BY CHRIS MCNULTY
DONEGAL supporters head to Clones in search of a rare double on Sunday with the county’s minor and senior footballers in Ulster final action, as Declan Bonner’s minors face Armagh and Jim McGuinness’s seniors meet Monaghan.
This will be the fifth time in history that both Donegal teams will contest Ulster finals in the same year.
Previously, they reached the finals at the same time in 1963, 1991, 1992 and 2006.
Donegal has never won the ‘dream double’, however. The Diamond in Donegal town has yet to host a double celebration, but the possibility is opened once again for this Sunday evening.
The minors are favourites against Armagh, but Donegal and Monaghan are both priced at even money to win the senior final.
In 1991 and 2006, Donegal’s minors won while their senior counterparts lost out. In 1992, Donegal lost the minor final to Armagh, but in the senior final defeated Derry on their way to winning Sam Maguire for the first time that year.
McGuinness himself has swallowed the pill of a losing Ulster final, as a player in 1993, 1998 and 2002, and as a manager in 2013.
“The losing dressing room in Clones is not a place you want to be,” McGuinness said.
“We have do all in our power to make sure we’re not in it this year. If you only play in one Ulster final in your life, the shock of losing that is horrendous.
“Most of the senior players, prior to this, were in that mindset in their life where they weren’t sure if they were ever going to get over the line. I played with the likes of Para, Rory and Karl and Christy and Neil. They were part of that as well.
“The floodgates opened and they got a couple in a row, which gave them a bit of success, and losing last year has hurt. We hope we can take the negatives and turn them into a positive.”
Bonner played in four successive Ulster senior finals, winning in 1990 and 1992, but losing in 1991 and 1993. During that golden period, Donegal actually contested five-in-a-row, but Bonner wasn’t around for ’89.
The Na Rossa man was Donegal senior manager when Joe Brolly blew the kisses after he handed Donegal their coats in 1998.
After wins over Derry and Antrim, both teams are high in confidences now of etching a new piece of history on Sunday.
For Bonner, the Ulster final has a special feeling.
“I played four Ulster finals on the trot and they don’t lose their magic at all,” he said.
“For footballers in Ulster, going up that hill in Clones is the moment you look forward to. You knowing going up there that you’re going to a big game. People will say this and that about Clones, but it’s a special place for Gaelic footballers in Ulster. There’s something in the Clones air on Ulster final day that you just can’t describe.
“This will be the first time that these lads will have faced that, but they’ll take it on board. We want to make sure that they perform, but it won’t happen for everyone. There will be guys who it will effect more than others, but they’re in a good place and I do think that we will get a performance.”
The last time Donegal had two teams competing in the Ulster final was in 2006 when Michael Murphy, Martin McElhinney, Leo McLoone and Declan Walsh played as Donegal defeated Antrim 2-12 to 1-5 in the minor final on a day when the seniors were beaten 1-9 to 0-9 as Paul McGrane’s goal proved the difference against Armagh at Croke Park.
In 1991 and ‘92 Donegal had both teams in the final on consecutive years.
In ‘91, a day when the seniors lost against Down, the minors scored a late win against Tyrone with Killybegs’ Mark Boyle the hero.
“The five-foot-eight Killybges player performed a miracle of his own kind to haul Donegal back from defeat to win their fifth title at this level,” the Donegal News reported. Boyle netted from a penalty, scored a glorious equaliser and teed up Cornelius Brennan for the match-winner.
Eleven of those minors played again in 1992, but they came up short against Armagh. Current senior selector Damian Diver played for Donegal that day and Anthony McGrath scored a point. McGrath is now a key member of Declan Bonner’s backroom team with the minors, working as a sports psychologist.
At midfield for Armagh that day was Barry O’Hagan, who would go on to play for Naomh Colmcille in Donegal and had a brief stint as Glenswilly manager. Kevin ‘Cookie’ Gallagher played for Donegal minors in ‘91, but was suspended for the ‘92 final. His son, Lorcan Connor, was Man of the Match for the Donegal minors after scoring nine points against Antrim in the semi-final last month.
With both Donegal teams in fine fettle and injury free, hopes are high in the county that a dream double could be welcomed back to Donegal town on Sunday night.
History provides some notes of caution. On the first occasion that Donegal had two teams in Ulster final action on the one day, in 1963, both returned empty handed.
The Donegal News preview reckoned: “Thousands will move out from the north-west on the Cavan road on Sunday. Few of them will hear of defeat and they look forward not to victory over Down in one grade but in both. They expect to bring across the borders of Donegal on Sunday night both the senior and minor trophies.”
They came back with neither, the minors losing 4-6 to 2-11 and the seniors humbled 2-11 to 1-4, also by Down, on a day that saw the Anglo-Celt Cup presented for the first time.
Down managed to do the double in 1960, 1963 and 1966, Cavan did it in 1937 and 1952, while Armagh did it in 1953 and 2005 and Derry saw double delight in 1970. Monaghan won both the senior and minor crowns last year, their first time to keep hold of both prizes. Tyrone have managed it five times, four of those since 2001, with the Red Hands triumphant on the double in 1973, 2001, 2003, 2007 and 2010.
They’ve done it before in recent times, but a chance to rewrite the history books is on offer for Donegal on Sunday.
DONEGAL’S PREVIOUS DOUBLE ATTTEMPTS
1963 in Cavan
Minor Donegal 2-11 Down 4-06
Senior Donegal 1-04 Down 2-11
1991 in Clones
Minor Donegal 1-10 Tyrone 1-09
Senior Donegal 0-10 Down 1-15
1992 in Clones
Minor Donegal 0-09 Armagh 0-13
Senior Donegal 0-14 Derry 1-09
2006 in Croke Park
Minor Donegal 2-12 Antrim 1-05
Senior Donegal 0-09 Armagh 1-09