BY CHRIS MCNULTY
LEGENDARY goalkeepers Shay Given and Packie Bonner are back in Donegal this weekend to host the ‘Donegal Heroes and Legends’ day on Sunday.
The day is a celebration of all the footballers from Donegal who have been signed by professional clubs in England and Scotland. The pair are hosting a golf day at Ballybofey and Stranorlar Golf Club and a dinner evening in The Villa Rose Hotel.
125-times capped Lifford native Given, on the books of Aston Villa now having previously been at Celtic, Blackburn Rovers, Swindon Town, Sunderland, Newcastle United and Manchester City, is joined in hosting the function by ex-Celtic and Ireland ace Bonner.
“It’s celebrating the county,” he told the Donegal News.
“It’ll be nice to get us all together to help celebrate Donegal’s football pedigree. It’s a good way for us to promote Donegal.”
The final list of guests has yet to be confirmed, but Given and Bonner are hoping to have some present stars in attendance.
Donegal has a rich history of sending footballers across the channel.
Seamus Coleman from Killybegs is the highest profile of the current batch which also includes Carl McHugh (Bradford City) of Lettermacaward, Conrad Logan (Leicester City) from Ramelton, his fellow townsman Kyle Callan-McFadden (Norwich City), Lettekenny’s Ryan McConnell (Manchester United), Clonmany’s Stephen McLaughlin (on loan at Bristol City from Nottingham Forest) and young Letterkenny lad Ryan Rainey who is at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“It’ll be great to get back home,” Given said.
“It’s something different. It’ll be a bit of craic, with the golf. Some of the boys reckon they’re going to beat me – but talk’s cheap and we’ll see on Sunday.
“I’m really looking forward to it.”
There remains an ever-so-slight possibility that Coleman and James McCarthy – who has strong links to Annagry – could attend before joining up with the Republic of Ireland squad ahead of the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Germany and Kazakhstan.
There is a long list of players like McCarthy who have qualified and played for Ireland thaks to their strong Donegal bloodlines. Ray Houghton would not have been the hero in Stuttgart or New Jersey but for his father, Seamus, having hailed from Buncrana.
Of the present Irish squad, Aidan McGeady, Ciaran Clark and McCarthy can all trace their roots back to Donegal. Previously, Bernie Slaven won seven Irish caps through his Gweedore-born grandfather while Owen Coyle’s owes his only Irish cap to his Donegal-born parents, mother Frances from Gorthahork and father Owen from Gweedore.
Given said: “There have been so many, the likes of Gary Doherty (born in Carndonagh) and Rory Delap who I played with, even go back to the likes of Ray Houghton. I know as well the likes of McGeady and McCarthy are very proud of their Donegal roots.
“There have been a lot of players who have played for Ireland who have strong Donegal roots.”
The day is not just a celebration of players who played international football.
Donegal’s conveyor belt has delivered the likes of Anthony Kernan to Wolverhampton Wanderers, Michael McHugh and Martin McGinley to Bradford City and Anthony Gorman to Mansfield. Gorman’s son, Dale, is now on the books of Stevenage. Former Finn Harps stars James Gallagher and Declan Boyle spent time at Celtic, while ex-Derry City star Mark Farren was at both Tranmere and Huddersfield.
Current Finn Harps players Ciaran Coll (Hearts), Mark Forker (Hearts) and Thomas Bonnar (Wolves) are among others to have gone across the water, as are Sean Kelly of Killybegs (formerly of Hearts and now with Limerick FC) and Johnny Dunleavy from Ballybofey and now of Cork City via a spell at Wolves, while former Harps captain Packie Mailey from Convoy was signed for a time by Hibernian and ex-Harps striker Conor Gethins, from Lifford, was at Ross County.
SEE TODAY’S DONEGAL NEWS FOR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SHAY GIVEN