When Donegal minors lit up the summer of 1996. Their story and 'where are they now?'

When Donegal  minors lit up the summer of 1996. Their story and 'where are they now?'

The Donegal panel prior to the All-Ireland MFC semi-final against Laois at Croke Park in 1996

Twenty-five years ago in the summer of 1996, Donegal came within a whisker of becoming the first side from the county to reach an All-Ireland minor final.

Anthony Molloy, Donegal’s captain in 1992, knew a thing or two about winning All-Ireland titles. His minor panel was backboned by a healthy contingent of players who won the All-Ireland Vocational Schools crown in both 1996 and the year beforehand. 

In the summer when Football (almost) came home, Britpop and Leaving Certs, Donegal left a stamp. De La Salle Ballyshannon had beaten St Eunan’s Letterkenny on St Patrick’s Day in the MacLarnon Cup final in 1996.

There would be an all-Donegal final in the same competition, when St Eunan’s overcame Coláistí Inis Eoghain in Armagh, in 2014, which was the year Donegal reached their first ever All-Ireland minor final.

Having won the 1996 Ulster Minor League, Donegal blazed through Ulster until the final, where they had to battle to see off a fine Derry side following a replay at Healy Park.

They paid for a poor start against Laois in the All-Ireland semi-final in the cacophony of Croke Park, newly-renovated and somehow even louder than ever before, almost salvaging their dreams with a dramatic second half comeback. 

"I will always remember the Ulster final, the drawn game,” Molloy said this week. “It was a great game, point for point against a good Derry team. I took on Johnny McLoone that day to stick a '50' over the bar to draw the game. 

"We were seven or eight points down at one stage against Laois in the All-Ireland semi-final and we hauled it back to a point.
“And I took Johnny on then for a 30-yard free for a left-footed player. It just dropped short. And that would have drawn it with the last kick of the game. 

"It was one of those things because I think if we had got a crack at Laois a second time, I think we would have  beaten them. That Laois team went on to beat Kerry very well in the final.”

The panel has since scattered here and there, with only a handful of its players having fruitful senior careers with Donegal. "It was amazing that it was only Barry Monaghan and Michael Hegarty who went on to play consistently at county senior level,” Molloy adds.

“You would think they would have got more because they were a talented bunch. Eamonn Reddin would have been in and out, and Ciaran Browne featured as well. But that's typical minors.”

Molloy was assisted by Michael Oliver McIntyre from Naomh Columba and Downings’ Paddy McBride, with Barry Campbell of Kilcar and Dr Austin O’Kennedy, Four Masters, also on the sideline. "It was an enjoyable year but hugely disappointing in what it might have been,” Molloy says. “It's sad now on reflection that Paddy and Michael Oliver were two mighty men to have on the sideline with me. And I'm saddened now to think that they have passed on. Two very intellectual football brains.”

Here’s the match reports as reported at the time in The Donegal Democrat:

Sunday, May 26, 1996
Ulster MFC preliminary round
St Tiernach’s Park, Clones

‘Brilliant Minors give Down a lesson'

Donegal 4-8
Down 1-5

A quite brilliant display from Donegal minors saw them on top from start to finish as they ran out convincing winners against Down in the preliminary round of the Ulster MFC.

Up front, David McGinley finished with a personal tally of 3-5 and he will hardly ever have a better outing. Donegal led 1-5 to 0-3 at half-time. McGinley scored the opening goal in the fourth minute, driving home a pass from Aodh Brennan.

Peter McHugh bagged Donegal’s second goal in the 37th minute when Joel Carr and McGinley were involved in the move. 
On 42 minutes Donegal put the game to bed, with McGinley again the goalscorer, this time after spadework from Barry Monaghan, Gerard Cannon and St Eunan’s Shane O’Donnell.

Three minutes later, McGinley completed his hat-trick when a lob from Monaghan was dropped by a Down defender.
Gareth Doran netted a Down consolation goal in injury time, beating David Greene, who had a fine game between the posts.

David Greene; Ronan Mulligan, Eamonn Reddin, Shane O’Donnell (Bundoran); Rory Sweeney, Adrian McClafferty, Gerard Cannon; Barry Monaghan, Ciaran Browne; Michael Hegarty (0-1), David McGinley (3-5, 5f), Joel Carr; Shane O’Donnell (St Eunan’s, 0-1), Aodh Brennan, Peter McHugh (1-0). Subs: Johnny McLoone (0-1, 1f) for S O’Donnell (St Eunan’s), Barry Browne for Brennan, Paddy McMenamin for C Browne.

