief. After moving to Ballina there was a drop-out from St Naul's but Austin Coughlan got me back on board as a 19-year-old and there were a couple of good years.
Around the same time there was a group of players in the Drimarone area getting organised and playing soccer matches and this developed further in 1976 when Letterbarrow Celtic was formed. Even though I was still in Ballina, I was heavily involved. James McGroary was also one of the main men and thanks to his drive the club has gone from strength to strength.
The summer of 1976 was to be an exciting one as the first game in the Donegal League was to be hosted on McCahill's Holm in August, but my 'career' was almost ended before it began when I broke my ankle in a pre-season friendly. It would be almost 18 months before I kicked a ball for Letterbarrow and to be honest there weren't many highlights for the club in the opening few seasons as they found the going tough.
Then with a move to live in Ballyshannon in 1982, a new life began. It wasn't long before I was cajoled by PJ Buggy and Tom Daly to get involved with Aodh Ruadh, where stints followed on Bord na nÓg and on the senior executive as well as getting involved in underage coaching, mostly at U-10 level, which was most enjoyable. There were stints as PRO and secretary as well as being involved in Scór na nÓg, which provided one of the highlights, with an Aodh Ruadh team winning an All-Ireland trath na gceist title in 2002 and reaching the All-Ireland final on three other occasions.
The last phase of work life began in 2004 when Michael Daly, who had introduced and mentored me into the life of a journalist, moved up the ladder and I was honoured to be chosen to fill the vacancy of sports editor.
The workload increased immeasurably, being in charge of sports pages in three titles - Tuesday and Thursday Democrats and Donegal On Sunday. The challenge increased as the years went on with the Tuesday Democrat becoming the Monday Democrat with the race to produce reports for the pages on a Sunday evening.
There was no such thing as a five-day week. At times seven days weren't enough.
While it was tough, there was enjoyment too, especially with the success of Donegal in the last 10 years, producing supplements for All-Ireland and Ulster finals. Getting editions to print on the evening of the All-Ireland finals of 2012 and 2014 was challenging. Teamwork was necessary but we got there.
There were rewards too with McNamee Awards in 2011, 2014 and 2017 thanks to the help of respected colleagues Michael Daly, Tom Comack, Diarmaid Doherty, Gerry McLaughlin and Alan Foley, who will take on the mantle of sports editor from next week.
Peter Campbell accepting the MacNamee Award in 2014 from President Liam O'Neill along with Alan Foley, and Tom Comack
It has been a great journey, from the great games of football on the handball alley in Ballyshannon during lunch time in the 1970s to the unprecedented success of the Donegal team in recent times; going to Finn Park as a regular in the 1970s with Sheridan, O'Doherty, Ferry, Bradley and Chang Smith, etc., and seeing them lift the FAI Cup as well as the many other sporting achievements in the county over the past 50 years.
It was a pleasure to have been involved and to have the opportunity to meet and talk to some great sports people - it's not wise to mention names, but there are some that spring to mind: the humility of the late great Columba McDyer; the wit of Paddy Walsh; the staggering statistician that is Fr Seán; the friendliness of Ollie Horgan; the great loss in recent years of colleagues Seamus Mac Geidigh and very recently Michael 'Jack' O'Donnell . . . I could go on. Not forgetting The Follower, who became one of the Democrat's greatest columnists, albeit with a very biased Tirconaill slant.
As my small circle of friends will know, I don't have much time for bluffers or those with 'a chip on their shoulder'. I have always tried to be fair in what I was doing over the years and if I could do someone a favour, whether that be getting a match report or a photo from past years, I was only glad to oblige.
As the saying goes, I'm not going away, you know. Just going to take it a little easier. Hoping the golf handicap will drop, but on recent form that looks a long shot. Would be nice to see Murphy lift Sam one more time, but like myself and the golf, time is not on his side!
Thanks to all who gave me help and advice over the years, especially all my colleagues in the Democrat since 1977. Too dangerous to name names, but there were some great singers, mimics and All-Ireland winners, supporters of Everton, Man Utd, Leeds, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal, to mention just a few.
Thanks also to Martha and the family for being accommodating during some very busy times. There was never an anti-Kilcar bias but I can live with the abuse that comes with the job!
It has been a great journey. Here's to the next 44 years.
Peter pictured with the late Michael Crossan after accepting one of many national Community Games media awards
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