JUST eight times in the history of the GAA has the same county won both the All-Ireland minor and senior football titles in the one year.
This Sunday, Donegal and Kerry do battle on a green and gold Sunday at Croke Park hoping to etch their names onto that plate.
Kerry are no strangers to having two teams contest the finals having had double involvement twelve times in the past. Of the doubles that have been won, Kerry have won six with Dublin (1958) and Tyrone (2008) the only others to have won both Tom Markham and Sam Maguire in the same year.
What makes Sunday special is the same two sides contesting both finals – something that has happened just once before, in 1979 when Kerry and Dublin, those old adversaries, did battle. Dublin took the minor spoils, with Kerry collecting Sam.
The occasion by the old canal on Sunday is unique for Donegal. Never before has a Donegal side contested the All-Ireland minor final and for only the third time in history the Donegal seniors will march behind the Artane Band on September’s third Sunday.
Donegal is in an All-Ireland vice-grip and the finals are the talk of every town and the uniqueness of the occasion gives rise to some memorable tales.
It will be a special day for the McBrearty family from Kilcar with Stephen spearheading the minor challenge and Patrick set to play a lead role for the seniors. Stephen has just returned from a cruciate injury, while Patrick, at just 21 years of age, has had quite the inter-county career that is already littered with medals.
This is the most successful period ever for Gaelic Games in Donegal. Jim McGuinness has masterminded a devastating turn of the county’s fortunes and their semi-final demolition of defending champions Dublin ranks up there with the Glenties man’s greatest achievements. For this team, greatness has already been assured. Victory over Kerry on Sunday and immortality awaits them.
It is a team that had appeared to have more questions than answers going into the Ulster Championship, but there was a timely reminder of their prowess when they went to Celtic Park and defeated Derry. The return of the Anglo-Celt with the Ulster final triumph over Monaghan laid to rest some ghosts of 2013, but now the champions of two years ago have Sam in their sights again.
McGuinness has proven himself to be one of the greatest managers the game has ever seen. Should he seatbelt Sam Maguire into the Donegal bus on Monday he’d surely have right to join the great pantheon of managers.
And what of the players?
Take Christy Toye, whose career looked over as he fought a neurological disease last year, but who has been one of Donegal’s most influential players this summer. Or Neil Gallagher who will surely be mentioned when it comes to handing out the big awards later in the year – the big Glenswilly man’s prints have been all over Donegal’s summer.
As have the immovable McGee brothers, a once-again-smiling Colm McFadden and the ever-classy Karl Lacey.
That is not to mention Michael Murphy. The Donegal captain could join an elite band of just fourteen previous captains to lift Sam twice (only four of them post-war) having already captain Donegal to an All-Ireland, three Ulster senior titles, an Ulster U-21 title and a Division 2 League.
The addition of Ryan McHugh, Odhrán MacNiallais and Darach O’Connor (whose father John ‘Jigger’ who scored a goal against Kerry after only 35 seconds in the 1980 All-Ireland final for Roscommon) has given Donegal a new-found verve that sends them to Croke Park’s trenches in confident mode.
Declan Bonner has taken Donegal’s minors to where no previous Donegal minor side has gone, but the Na Rossa man won’t settle for second best. He says: “We’re sixty minutes from an All-Ireland – this group won’t ever get this chance again. They have it in sight now.”
Neither group will be together as it is now. Making the most of now is all that counts.
You can just imagine the reaction if two pieces of silverware are to be paraded back to Donegal…
First stop, a date with destiny. Two teams. One dream.