BY CHRIS MCNULTY
CHRISTY Toye would have long-since surpassed Brian Roper’s all-time appearance record (159) for Donegal, but for a horrific series of injuries.
The 31-year-old St Michael’s man makes his 50th Championship appearance for Donegal in this Sunday’s Ulster SFC final against Monaghan in Clones.
In Championship football, Toye is bettered only by Michael Hegarty, who played 50 times in the SFC, and Colm McFadden, who made a 52nd Championship appearance against Antrim.
“It’s only a number,” he said modestly when informed of the milestone.
“It’s good to have those numbers adding up, but they aren’t really relevant when you’re playing.
“It’s a good sign of longevity, I suppose.”
Toye has played in the Ulster finals of 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2012. Three of the current panel – Rory Kavanagh, Colm McFadden and Paul Durcan – have played in five finals.
Toye was the Donegal captain for the 2006 final against Armagh at Croke Park.
In GAA headquarters, Toye holds a Donegal record as the top goalscorer.
In 2003, he cracked home a memorable goal against Armagh in the All-Ireland semi-final. Goals against Meath in 2002 and Cork in 2006 were followed by a dramatic strike in a gripping All-Ireland quarter-final with Kildare in July 2011.
Just 25 seconds after coming on, Toye riffled to the Hill 16 net.
That night was his first appearance for Donegal in 25 months. He’d not played since rupturing an Achillies during a qualifier against Clare in Ballybofey in 2009.
That night against Kildare, it is sometimes lost in the hazy euphoria that it was Toye who swung over a dramatic equalising point, just before that timeless winner from Kevin Cassidy.
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.
When he was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, a painful nerve disorder in winter of 2012, many thought that Toye had played his last game for Donegal. But, following a disappointing 2013 for Donegal, Jim McGuinness put a call in.
Toye was ready, as he always is.
He said: “I just wanted to make a good impact on the squad again. Jim is using me so it’s great from that point of view.
“I just hope to do my best and make an impression on the management. I’ll just be concentrating on the next game, whether it’s fifty or number one.”
Toye watched the Ulster final last summer as a supporter. The old urges were still there and he craved involvement, as he did a couple of weeks later when Donegal fell upon Mayo’s sword at Croke Park.
Monaghan took Donegal’s mantle last July – and now the Tir Chonaill men are back in search of a missing piece of silverware this weekend.
Toye said: “Monaghan are the Ulster champions and will be very tough to play against. They’ll have a very good set up and will be very hard to break down. They’ve a lot of power coming forward too. Hopefully we can come up with some sort of mechanism to beat them.
“Jim and the boys will have been looking very closely at Monaghan and trying to pick up on any weaknesses they might have and maybe wee things that we can exploit.”
Toye was one of a number of Donegal players to be laid up last year, with Karl Lacey, Neil Gallagher, Mark McHugh, David Walsh and Michael Murphy all having their troubles. Toye wasn’t around to see it, but he knew the effects those injuries would have on a leg-weary panel.
He said: “It’s been well documented the injuries that we had last year and, after winning the All-Ireland, a lot of lads didn’t get back into training properly until late January or early February.
“We have a three-month head-start and had most of the injuries cleared up by the time the summer came around. We have a good, competitive squad to choose from.
“Last year, boys played for Donegal in the Championship and were going out the following week to play for their clubs. If you had a wee knock at all, the pressure was on to play for the club. That was just increasing the risk of further injuries and it was eating into Jim’s preparation, too.
“We don’t have that this year with the club championship being put off. It’s been a big advantage from that point of view.”
The performances of Odhran MacNiallais and Darach O’Connor have been heralded in recent weeks, but the return of Toye and the experience he brings has been one of the year’s biggest assets. His power, intelligence and use of the ball has been vital. Against Derry, he had possession 15 times in the first half and made use of each one. He was withdrawn at half-time having emptied the petrol.
When he started back-to-back games in this year’s National League, it was the first time since July 2009 that he did.
He heads into Sunday’s final against Monaghan with the hungry as ravaging as ever.
He said: “I’ve been lucky enough this year to be injury free for a good part of it. I have a lot of game time and lot of training under the belt. I definitely needed that this year to get in the frame for Donegal for the Championship. It’s worked out well so far.”