BY CHRIS MCNULTY
CONALL Dunne could’ve been forgiven for thinking that the chance to make a mark on Ulster in the St Eunan’s colours had eluded him, but the 31-year-old accountant sees a big chance for the black and amber this year.
Dunne has been a consistent performer in St Eunan’s teams for the last decade and a half, but they haven’t yet managed to transfer county glory into provincial progress.
Dunne hit 1-4 yesterday as St Eunan’s successfully negotiated the first hurdle in this year’s Lster club race, the Fermanagh champions Roslea Shamrocks.
Yesterday’s win was St Eunan’s first ever win on home soil in Ulster. For Dunne and company it was their first time to host a game at this level.
“Over the years, between celebrations and what not, it just hasn’t gone our way,” the former Donegal player said.
“This was a special one since it was in O’Donnell Park. Losing wasn’t really an option. We felt that it was a game we should win so, from that point of view, losing wasn’t an option. We went out with a purpose in the first half.”
Dunne’s tally all came in the first half and with a half-time lead of 1-5 to no score St Eunan’s were already bound for a semi-final meeting with Omagh St Enda’s.
Dunne said: “As long as we didn’t do something crazy and as long as we kept it tight at the back, we knew we’d be ok. When you’re eight behind, that’s going to be difficult to get back from. We knew that and we knew the eight-point lead was massive.”
At five down Roslea always has a chance, but Dunne’s goal put paid to any comeback hopes they might have had. Niall Cassidy’s tug of John Haran’s number 14 shirt presented Dunne with the chance tout daylight between the teams.
St Eunan’s new penalty taker duly obliged.
He said: “I just kept the head over the ball and put it in the corner.
“We had Kieran Sharkey or Lee McMonagle before, but I’ve taken that role of penalty taker now. I’ve a bit of experience I suppose so it takes a bit of pressure off the young lads.”
Dunne has been in fine fettle during the Championship and is his team’s top scorer. But he’s well aware that it’ll take a big improvement to see off the Tyrone champions in the semi.
He said: “I’m happy enough with my scores, but I wasn’t too pleased with my second half. I missed a couple that I really should have got.
“As a team in the second half we wouldn’t be happy at all. It almost felt like a defeat because of the poor second half. That does give us something to work on which is always a good thing.”
Dunne and St Eunan’s met Crossmaglen in a semi-final in 2008, but their brace efforts fell short as Cross’ took a 0-11 to 0-8 win.
The prospect of reaching the Ulster final with his club is a tantalising one.
Dunne said: “In my 15 years playing for St Eunan’s we have only got to one Ulster club semi-final. These chances don’t come around too often and it might never come again – that’s what we have to hammer home to these young fellas. These are the opportunities you have to take.
“We’ll go’and give it our all, we’ll leave everything out on the field and we can have no regrets after that.
“To get to an Ulster final with St Eunan’s would be an absolute dream. I remember being here at 7 or 8 – and it would be the proudest moment of my career if it were to happen. We can’t get ahead of ourselves, though. We have a job to do and a serious team to face next week.
“We’re under no illusions about what we’ll be facing.”
Since the late 90s, St Eunan’s have been the dominant team in Donegal, but now Dunne would dearly love to make up for the lost years in terms of putting it up to Ulster’s best.
The mindset has changed now
Dunne said: “We’re expected to win Championships at St Eunan’s. We have that pedigree. Boys coming up through the ranks in this club see the teams on the walls – they know what’s expected of them. We’re ploughing a new furrow now in Ulster and it’s different.
“In Ulster, we found it hard and the wheels came off a couple of times. With some of the bigger teams gone it’s a bit more open. Ourselves and Omagh don’t have a pedigree in Ulster so it’s interesting. It’s the same in the other semi-final so there’ll be a new winner now whoever it is.”
Upon Maxi Curran’s arrival into O’Donnell Park, there were hopes that St Eunan’s could rewrite their history. Yesterday’s win has opened the possibilities.
Dunne said: “Maxi showed us confidence from day one and he’s the reason we’ve reached this level.”