Friday, May 31
Ulster MFC quarter-final 

‘Donegal minors in sparkling form’

Donegal 4-15
Monaghan 0-2

Just five days after their victory over Down, Donegal minors again demonstrated their undoubted class with an emphatic victory over Monaghan in Irvinestown.

Again, it was David McGinley and Peter McHugh who did the damage, up front, with a combined total of 4-8. This time it was the Ardara man who grabbed three goals, while McGinley posted 1-8.

Michael Hegarty impressed in the first quarter, with McHugh scoring the first goal after Aodh Brennan’s initial effort was blocked. McGinley added the second goal before the break, with Michael Treanor, the Monaghan goalkeeper, carrying the ball over the line. Donegal were 2-8 to 0-1 up at half-time.

Rory Sweeney ventured forward to score a point from full-back. McHugh finished off a Barry Monaghan centre to give Donegal a 3-11 to 0-1 lead in the 43rd minute. The fourth goal was excellent, with McGinley showing his vision to set up McHugh to finish.

At the back, Eamonn Reddin, Adrian McClafferty and Bundoran’s Shane O’Donnell were solid throughout. 

Donegal: David Greene; Ronan Mulligan, Eamonn Reddin, Shane O’Donnell (Bundoran); Rory Sweeney, Adrian McClafferty, Gerard Cannon; Barry Monaghan, Ciaran Browne; Michael Hegarty (0-2), David McGinley (1-8, 7f), Joel Carr; Shane O’Donnell (St Eunan’s, 0-3), Aodh Brennan, Peter McHugh (3-0). Subs: Garett Blake (0-1) for McHugh, Barry Browne for Monaghan, Donal Martin for Cannon.

Sunday, July 7
Ulster MFC semi-final
St Tiernach’s Park, Clones

‘Donegal cruise into final’

Donegal 4-20
Antrim 0-3
Donegal will go into the 1996 final against Derry as hot favourites by virtue of this outstanding display at Clones against a decidedly poor Antrim team.

Having scored four goals against both Down and Monaghan, Donegal continued the trend to amass 12-43 over three outings, while conceding just 1-10.

A rather bizarre goal set Donegal on their way on 11 minutes. Brian McCann in the Antrim goal failed to hold a Peter McHugh shot and the ball was adjudged to have crossed the line.

At half-time Donegal were 1-8 to 0-1 to the good, before Peter McHugh scored his second goal of the afternoon. Stephen Ward came in for the last quarter to score a spectacular goal from long range and another goal, from Rory Sweeney, added to the Antrim woes.

Donegal: David Greene; Ronan Mulligan, Eamonn Reddin, Shane O’Donnell (Bundoran); Aodh Brennan (0-2), Adrian McClafferty, Gerard Cannon; Barry Monaghan, Barry Browne (0-1); Michael Hegarty (0-3), David McGinley (0-6, 6f), Joel Carr (0-1); Shane O’Donnell (St Eunan’s, 0-3), Rory Sweeney (1-2, 1 ‘45’), Peter McHugh (2-1). 
Subs: Stephen Ward (1-0) for Monaghan, Garett Blake (0-1) for McClafferty, Donal Martin for Mulligan.  

Sunday, July 28
Ulster MFC final
St Tiernach’s Park, Clones

‘Donegal must try again’

Donegal 0-9
Derry 0-9
Almost as tense as an Olympic swimming final involving Ireland’s Michelle Smith, this minor final provided a dramatic finish as Donegal came back in the final seconds to snatch a draw, a draw they just about deserved having played second fiddle for much of the hour to defending champions, Derry.

The sides were level four times in the final minutes. A deluge of rain prior to throw-in did little to help either team. But for the towering performance of Adrian McClafferty at centre-back, Donegal would have lost.

They were fortunate to have brought on a left-footed free-taker, Johnny McLoone, in the latter stages. He ended up salvaging a draw. Rory Sweeney, after Derry went ahead in the 61st minute through Eoin Farren, had drawn the foul. Donegal were three down early on, one behind at the start of the second half and went ahead 0-8 to 0-7 with two minutes remaining. They live to fight again.

