BY CHRIS MCNULTY
IT WAS only when a text message popped up on his phone earlier this week that Owenie McGarvey realised the wheel had come full circle.
McGarvey is gearing up to play in his third Intermediate final for Naomh Muire on Sunday afternoon.
The Lower Rosses club has only ever reached three Intermediate finals – and McGarvey, come Sunday, will be the only man to have played in all three.
The phone beeped at the beginning of the week. The text brought a nostalgic feeling over him.
“Owen Bonner was texting there saying: ‘I’d love to be looking forward to an Intermediate final again. It’d be nice to be in your shoes’,” McGarvey says.
“I’m the only playing survivor from 1994 and I played in 1998 too.”
He was only 16 when he started the ‘94 final. The opponents then, as they are now, were St Naul’s.
“It was a savage game, very low scoring, we won it 0-8 to 0-3,” he says.
“It was a great day to be involved in.
“It was hard to believe at the time, being just 16 and winning a Championship with the club. I didn’t know any better, I suppose.
“I remember then, we played St Naul’s. Paul Griffin was playing – growling around me, if I remember right! – and now I’m playing against his boys, Stephen and Barry, this weekend. I started off as a corner forward, sure everyone seems to start off there. Paul wasn’t far away from me that day.”
A spate of injuries early in ‘94 had decimated parts of the Naomh Muire team. McGarvey had been training with the seniors when Tom McDonald asked him to travel one weekend with the team.
“I did well enough and he just kept asking me back,” McGarvey says. “We had two games, one Saturday and one Sunday, that first weekend I went with the team. It didn’t bother me to go and play with them. It was unreal then to keep the place and win the Championship.”
Naomh Muire were in the senior championship and, as fate would have it, didn’t they draw Dungloe in their first ever SFC tie.
“That was a big one,” he says.
“The crowds at those two legs were just massive. We played our home leg in Carrickfinn because The Banks was being done up. We gave it a right rattle, but they beat us by two points in Carrickfinn and they won by six in Dungloe.”
The passing of time hasn’t eroded them memory. McGarvey works for Adrian Sweeney. “‘Eddie hit a big score against us that year – sure he’s still on about that one!”
Naomh Muire dropped back to Intermediate again but despite the likes of Johnny Gallagher, Paul Gallagher, Donal Gillespie, Owen Bonner, Joe Boyle and a certain Danny O’Donnell, the present day manager, still being around they didn’t manage glory in 1996 or ‘97.
They returned with a vengeance in 1998 – and defeated Naomh Ultan 1-10 to 2-6 in the final that year.
“We were very lucky that day,” McGarvey says.
“We got a last-minute goal from Donal Gillespie to win it. Whatever it was about that day, we struggled badly, but the Naomh Ultan ‘keeper dropped the ball from Donal into the net and we won it. Not so long ago I was chatting to Martin Shovlin at a wake and we were chatting about it. It’s hard to believe it’s so long ago now. I can still see that ball dropping into the net for us.”
They ran Aodh Ruadh close in 1999, but lost out, before being beaten by Naomh Conaill in 2000.
“We went into freefall after that,” says McGarvey.
“Looking back at those teams of 1994 and 1998, a lot of them started to leave around the early 2000s and we didn’t have too many young players coming in. We went straight from Division 1 to Division 4 in consecutive years. It was never straight down, most of them losing in play-offs, but it just showed us what can happen when a rot like that sets into a club.
“We had a couple of years in Divsion 1 and felt we should have made a better fist of it.
“When we started to drop down the League then there was maybe a wee bit of an attitude problem. Maybe we thought we were too good or that we could just do enough to get by. When you go to teams with that mindset you’ll get turned over.”
McGarvey, who played in the 1996 All-Ireland winning Vocational Schools team at centre-back, was taken out to Boston in the summers of 2003 and 2005 by Fintown’s Paddy McDevitt and had ‘great times’.
In 2006 his brother-in-law, the 1992 All-Ireland winner John Joe Doherty, took the reigns at Naomh Muire. Doherty is married to Owenie’s sister Noreen and lives in Rannafast.
On the June Bank Holiday weekend in 2007, Naomh Muire won the All-Ireland Junior Gaeltacht title.
“That just kicked us on,” McGarvey says.
“We weren’t expected to do big things when we went away to Cork. But we ended up winning the thing. We went on that year to win promotion out of Division 4, which is a real dog-eat-dog Division. We won the Junior Championship that year too. It was a great win for us.”
They defeated Lifford 0-8 to 0-7 in Ballybofey and it is only now they’re beginning to move up the ladder again. They went up and down and up again in the Divisions before consolidating their place in Division 2.
Now, they’re ready for another piece of silver.
“We set out this year to win the Championship,” says McGarvey. “We didn’t want to be seen as a yo-yo club so in recent years we put big emphasis on making sure we weren’t jumping between the Divisions. This year, we said that we’d definitely eye the Championship. We had the eyes fixed on it all year and we haven’t had an easy passage to get here.”
He turns 36 in November, but he has a real zest for the game at the moment. And the injection of young talent at The Banks has given him a new lease for his role in the team.
He says: “I’ve been very lucky with injuries in that I’ve never really had a serious injury and have always been able to do a good pre-season. That can keep young going and, sure, these young fellas are carrying me now a bit.”
The signs are promising for the club – and McGarvey predicts good times are ahead again.
“Gary Boyle has been doing a lot of work at underage level down here,” he says. “We’re trying to play ‘A’ football all the time now and are trying to preach that you have to play with the best teams to get to a level of competition you need to be at. I’d always say that the likes of Naomh Conaill, Ardara and St Eunan’s, their players have two arms and two legs the same as us. It’s not rocket science – you need to put in the work.”
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