BY CHRIS MCNULTY
BENNY Boyle watched enviously in 2010 as Killybegs toiled in their ill-fated Championship final against Naomh Conaill.
Although beaten by the Glenties side, Killybegs had been close enough to see that good things could come to those who wait.
Boyle had not worn the Killybegs jersey for a decade, but after that final the natives called and asked him to return.
One of the ‘Baker’ Boyles, he’d spent twelve years living in Newtownstewart, where his mother hails from. He played there with the local St Eugene’s, a team that included the Tyrone goalkeeper, Pascal McConnell.
Home was where the heart lay, though.
“It’s been good since I came back to Killybegs,” he said.
“There’s a big buzz now and people are starting to believe that we can pull off a serious upset.”
The ‘Baker’ household will just have the one boy lining up on Sunday. Shane has been in America and cannot play, while Ronan is laid up with a knee injury sustained a few weeks ago in a League game against Naomh Conaill.
Benny, though, will be the man who’ll lead them out. He said: “Coming from the family I do in GAA circles, this is what it’s all about.
“My father won things playing for Killybegs and managing Killybegs, he played for Donegal too, so it was a proud moment in the house when I got the captaincy.”
Given the lead role by Martin ‘Slua’ Boyle at the outset of the campaign, little did Benny think that he’d be facing the glare of the media in mid-October and be preparing himself to lead out a team from Killybegs on Donegal football’s biggest day on the calendar.
He said: “Even leading them out in the semi-final was breathtaking. To run out from the tunnel and see the people and hear the noise was something else. That’ll multiply for the final.
“This is the biggest game I’ll ever have played in. I’ll enjoy the build up and every second of it.
“There is a great buzz about Killybegs since we won the semi-final and we’ll have a big crowd behind us.”
The impossible dream became possible for Killybegs thanks to a tough road that saw off MacCumhaills and Malin after they’d emerged with their heads above the line from a group that had Gaoth Dobhair, Termon and Dungloe.
“Every week that we went out in the Championship we got a bit more belief about us that this was possible,” Boyle said.
“We had a really tight group, but we knew that if we could get something in Gaoth Dobhair that we’d be looking at two home games then, which was massive – especially after getting something that first day.
“If you don’t win your two home games you don’t deserve to progress, so thankfully we did that.
“The turning point was the Gaoth Dobhair draw. Bar a couple of sloppy frees that we gave away, we were happy that day. Those frees let them off the hook a bit and we should have won the game.
“For us, we went down to Magheragallon and it was a case of: Do or don’t. At half-time we knew that we had them on the rack a bit. We came away from that game knowing that we were good enough to get out of the group and we’ve built on that game.”
Much has been made of Killybegs’ League form, but Boyle explains that they had been consigned to Division 2 from early in the campaign – and it was a case then of preserving some competition into their season. Without Championship, their train would have been in danger of totally derailing.
He said: “We knew going into the quarter-final that the Championship was all that we had left. We put all of the eggs into the Championship basket. We just said we’d have a go at it. Thankfully it’s worked out well for us so far.
“Getting to the final never entered our heads. We were just taking each game as it came our way and when we got MacCumhaills we thought we could get the result. All of a sudden you’re into a semi-final and can smell it.
“We were thereabouts in the early League games. We weren’t getting hammered and we ran the likes of St Eunan’s close. Our story was leaking soft scores and then not putting over easy chances at the other end. We’ve learned from those mistakes.”
Boyle has a real love for the game that comes through as he talks at ease about the campaign, Sunday’s final and all things football.
There is a deep-rooted passion coursing through his veins, too. He believes that the talk of absent faces has been disingenuous to those who are lining up for the red and white brigade.
He said: “A lot of things have deflected off the team to boys who are away. But since 2010 we’ve inherited myself, Matthew Smyth, Eoin and John ‘Ban’ Gallagher and Hugh McFadden. Although that’s not to take away from fellas who aren’t here, we have just had to get on with it. We knew from the start of the season who we had and who we hadn’t.”
Few gave them a prayer against Malin in the semi-final. The stage was set for Malin to make their big breakthrough. The carcass of St Eunan’s, the champions, hung in their shed, but Killybegs put them to the sword in the semi-finals.
“A lot of people have said that Malin’s game against St Eunan’s was their county final, but I wouldn’t agree with that at all,” Boyle said.
