BY LIAM PORTER
When he stood in the changing room on Wednesday night with his hands on the Ulster Vocational Schools cup, it was another milestone in a remarkable journey for Raphoe lad Michael Ayton who only began playing GAA a year and a half ago.
That his progress in that space of time has been such that he has been able to pull on the colours of his county is remarkable enough in its own right, but its all the more remarkable when its considered that just six months earlier he had been lying in a hospital bed unable to walk.
“We were having a going away party for my aunt who was going to Australia and there was a bouncy castle there with an obstacle course on it. I was running through the obstacles when I came to the end and decided I’d make a huge leap.”
It was that leap that landed Michael in bother. Missing his landing spot he dropped onto the grass and injured his spine, he spent days in a hospital bed in agony, missing his Junior Cert exams in the process.
“I was in agony. I remember when I finally got out of bed, my legs were like jelly, the muscles had already started to waste away because I hadn’t been able to move my legs, but thankfully I made good progress after that.”
Always an able sportsman, he recovered well from his accident and was soon back in training again.
The Deele College student says he had been asked to come to training with Convoy GAA club on a number of occasions by manager Oliver Prunty and finally decided to give it a try.
“I remember Oliver asking me to come out and eventually I went out and gave it a go at a training session for the U.16s. There was a game the following Sunday and he asked me to come along to that. I started in the half-forward line and have just kept on going from there.”
It was a good time to come into the St. Mary’s Convoy side too for the young Raphoe lad with their Minor team of 2012 enjoying success in the Division 2 Championship.
St. Mary’s manager Oliver Prunty says Michael’s fantastic attitude and work ethic has seen him develop tremendously in a short space of time.
“He is still playing catch-up on the basics but Michael is a fantastic athlete and he really has made great progress. He came into the U16s and really turned their season around and after that he moved into the Minor team and played the first half of their Minor final last year. Towards the end of the season he played three or four games for our Reserves and our Seniors as well, he has shown fantastic progress and I think if he keeps working he really could be a star of the future.”
That progress indeed was marked in the Ulster Vocational Schools semi-final when the St. Mary’s half-forward replaced Jamie Brennan as a second half substitute in Donegal’s win against Tyrone. With the game played on his home ground in Convoy, the progress this raw teenager had made in such a short space of time did not go unnoticed.
However Michael explains that had it not been for his own determination to give the Ulster Vocational Schools trail a go he mightn’t have been in Seosamh Mac Ceallbhuí’s squad at all.
“Because I hadn’t played too much I actually wasn’t chosen by the teacher at the school as one of the players going to the trials. I went along and asked him if there was a spare seat in the car and he told me to come ahead if I wanted to give it a go. It turned out that I was the only one of the lads who actually made the squad in the end.”
That he did is no surprise to his club manager Oliver Prunty.
“Michael has made a huge leap, from a starting point of zero to up there and into the county Vocational Schools squad. When you consider he had never played GAA before last February, it really is remarkable.”
It’s unsurprising too that Michael is proud to have an Ulster medal after such a short space of time in the game and he is already showing the kind of determination and will to win that makes real champions.
With the Vocational Schools competition in doubt, Michael is hoping that it is retained and already has his sights set of trying to make the panel once more.
“I’d love to have another go next year, hopefully it won’t be the last year of this competition,” he said.
From a player who two years ago had never even played a single game to winning an Ulster medal, his GAA career already has certainly has been one huge leap for Michael.