Donegal: David Greene; Ronan Mulligan, Eamonn Reddin, Shane O’Donnell (Bundoran); Aodh Brennan (0-1), Adrian McClafferty, Gerard Cannon; Barry Monaghan, Barry Browne (0-1); Shane O’Donnell (St Eunan’s, 0-1), David McGinley (0-4, 2f), Joel Carr; Michael Hegarty, Rory Sweeney, Peter McHugh. 
Subs: Johnny McLoone (0-2, 1f) for Brennan, Stephen Ward for Carr, Ciaran Browne for O’Donnell (St Eunan’s).

Sunday, August 4
Ulster MFC final replay
Healy Park, Omagh
‘Donegal point the way to Ulster victory’

Donegal 0-9
Derry 1-5
Omagh, 6:05pm, Sunday. Crowds spilling into Healy Park. Like children running from a wasp their steps hurried, their eyes dancing.

They didn’t want to miss anything. Thousands, three or four, the locals weren’t sure, cramming their way onto the terraces to watch a minor match.

Derry were the better team for 40 minutes, but like Clones they folded for the last 20. Donegal were fortunate to be one down, 1-2 to 0-4, at half-time and two, 1-4 to 0-5, on 40. Derry’s Eoin Farren scored what was to be the only goal.

Gerard Cannon levelled it and Aodh Brennan edged Donegal in front. Rory Sweeney pointed with what proved to be the winner. Unlike Clones, Donegal got ahead and stayed ahead.

Goalkeeper David Greene made a 30-metre to intercept a Derry move with less than two minutes to play. 
Donegal: David Greene; Ronan Mulligan, Eamonn Reddin, Shane O’Donnell (Bundoran); Rory Sweeney (0-1), Adrian McClafferty, Gerard Cannon (0-1); Barry Monaghan, Barry Browne (0-1); Shane O’Donnell (St Eunan’s, 0-1), Ciaran Browne, Johnny McLoone (0-1, 1f), Joel Carr (0-1); David McGinley (0-3), Peter McHugh. Subs: Michael Hegarty for McLoone, Aodh Brennan for Carr, Andrew Gallagher for Mulligan.

Sunday, August 18
All-Ireland MFC semi-final
Croke Park, Dublin

‘Memorable comeback ends in one-point defeat’

Donegal 1-10 
Laois 2-8
A place, for the first time, in an All-Ireland minor football final remains as elusive as ever for Donegal following last Sunday’s harrowing experience when they recovered from a dreadful start to run highly-rated Laois to one point.

Donegal could have snatched a draw with the last kick of the game only luckless Johnny McLoone failed to convert from a free which was always going to be his only kick of the game.

Having chased down a seven-point half-time deficit, Donegal were within a whisker. Anthony Molloy gambled on not including a left-footed free-taker. Laois were 2-5 to 0-4 in front at half-time with Kevin Fitzpatrick and Stephen Kelly the goalscorers.
A couple of Gerard Cannon points got Donegal going at the start of the second half and substitute Stephen Ward was unfortunate to see a shot strike the post and side-netting. David McGinley saw a terrific shot clip the crossbar and go over and then Ward saw another shot at goal shave the post.

By the 54th minute Donegal were back to just one down, thanks to Aodh Brennan goal, having played a give-and-go with Joel Carr.

Chris Conway of Laois scored a free - their first point in 20 minutes - only for Carr to take Donegal back to within one. Michael Hegarty won a late free and McGinley left the kick to McLoone, who was being ushered on.

Heartbreakingly, with his only kick of the afternoon, it fell short into the grasp of Robert Darby, the Laois goalkeeper, and referee Niall Barrett blew for time. Laois defeated Kerry in the final and retained the title in 1997 defeating Tyrone. 

Donegal: David Greene; Ronan Mulligan, Eamonn Reddin, Shane O’Donnell (Bundoran); Michael Hegarty, Adrian McClafferty, Gerard Cannon (0-2); Ciaran Browne, Barry Monaghan; Rory Sweeney; Barry Browne, Shane O’Donnell (St Eunan’s, 0-1); Joel Carr (0-2), David McGinley (0-5, 3f), Peter McHugh. Subs: Stephen Ward for B Browne, Aodh Brennan (1-0) for Sweeney, Johnny McLoone for O’Donnell (St Eunan’s).

The Donegal minors of 1996 - where are they now?