“Maybe the occasion did get to them in the semi, but I don’t think they realised what we were going to throw at them. We got them on the hop.
“We were well in control when Enda (Murphy) got sent off. We just had to dig deep and hang on.
“Antoine (O’Hara) made a fantastic save late on. I saw it on the replay. He’s got back into the breach with Michael Mullin injured and he’s done himself justice. Our defence is well experienced and all the boys have been there or thereabouts, bar Eoin ‘Ban’ (Gallagher), but he has fitted in superbly well.
“2010 helped these guys. The older heads have really helped the young lads. Our boys were there before whereas there was a lot of pressure on Malin. I think Malin will be back – they have a bright future.”
As he goes to toss the coin on Sunday he might have a glance around Sean MacCumhaill Park and seeing the red and white flags fluttering he’ll know he made the right decision in answering home’s calling. These are the days for which he came back.
Killybegs’ departed dozen
BY CHRIS MCNULTY
AS THE fishing industry has waned in Killybegs, emigration has taken a hard toll on the locality.
Killybegs has a long standing tradition of producing top-class footballers, but they can’t help but wonder ‘what if’: What if they were able to select from a full deck this week.
They had a seriously promising batch of minors that won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006, while they lost an Under 21 final to Naomh Conaill in 2007.
While Martin ‘Slua’ Boyle has some fine players at his disposal for this weekend’s final, he surely wouldn’t mind having the pick of these dozen who are absent for one reason or the other (and the list doesn’t include Ronan Boyle, the corner-back who is set to miss Sunday’s final through the knee injury that led to him being stretchered off in a recent League game against Naomh Conaill).
THE obvious starting point, Coleman was a flying centre half-back in his time and won countless underage titles with Killybegs. In 2004, Coleman was a member of the Donegal Under 16 team that won the Buncrana Cup.
His career hasn’t panned out too badly since! After signing and excelling for Sligo Rovers in the League of Ireland, you might find him starring for Everton on Match of the Day or wearing the Republic of Ireland captain’s armband these days.
A TALENTED corner-forward growing up, Kelly was another ace soccer star in his youth with the local St Catherine’s. Kelly was signed at sixteen by Heart of Midlothian and having spent time at Dundalk is now a regular with Limerick FC in the League of Ireland Premier Division.
ANOTHER one of the ‘Baker’ boys, he was an integral figure in the 2010 team that reached the final and lost to Naomh Conaill. Played Championship football in New York this summer and, as a result, is ‘cup tied’ and can’t line out for Killybegs. The teak-tough defender would be one to have relished lining up against Glenswilly’s star-studded attack.
A STYLISH wing-back, who played on the Donegal Minor team that won the Ulster Minor Championship in 2006, McGinley is another one of the class of 2010 who is not available this time around. Like Boyle, played Championship football in New York which has prevented his participation.
CAME on as a substitute in all three of Killybegs’ group games this year, appearing against Gaoth Dobhair, Termon and Dungloe. Subsequently injured knee ligaments meaning the forward is out of the reckoning.
HE was Killybegs’ first-choice goalkeeper until he was forced to leave the quarter-final against MacCumhaills with a quad injury that has not healed. It’s a reveral of roles this year. In 2010, Mullin took the place of the injured Antoine O’Hara; now it’s O’Hara who has profited from Mullin’s misfortune.
THE defender has been troubled by a back injury for much of the campaign. Started at full-back against Gaoth Dobhair, but came off injured and has not played since.
THE big midfielder will be one of those huddled around a laptop in Australia to listen in on the action from Sunday’s final online. Has been based Down Under
HAS had a lot of injury trouble and hasn’t feature in the 2013 Championship. Suffered a stroke of bad luck recently in Dublin when goalposts fell on him, breaking his ankle in a few places.
A CRUCIATE victim, Connaghan headed off to America at the start of the summer, but the defender suffered that awful injury while playing Stateside.
SAW some game time in 2010, but the 25-year old forward has been based in England for the best part of the last year.
WAS a part of the panel in 2010, but the midfielder has upped sticks and is now based in America.
Naomh Conaill 3-13 Killybegs 0-10 NAOMH Conaill marched into the quarter-finals of the Under 21 ‘A’ Championship after recording...