BY CHRIS MCNULTY
JOE Gibbons stood in the carpark at St Columba’s Church, Glenswilly last Sunday after attending morning Mass.
It wasn’t your average Sunday morning in Glenswilly.
The parish was in the grip of Ulster final fever.
Gibbons was among a group of men getting ready to board a bus to head for Omagh and an Ulster senior club final against Ballinderry. Whatever words of luck Fr Sweeney could offer couldn’t do any harm.
After Mass, Gibbons was making his way back to the car when a Glenswilly supporter stopped him in his tracks.
“Will youse win, Joe?” the man wondered.
Gibbons’ response was telling: “If we weren’t going up to win we’d stay at home.”
And that’s what has made this week all the more difficult to digest in Glenswilly.
Gary McDaid mentioned after the game that his team wasn’t in Omagh ‘for the moral victory or the slap on the back’. The disappointment that was etched across their faces was blunt.
On Monday night, McDaid watched a re-run in an attempt to find some comfort.
He drew only an addition to his wretched feelings.
“The feelings are really raw – I have played the game over and over since and it’s not getting easier,” he says.
“In time, the feelings will turn around, but now they are very raw. We feel the game was there for the taking. We were so close. We went at Ballinderry from the off.
“The Ballinderry management came to our bus after the game and said that we had made them fight as tough a battle as they’ve had all year.
“People said that they hadn’t seen Ballinderry play as week.
“We had them seriously worried at times, so we must have done something right. That doesn’t make it easier to take though.”
Glenswilly’s belief had grown all year. They’d left Bundoran, Kilcar, St Michael’s Ardara, Killybegs, St Gall’s and Roslea in their smoke.
While only the third club from Donegal in 38 years to reach the final, Glenswilly were unstinting in their feelings. When Michael Murphy clipped in a goal after less than 25 seconds, they dared to dream.
“I thought that we ruled it in the first twenty minutes, to be honest,” Gibbons says.
“They didn’t seem to know what to do with us. A couple of things just didn’t fall right. We had a shot that came off the post and they go up and get a point from the break; that was a difference in the gap being two points and four points.
“Eamon Ward blocked a shot from Ryan Bell that was going over the ball, then the ball bounces up wickedly and Michael McIver gets a goal. It was agonising. Eamon done everything right and yet we were punished.
“We were very confident going into the match. In our group, we believed that we could do it. We knew if we started right we could really put it up to them – and we did.”
Glenswilly trailed by four at half-time, but when Caolán Kelly netted early in the second half Glenswilly were ignited again and when Darren McGinley inched them ahead they had sized up their target again.
“Ballinderry took it all in their grasp,” Gibbons says.
“They weren’t overwhelmed by it all. Some of us were. Nerves weren’t a problem. I certainly wasn’t nervous. We had a big start to both halves, but maybe that was part of our problem. Maybe that took a toll.”
Some time later, Gibbons went in receipt of a pass from Gary McFadden and he had Dermot McGucking alongside him.
“McGuckin was in the race and there was just nothing left in my legs,” he says
“I’d be one of the boys who could run all day, too. The boys pulled me with a couple of minutes left; they could see I was just gone.”
Ballinderry were supreme in their scoring with Aaron Devlin, Darren Conway, Conleith Gilligan, James Conway and Daniel McKinless scoring points that bordered on the outrageous.
“They had to do something extraordinary,” McDaid says.
“McKinless hit one from away out on the right-hand side. You wouldn’t see some of that shooting at inter-county level. They were all at it too. That was something I said before the game: They have so many players capable of that. They are all handfuls. You can’t just put the focus on one.”
Glenswilly just couldn’t summon a response and Ballinderry’s experience really shone in those final ten minutes.
For Glenswilly, the expressions at the conclusion told the story.
“We put up a decent performance and we competed with them for 50 minutes,” McDaid says.
“You could see the devastation at the end. We believed that we could win this game.
“We just didn’t do enough to get over the line. It is so difficult to think that it was there for us, that the result was there to get and we just couldn’t get it.
“It shows how far the club has come, though.”
Gibbons has attempted to see the positives, but found himself watching through the gaps in his fingers earlier in the week.
“It doesn’t get any easier as the week progresses,” he says.
“We sat down and watched the match again. It has hurt even more since we did that.
“Everyone was talking about how great a day it would be for the club, but that isn’t how it turned out.
“Jason Quigley, the boxer, said after he won the World silver medal that if someone had offered him the season he had that he’d have pulled the arm off them. He was gutted when he was saying it. That’s the same as we’re feeling now.”
Glenswilly is in existence since 1981, only 32 years.
Where they have risen in their eight years in senior football is a story in itself.
“Ten years ago there wasn’t many people for Glenswilly footballers to look up to,” McDaid says.
“Now, our underage players have the heroes. You could see last week with the amount of kids on the field what it all means now. These boys have build history. They have put the pictures on the wall and now the kids want to emulate them and wear the green, white and gold of the Glen.”
The road back is not something they want to ponder now.
Gibbons says: “I’m sure Kilcar, Bundoran and St Michael’s (the other teams in their group) will just be licking their lips. They’ll want the scalp; everyone will. We’ll not think about that for a month or two now.
“I’ll tell you one thing: I’m looking forward to the couple of months’ rest.”
Gibbons is hoping that their general, McDaid, stays on as manager.
“We all want Gary to stay,” he says.
“What he has done for this club is unbelievable. The set up that we have out in Glenswilly is as good as a lot of inter-county teams would have. A few players have said that this could be their last throw of the dice, but I’d say one thing that will hold them there will be Gary staying on.
“Gary rightly will want a commitment. If you have a squad of 30 men then you need the 30 men putting in the effort, the graft and the commitment. You need every one of them buying completely into it all.
“The younger lads will all have seen that now too. They’ll know what’s required of them now and what they need to do.”
The commitment demanded comes at a price – and Gibbons is one of those who has risen with the club in the last decade.
He says: “Before this year I only thought that I was playing Gaelic football. It all started off as a passtime, but you can’t treat it as a passtime now.”
Paddy Devine, a Glenswilly stalwart, rang McDaid earlier this week and told him 2013 had been the ‘most successful year ever’.
“When you look back and hear stuff like that it means a lot.
“For now, it’s absolute devastation and it’ll take a while but we’ll realise that in time. This experience will stand to us as a club and as a team.”