By Caitríona Mc Bride
The recent retirement of Donegal senior GAA footballer Christy Toye after serving his county for 15 years saw an unprecedented outpouring from supporters, peers, players and admirers from across the county and beyond. They were in mourning. An elder statesman of the panel, he was a county treasure and undoubtedly one of the most beloved of players to have ever worn the jersey.
There have been a series of major departures from the Donegal panel recently including Colm McFadden, Eamon McGee, Leo McLoone, Rory Kavanagh, David Walsh and Odhrán Mac Niallais. But Toye’s retirement seemed to hit a particularly raw nerve.
No other player has scored more Championship goals for Donegal in Croke Park than Creeslough man Toye who will continue to play for his club St. Michaels. The 33-year old also holds three Ulster titles, one All-Ireland, a National League and has captained the team.
Toye was touched by the huge reaction to his retirement. He has maintained an absolute lack of ego throughout his career and this was evident even on retirement, as he could not quite comprehend the massive response.
“It was brilliant. I don’t know why. Maybe they see somebody who is injured and kept going and came back? Maybe they recognise the effort you put into going back on the pitch?”
As well as his exceptional ability to lead and make crucial impacts on games, supporters also cherished their “Super sub’s” ability to come back time and time again from debilitating injuries he experienced over his career.
Toye served his club and county, without entitlement or expectation. It was always about the football. He embodies the essence of the GAA, a man of the parish for the parish. Here, some of his peers, family and admirers share their well wishes for Toye as he retires from the Donegal county team.
Steven McDonnell – former Armagh forward
He was certainly a very skilful player and he’s kind of a cult hero for Donegal supporters. One memory that vividly sticks out in my mind was the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final. Christy was the only player that year to score a goal against Armagh in the Championship and what a finish it was too – it was brilliant.
Back then we were recognised as being a tight defence and a tough nut to crack but Christy, he was a young lad, had the calmness and coolness and came through at pace and scored a fantastic goal, one that I’d certainly be proud of.
We came up against Donegal in numerous Ulster finals and Christy was always a player that, as a team, we had to keep special attention to. We knew if we let him out of our sights at all he would cause a lot of damage.
That’s probably the biggest compliment I can pay Christy, from an Armagh point of view he was a player that we regarded quite highly and was capable of killing us on any particular day. There is no doubt in my mind – Christy Toye is a huge loss not only to Donegal fans but to the GAA. He has huge respect from not only his teammates but from those who would have played against him.
Lawrence Donegan – journalist and author.
He played alongside Toye in St.Michael’s which is captured in in his book about his time living in Donegal, No News at Throat Lake
There’s an absence of ego with Christy and a humility to him. I don’t think you can underestimate the role of his Mum and Dad, Rose and Noel. They’re very understated and I really like them. Creeslough is a very small place and you’re really not going to get above yourself, Christy is very much a product of that.
I played with St. Michael’s on the reserves. I remember one game where Christy and Colm Anthony (McFadden) were about 14 but even then it was like discovering that you’re playing with the young Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs. Colm is Giggs and Christy is Keane.
I know GAA has moved on in a lot of ways but Christy is a throwback because he goes back to the core of the game and I think that’s why his career has resonated so much – you play for the parish.
He is a Donegal man, but for me, he’s a St. Michael’s man. He’s grounded, modest, he gets about his business and he delivers. And what a wonderful career he’s had. I have always really liked him. It was like David Beckham being modest, for me, that’s how I always felt.
Brian McEniff – former Donegal manager
I first saw Christy at underage level and it was very easy to pick him out. Even at that stage I could see he had real ability – he was outstandingly good. I “inherited” him from Mickey Moran and had him in the Donegal side for the couple of years I was there.
He was an excellent footballer, very easy to manage, very squad-orientated. Christy had that bit extra of something, he was a great athlete and had a great engine and had a great attitude, just a super guy and a super footballer. Christy is not only an outstanding player but a quality person. He gave great service to his county and his club.
Rose Toye – Christy’s mother
Christy was always a very private person and very quiet and just got on with the sport. I remember one night in particular and he was sitting in his pyjamas watching TV. The next thing he took out his football boots. He said ‘I think I’ll just have a wee kick about before I go to bed.’
I thought to myself ’Oh my God, does it ever stop?’ but that was Christy. He would have taken the same pride in his club as he did for the county, his whole life was football. The fans seemed to like him, and that would make you happy. I’m very proud of both him and his sister Treasa all the time.
Tara McHugh – St.Michael’s and Donegal supporter from Dunfanaghy
As well as his talent it was his personality. He was kind and would have always stood around and spoken with people after matches. He seemed to just click with people.
He had to have been under more pressure in those latter years, coming on as a sub, but he always lifted the supporters when he came onto the pitch and seemed to get those goals or points when we really needed them.
I always feel like he’s done so much for the younger people and brought on the next generation for both St. Michael’s and Donegal. He will be remembered as one of those all-round players both on and off the pitch that did so much for football and for Donegal as well.
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