BY CHRIS MCNULTY
CHRISTY Toye has come to appreciate a lot over the last couple of years – even Jim McGuinness’s famous training sessions!
The 30-year old Creeslough man has been named to start in Sunday’s game against Galway (Pearse Stadium, 2pm) having started his first Donegal game in almost two years last weekend when he was Man of the Match in the facile win over Laois.
He played 53 minutes of the opening day win before a nasty facial cut removed him from action.
The wound has been stapled again and Toye will line out at centre half-forward on Sunday. It will be the first time since July 2009 the St Michael’s man will start back-to-back games for the county.
Toye has had a horrific time of it with injury and illness – last Sunday was his first start since a League game against Dublin in March 2012, some 681 days previously.
When he collided with a flailing Laois leg last Sunday and was taken off his frustration was palpable.
“The ball broke and I went down on it,” he explained to the Donegal News this week.
“One of the Laois men came over the top of me and caught a nick on the chin. It was purely accidental. I’ve a couple of staples in the chin now, but it’s grand.”
It’ll take more than that to stop his march this time.
Having ruptured his Achilles during an All-Ireland qualifier against Clare in 2009, Toye went 25 months without inter-county action.
Shoulder tendonitis and a reoccurrence of the Achilles problem curtailed his involvement in 2012, but he came back and was a key figure off the bench in the Championship, playing the last 13 minutes of the All-Ireland final win over Mayo.
Toye’s first piece of action after that day of days was as a sub against Queen’s last month. He watched 2013 from a distance, struck down by the nerve condition, trigeminal neuralgia, known in medical circles as one of the most painful conditions known to man.
Lesser men would have buckled; of that there’s no doubt.
Christy Toye is made of granite and the flame always flickered. He never gave up the fight. “I was in contact with the Donegal medical team all through my rehab, once I got the illness sorted I was keeping them up to speed with how it was coming along,” he said.
“I had a couple of knee operations and just had to keep doing the rehab work.
“It’s great to be back. I was delighted to get on as a sub against Queen’s, just to get back into the feel of it, you know.”
When the board went up last Sunday, Toye was given a rapturous reception from the big Donegal support at O’Moore Park. He contributed superbly to the win, playing a part in every Donegal score in the first half and getting on the scoresheet himself.
It was a demonstration, too, of why Jim McGuinness was so keen to retain his services and why the manager made the call as he was piecing his 2014 panel together.
“It would’ve been nice to get seventy minutes under my belt, but the position I was in I’m thankful for every training session I do and thankful every time I get out on the pitch,” he said.
“When you’re out for so long you realise what’s important. You appreciate it more. The training we’re doing at the minute is good too.
“I’m just hoping to stay injury free now.”
Watching from afar was difficult last year, especially given that his last slice of the cake had been the All-Ireland final the previous September.
With the fingers, one by one, released from the Anglo-Celt and Sam Maguire, it became an ordeal to gaze longingly from the stands.
“I didn’t expect to be out for the whole season at all, but I just couldn’t function at all, training was completely out of the question,” he says.
“The Mayo game (the All-Ireland quarter-final Donegal lost by sixteen points) was very hard to watch. I was involved the season before so I suppose you do be thinking that you could help out in some way. It’s frustrating and you feel powerless.”
Now that he’s back in the groove, Toye’s mind is only going forward and he won’t look back in anger.
“We’re well over it now,” he said.
“We’ve the heads down and we’re working hard again. We’ve had a good start, but we need to press on now. We look like we have a strong squad getting together now and things feel good.”
Initially named on the bench, Toye was the man to benefit from the hamstring injury picked up by young Darach O’Connor.
He said: “I had a fair idea that I would be getting game time, but it was only in the hotel before the match that I knew I was starting. Jim just came and gave me a couple of quick pointers and things he wanted me to do. After two years, it was brilliant to run out again. It seems like a long time.
“Hopefully I can build on it now.
“The team played very well and, when that happens individual performances benefit in that you’re making good runs, moves are coming off; it was a good game to get back into the swing of things and for confidence as well.”
Toye is a player of massive experience. Sunday’s was his 122nd game for the county and it’s fair to suggest that he would have long since surpassed Brian Roper’s record of 159 appearances were it not for his bad luck.
Following relegation last year, Donegal are favourites to bounce back into the top flight this time around and the win in Laois was a fine statement of intention by Donegal.
Toye said: “Sunday was the most important one. It’s brilliant to have won the first game, but obviously we now need to go and win in Galway. Having two away games is very difficult, but the perfect start would be good heading into a couple of home games.
“The squad looks to be strong now and we seem to have expanded with a good mix of experienced boys and young lads coming on. It’s all about building now and improving as the games go on.”