BY CHRIS MCNULTY
WHEN the curtain was pulled on Glenswilly’s campaign in 2011, Gary McDaid pulled the pin, drained and exhausted from a monumental campaign that concluded with Dr Maguire resting on the sideboard at Pairc Naomh Columba.
Joint manager that year alongside John McGinley, McDaid had poured heart and soul into the campaign, but by season’s end his engine was running on empty.
They saw out the League and avoided relegation to Division 2 but the intention to step down had been made clear following their Ulster Championship defeat by Latton, the Monaghan champions, in Ballybofey.
After a year away from the rigours of management, McDaid was coaxed back at the last AGM. Dr Maguire was relinquished following a forgettable quarter-final against Dungloe and they also gave up Division 1 status. The graph, all of a sudden, slumped.
Last year, McDaid played with the reserves, but he hankered for a return to the sideline.
“You be mad when you’re away from it and the appetite is still there,” he says.
“When the season was over last year the boys were talking to me about maybe going back. I talked to a few boys and they seemed to be happy to give it a good drive this year. They were willing to put it in.”
It’s not as if he’s got plenty of time on the hands.
A P.E teacher at St Eunan’s College, McDaid manages some of the College teams too and, at home, he and his wife have a one-and-a-half-year old with another due next month.
“It’s hectic at the minute,” he says.
“The commitment with the team is huge on top of everything. This is a full-time job in my eyes.”
He considered his options carefully last winter, but after talking things over with prospective assistants and backroom boys, McDaid was back in the harness.
And, surprisingly perhaps, it wasn’t a big decision once that came together.
“Not when I knew that the boys were willing to put in a big shif,” he says. “That was half the battle. The biggest thing then was getting the backroom team together. I have a great backroom team. It’s a pretty big backroom team, but they all have their own jobs and it’s important that they fulfil their jobs and realise that, if they don’t it’ll let the team down.
“We pretty much have the same routine for every game and it’s not a million miles away from what we used in 2011. The way we prepare, we meet here at our own place first and go through a few things and then hit the road then.”
At this stage, Glenswilly are well accustomed to MacCumhaill Park and its environs.
They have many happy memories of the Ballybofey venue and don’t have much in the way of painful thoughts from defeats by the Finn.
“We lost to Latton in 2011 and maybe St Eunan’s in 200,” says McDaid.
“We know Ballybofey well and are not afraid of going to Ballybofey. We’re going to the county ground and that’s the place where every young kid wants to play.”
Glenswilly’s has been a campaign defined by narrow margins. The width of an upright denied Peter ‘Oliver’ McNelis and Ardara a replay in the semi-final, with Glenswilly counting blessings for Colin Kelly’s first-half goal and a brace of late points by Kelly and Gary McFadden.
The evening was becomming somewhat lopsided when Glenswilly led by seven points at one stage before they lost their way and Ardara found their compass to make a game of it.
“Fair enough, we had a good enough first half, but Ardara won the second half and were very unlucky not to get something out of the game. We were lucky to get through,” McDaid says.
“We regrouped on the Sunday and we had a recovery session and a bit of a talk, planning for the next couple of weeks. I would need about a month to correct everything that went wrong on Saturday night.
“We’ll have to squeeze that into the next fortnight and it’s a matter of prioritising areas that went wrong and getting those right for the final.
“Maybe that’s the way to get through semi-finals. It’s all about winning, is’t it? If we went in having won that game the way we were winning at half-time, people would be saying that the final’s over before it’s on.”
McDaid and Glenswilly are attempting to mould a squad for the future out in Foxhall. This year, he’s had the likes of Ryan Hunter and Ryan Diver getting game time with minors Cormac Callaghan and Ryan Toner also seeing tastes of action in the League and savouring the Championship days as members of the squad.
“Having the county boys back for the last few weeks has been great,” McDaid adds.
“You can work on so much more. You can work on your gameplan and that’s what it’s about. When you go out on a Sunday you want the gameplan to work. For the young lads, it’s brilliant to train with Michael, Neil and Copper.”
McDaid was one man who wasn’t surprised by Killybegs upsetting the odds against Malin.
Indeed, he could sense it coming – and is wary of Martin ‘Slua’ Boyle’s team ahead of Sunday’s final.
He says: We have no massive history or tradition in the Championship. This is our third final and the club was only founded in 1981. It’s huge for us to be in a county final.
“Obviously Killybegs have much more tradition than us. They’re a much older club and are more established. You saw that come out of them in their semi-final. It was like your man (Hugh McFadden) said, it was the ‘Killybegs guts’. It’s up to us to try and get up to that level.
“After I left MacCumhaill Park on the Saturday night I said: ‘I think Killybegs are going to win tomorrow’. That was just going on the way our game had gone. Ardara were big underdogs and Killybegs were the underdogs for the Sunday one.
“I just knew that they’d be able to raise their game. They have done that for every Championship game this year. They have some massive players, the likes of ‘Mooner’ (Christopher Murrin), young (Hugh) McFadden up front – what a prospect he is for Donegal football. He reminds me of a young Michael Murphy.
“There are more than Hugh up there too. They have the Brendans, Faherty and Maguire, Benny Boyle who’s a great free taker and Shane Molloy at the back too. They have massive players all over the field and to be able to bring those guys back from America has only added to their strength. We’ll be up against it.”
Glenswilly, though, have entered the folder of the big hitters. This will be their third final at this level including 2007. No longer are they small fries and they’re racking up their own portfolio of tradition now too.
McDaid says: “There’s massive hunger within our panel to get us another championship medal. I’ve no doubt when they cross that white line they’ll show that passion. Hopefully, as well as implementing the gameplan, that will be enough. To implement that over the 60 minutes can be really tough. The last day (against Ardara), it was over 30 minutes or over 35 minutes.
“We’re a bit more experienced now compared to 2011. We’re certainly grounded and know we’re going in against one of the traditionalists of Donegal football. They have already played in the final in 2010 and have been there.”
When last he donned the Bainisteoir’s bib, McDaid’s team was in the same position as Killybegs – bottom of Division 1 and facing an in-form St Michael’s that was leading the way in Division 2.
“When you play in Division One you play against a better standard of team,” he says.
“Killybegs have shown that. The top half of Division Two might of that standard but in Division One there’s nowhere to hide and no easy game. It’s dog eat dog. Ardara and Killybegs are the bottom two in Division One and both got to the semi-finals of the championship so it proves just how strong it is there. Anyone can beat anyone there.”