David Greene (Aodh Ruadh): Was a big year for Greene as he was between the posts for Vocational School win too. Played senior for Aodh Ruadh, winning two Donegal SFC medals. Member of An Garda Siochana in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan.

Shane O'Donnell (Bundoran): Went on to play senior for Bundoran for many years. Won an Intermediate championship medal with Bundoran in 2010. Still living in the Bundoran area and works in Abbotts in Sligo.

Eamonn Reddin (Naomh Padraig, Muff): Ended up playing most of his club football with Burt, winning a JFC in 2011. Played senior for Donegal from 1997 until 2005, making his championship debut in 1999 against Armagh. Worked in Coleraine and now in Moville Community College as a PE teacher. Helps out Anthony Doogan with the Moville seniors and the U-9 team where his son Tony plays.

Stephen Ward (Aodh Ruadh): Won a McLarnon Cup also that year with De La Salle, beating St Eunan’s in the final. Went on to be a regular at midfield for Aodh Ruadh and won two county senior medals. Still involved at underage level with the club. Now a planning officer with An Bord Pleanala and lives in Ballyshannon.

Ronan Mulligan (St Eunan’s): Played in Dublin with the Thomas Davies club, winning All-County League Divisions 3 and 4, as captain alongside Keith Barr. Played under managers such as Brian Talty, Jim Gavin and John Newton. Lives in Clonee and works for An Garda Siochana on the protection team for Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins, based out of Harcourt Square. Still plays junior football.  

Martin Gallagher (Aodh Ruadh): Also on De La Salle McLarnon winning team in 1996, Gallagher also went on to play for many years with his hometown club. Also won two senior championship medals. Still living in the club area and is an engineer with Donegal County Council.

Adrian McClafferty (St Eunan’s): McClafferty had a fine campaign in 1996 and was a Donegal SFC winner six times. Currently a data engineer for Red Hat and assists Peter McGeehin with St Eunan’s development team, who play in Division 4 of the All-County League.

Garett Blake (Aodh Ruadh): Was also part of De La Salle MacLarnon team that year and was the youngest player on the minor panel, at 16. Captained the Ted Webb team who lost to Mayo the day after the Ulster final replay. Won 1998 Ulster Colleges All-Star, Donegal SFC medal as well as Sigerson Cup medal in 2002 with IT Sligo, from where he qualified as an quantity surveyor. Played with St Mary's, Sligo, where he now lives. 

Rory Sweeney (Naomh Brid): Went to Boston after his minor days. Was a brilliant year as he captained both minors and the Vocational Schools team, who retained their All-Ireland title. Returned to the US where he won three New York Championships and owns  Rory Sweeney Contracting Corporation in Yonkers.

Donal Martin (Naomh Brid): Another member of the Vocational Schools All-Ireland winning team, 'Skimmer' was a regular for Naomh Brid at senior level. Went on to win an All-Ireland Masters title. Now works as a Outdoor Activities Instructor at Gartan.

Ciaran Browne (Carndonagh): Went onto play NFL for Donegal seniors, involved in under Declan Bonner, Mickey Moran and Brian McEniff. Transferred to St Vincent’s in Dublin and played junior for Kevin Heffernan, whilst studying at DCU. Returned to win a JFC with Carndonagh in 2008 and now lives in Ballybofey, where he has coached the MacCumhaill’s seniors and coaches their underage girls and U-14s. Due to start a new job, working remotely for Waterford-based Threefold Systems, as head of quality engineering automation, next month.  

Barry Monaghan (Four Masters): His father Donal was Donegal’s second ever All-Star in 1974. Became a member of the Donegal senior team playing 117 senior games. Won Donegal senior championship medal with Four Masters in 2003 and All-Ireland Masters with Donegal. Still living in Donegal Town where he runs the family tyre business with brothers Don and Marcus.

Barry Browne (Carndonagh): Ciaran’s younger brother by a year was still playing minor in 1997, the same year Carndonagh won the Donegal IFC title. He transferred to Naomh Barróg in Baldoyle, Dublin. Back in the north-west living in Ballybofey, he works remotely as a fund accountant manager for Sligo-based Apex Fund Services and helps out at MacCumhaill’s U-7 and U-11s, where his sons Barry and Oisin play.

Joel Carr (Four Masters): Was also a member of the All-Ireland Vocational Schools winning team of 1996. Went on to play at all levels for his club, winning a Donegal SFC medal in 2003. Still living in the Donegal Town area and works in the family Plant Hire business.

