Donegal Town FC 1971/72
“There was an army of staunch GAA men that met us outside. They told us that, ‘the soccer club wouldn’t last six weeks in this town’. I think we passed our sell-by date because fifty years later we’re still here, stronger than ever.”
That is the one quote that sticks out in the mind of Donie McIntyre when Donegal Town FC was officially established in the old cinema rooms one February evening in 1970.
When the Donegal League was launched the following year in November 1971, the club was one of the official founding members, and for the next 50 years, Donegal Town FC would forever be present in the annals of Donegal sport with many ups and downs along the way as founding member McIntyre recalls.
“Even before the club was founded, there were always several smaller teams in the town, such as the Donegal Dynamos, Killymard United, Ballydevitt Rangers, and Magee’s Factory soccer team. So, it only seemed right by 1970 to get some organization together and form one club.
The Donegal Town team who took on Finn Harps in the FAI Youth Cup in 1981
“The reason soccer was met with such hostility was because the GAA had a rule that you couldn’t play any other sport that was regarded as a ‘foreign game’ and still play GAA. People used to say to me, ‘you’re not a real Irish man if you play soccer’. So, the GAA tried to strangle the club in the town, but thankfully that soon became an outdated rule because soccer was growing around Ireland particularly after the 1966 World Cup in England.
“We were predominantly working-class people in the town who had nothing but a love for the sport. In the early days of the club, we didn’t even have a bus to go to the games, so we used to travel in Gerry Crawford’s milk van, sitting on the empty milk crates. In fact, the first kits we ever had were Queens Park Rangers jerseys.”
McIntyre remembers the hardship the club endured in its early years. The hospital field was eventually bought in the early 70s from the health board for £15,000.
“We were under severe financial pressure. We couldn’t get £15 together, never mind £15,000. So, we were sponsored by an individual within Glasgow Celtic and for a short time the pitch was renamed ‘Paradise Park’. But as time wore on, thankfully we built together a financially successful club.”
Through years of hardship, the tide had swiftly turned by the 1980s. Marked by, as McIntyre credit them as, a Golden Generation of Players, Donegal Town went from end-to-end success as they captured three Premier League titles, two IAWS cups, and the first ever Lane cup, before moving into the Ulster Senior League.
“The talent we had was unbelievable and I was honoured to work with them boys. You always knew to watch them as kids that they were going to be good. They’d be playing in the streets as young children, and they’d break each other’s legs playing football, so you had to be tough to play on that team.
“That also mixed with the serious amount of skilful and intelligent players we had. The likes of Patsy McGlanaghy, Patsy Barr, Michael Breslin, Paul ‘feet’ Murrin, Decky McIntyre, Seamus Harvey, and of course not forgetting Marty Kelly. In fact, I really feel we could’ve won more, but we were just that bit too small.”
McIntyre continues in calling Marty Kelly one of the greatest players the county has ever produced, which has most recently been echoed on social media by none other than Packie Bonner.
Bumped into a former legend, Mart Kelly selling his Christmas draw tickets for his local schoolboy team in Donegal Town. Marty played at senior level for Finn Harps in 1970s when he was just 15years and was the second player from Donegal to play for the Irish Youth team. pic.twitter.com/eF7Ky4iXCB— Packie Bonner (@PackieBonner1) November 3, 2021
“I really feel that Marty broke the mould for soccer in county Donegal because before him you would rarely see someone from our part of the world representing Ireland, but Marty did on nine occasions. He played European football for Sligo Rovers, and also went to Celtic, Notts Forest and Swansea.
“I went to a game once where Marty played against John Anderson of Newcastle United, and if you knew nothing about soccer and I told you to point at the professional on the field, there’d be no question that everyone would point at Marty Kelly. He was miles above the rest.”
McIntyre, who is no longer involved in the club, credits the volunteers who have given rise to underage soccer in the club over the last three decades.
“A big help for us in the ‘90s was we had a number of players playing for the club who were also on the 1992 All-Ireland winning team (Joyce McMullin, Matt Gallagher, Paul Carr, Anthony Molloy and Declan Bonner), and that would have enticed a lot of young fellows to follow the club or play.
The Donegal Town FC side of 1984
“We entered two underage teams from the same age group one year, and one team had 13 subs while the other team had 15 subs. It was fantastic to see, that a club which experienced serious hardship in its early days, now had amazing support.”
McIntyre also credits current team manager Paul McHugh and the Byrne brothers (Marty, Benny and JP) for the growth and introduction of young players into the two adult teams in recent years.
“The best thing I can see is that the tradition of the club lives on,” said McIntyre. “Players who I played with or coached now have sons or nephews representing the club, and they’re talented players too. I have good friends in North Donegal, but they’ve been winning titles for long enough, so I really hope this crop of players, both Saturday and Sunday teams can bring some silverware back to the town soon.
“There’s been highs and lows but they’re memories I’ll never forget. Here’s to another 50 years.”
Current Donegal Town manager Paul McHugh's team are in the running for the Donegal League Premier Division this season
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