BY CHRIS MCNULTY
BEFORE the 2011 county final, Gerard McGrenra mused that he was nearing the time to ‘burn the boots’.
A veteran then, three years ago, McGrenra continues to play a central role in Glenswilly’s Championship story.
He’s been around for the county finals of 2007, 2011 and 2013. He said his goodbyes to the senior ranks last winter and took the captaincy with Aidy Glackin’s reserves.
Now, though, by quirk of fate and a quad muscle injury to goalkeeper Philip O’Donnell, McGrenra finds himself in the limelight again as the stand-in ‘keeper.
It’s not as if he’d minded the net in a previous guise, either: ‘A charity match against the Highland Radio team out in Gartan was about the height of it,’ he says.
McGrenra had more previous between the sticks than anyone else. He recalls filling the void against Buncrana for a game in the ‘secondary League’, a competition that was born during John Joe Doherty’s tenure as Donegal’s manager.
Last year, Glenswilly played Sean MacCumhaills in a challenge game and O’Donnell was unavailable.
“Gary (McDaid) just put me in so I suppose I became the sub ‘keeper at that stage,” McGrenra says.
“No-one really knew that I was – and half the time I didn’t even know myself!”
Just 16 minutes had elapsed in the Championship opener against Kilcar when O’Donnell pulled up taking a kick out. McDaid crooked his finger to McGrenra. In he went to answer the call again. It wasn’t long before he was called into action – making a fine save to deny Eoin McHugh.
He says: “As soon as I was in I had to make a save. That helped settle any wee nerves that might have been there. When you have men like Eamon Ward and ‘Shorty’ in front of you there isn’t much getting into the goalkeeper.
“At the start of the year I told Gary that I didn’t want to be a part of the senior set-up. Well, it wasn’t that I didn’t ‘want’ to be. I was the reserve captain at the time. I felt that I wasn’t able to give the time to the seniors. Gary managed to talk me around.”
Glenswilly are in their fifth Donegal SFC semi-final this Sunday and stand just an hour away from what could be their fourth appearance in the final.
McGrenra saw the bad times evolve into the golden age a Pairc Naomh Columba.
He says: “This has been an unreal time in Glenswilly. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve watched these boys all growing up and coming into the team – they’re probably fed up looking at me!
“It would be unreal to get back to a county final. Gary always talks to us about making our own history.
“The first year we maybe didn’t take it very seriously after we won Donegal. The run last year to the Ulster final really taught us what it’s all about. That was a brilliant experience.”
Ballinderry defeated them in that final at Healy Park, but Glenswilly learned a lot from their voyage through the province.
They put their title on the line this year and looked in real trouble when they fell to an opening day defeat against Kilcar. But Glenswilly have made a living out of winning when the questions are being asked of them. After they swatted Bundoran aside like a flea on their shoulder, Michael Murphy’s goal swung a tense, tight and dour struggle with St Michael’s.
McGrenra says: “After that Kilcar game not many would’ve given us hope. It’s been exciting now getting games every week. There’s no monotony in training, it’s just week-on-week matches and it’s great for us – knock-out football probably suits us best.
“That game against St Michael’s, there was a lot of tension around. I could see it in my father for example before the game. That tension was there. It wasn’t so much on the field but definitely among the supporters and there was a massive crowd there. It didn’t really get to us.
“We had put up a big score against Bundoran the week before so we were relaxed about it. None of us probably saw St Michael’s winning so well in Towney, though.
“Our biggest fear was maybe before the Bundoran game. If that hadn’t gone right for us, we’d have been in trouble.”
Glenswilly’s 1-4 to 1-2 win over St Michael’s has been lamented in some quarters, but for Glenswilly the business was done – and the champions are back with a mean look to them again.
“It’s just about getting over the line now at this stage,” McGrenra points out.
Martin McElhinney’s goal in that game against St Michael’s is the only goal he’s conceded, shutting out a Termon side last Sunday that included his cousins, Trevor and Bernard Alcorn.
Glenswilly were 3-9 to 0-4 winners and now meet their old friends from Glenties on Sunday.
With O’Donnell’s rehabilitation continuing, McGrenra is again tipped to be guarding the goal. Back on these Sundays, he’s in dreamland.
He says: “I’m pinching myself these days – I’m the first name called out on the Glenswilly team-sheet!”
And it’s unlikely that he’ll be setting fire to the boots this year, either.
He laughs: “With the cost of them in Michael Murphy Sports you wouldn’t be burning too many!”