David McGinley (St Eunan’s): A Sports Science lecturer in North West Regional College, between Derry and Limavady, where he managed alongside Jim McGuinness for a spell and won six All-Ireland titles at Further Education level. Won five Donegal SFC crowns and managed St Eunan’s in 2016. Lives in Churchill and is part of the coaching team for the U-14 Eastern Divisional panel for the Donegal GAA Academy.

Andrew Gallagher (St Naul's): A substitute on the minor team, Gallagher went on to play U-21 and senior for Donegal, under Mickey Moran. Led his club to a county U-21A title and is still involved with his club as joint-manager. Runs the family undertaker business with his father, Eddie, also a former Donegal player.

Michael Hegarty (Kilcar): A minor again the following year, Hegarty went on to be a Donegal senior, playing 127 times, winning Ulster in his final campaign in 2011. Has won the 2017 Donegal SFC with Kilcar and still continues to turn out for his club at senior level - now in his 26th season. Now living outside Dunkineely, he is rep for Top Oil.

Gerard Cannon (Naomh Columba):  Went on to play senior for Naomh Columba.  Had won U-16 Donegal title as a 14-year-old. Subsequently went to live in Churchill and won a Senior C medal with Glenswilly in 2017. Still plays Division 5 football.  Works in construction for 3D Personnel in Derry.

Shane O’Donnell (St Eunan’s):  Won Donegal SFC titles in 1999 and 2001 before moving to Dublin where he worked as accountant for DC Kavanagh and Menolly Homes. Owns Subway franchises with outlets in Tallaght and Belgard. Currently lives in Rathfarnham, where he also owns a restaurant called the Chatty Fox. Helps out at Ballyboden St Enda’s academy where his twin sons Patrick and Aidan play.

Peter McHugh (Ardara): Still playing for the Ardara club which he has served so well, winning two senior championship medals, in 2000 and 2004. Was a member of the Donegal Masters winning team in 2019. Still living in Narin/Downstrands area and works in the family construction business.

Aodh Brennan (Ardara): Scored the goal that formed a massive part of the comeback against Laois at Croke Park. Went on to play senior for Ardara for many years, winning two senior championship medals, in 2000 and 2004. Now living in Co Roscommon and involved in the construction industry.

Johnny McLoone (Naomh Conaill): Has given a lifetime of service to the Naomh Conaill club, part of their championship breakthrough in 2005 and also involved in management. Won a NFL medal with Donegal in 2007 under Brian McIver. Runs the family butcher shop in Killybegs.

Joe Byrne (Naomh Conaill):  Went on to play with Naomh Conaill at senior level. Still living in the Glenties area and his son Nathan was part of the Donegal U-20 team this year. Works in construction.

Paddy McMenamin (Termon): Made a brief appearance in the opening match against Down, McMenamin is a self-employed brick-layer. Won the 2000 IFC with Termon and now looks after the Burn Road club’s reserves and U-17 team. His son Cian is part of Luke Barrett’s Donegal U-17 panel.

Darren Dorrian (Glenfin): Was part of the Glenfin side that won Donegal and Ulster IFC crowns in 2001 before moving to Cork, where he played junior football with Churchtown, two years later. Currently lives in Raheen, Limerick, and works as a network administrator at the University of Limerick. 

Paddy Kelly (Malin): A cousin of the Browne brothers, Kelly lined out at midfield for Malin at 17, with the highlight reaching the 2013 Donegal SFC semi-final. Worked in roofing in Dublin, Ballina, Co Mayo and Inniscrone, Co Sligo before completing a degree in horticulture in 2014. Currently a supervisor in Community Employment in Buncrana and lives in Carndonagh. 

Thomas Cullen (Termon): Was part of the panel in the latter stages of the Ulster MFC, Cullen helped Termon to IFC titles in 2000 and again in 2012, having played county minors in 1997. Works as a resource tutor at Lifford Youth Reach and plays for Termon’s Division 5 side, as well as helping out with the U-6s. 

John Paul Clarke (Naomh Colmcille): The substitute goalkeeper was only 16 and would keep goal the following year for Donegal’s minors. Played FAI schools and was on the books of Finn Harps for a season. Transferred to St Eunan’s and won the Dr Maguire in 2012. Works remotely from Letterkenny as an IT consultant with 33Floors, a boutique consulting firm based in San Francisco. 

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