BY CHRIS MCNULTY
THERE is no inferiority complex about Terence Colhoun.
The youngest manager in Division 1 of the All-County Football League, he also happens to be in charge of a Malin side that many believed would be ‘bankers’ for relegation back to Division 2 again.
We might only be two games into Division 1, but the eye-catcher at the moment is that Malin are joint top of the division, sitting on four points, two wins from two alongside St Michael’s.
The north Inishowen side have one of the biggest logistical struggles in Donegal football: Their closest away League game this year is against St Eunan’s – a journey that will take them around an hour and a quarter;
This Sunday, they travel the two-hour journey to Gaoth Dobhair.
Malin have been a consistent presence in the Donegal SFC in recent years, but they’ve struggled to maintain their status in Division 1.
Having claimed the Division 2 League title in 2012, they’re back dining at the top table again. This weekend, for example, they face St Eunan’s at home this evening (7pm) before taking on Gaoth Dobhair on Sunday (3pm) – the two teams at the top of Donegal football’s roster.
That they’re located in their remote parish, the most northerly in the country, can sometimes mean they don’t hit the headlines and neutrals don’t venture too often, but Colhoun believes that the reason for that is quite simple.
“It comes from the fact, simply, that the Malin club has no history,” he says.
“By that, I mean if you look at the two teams we play this weekend – Gaoth Dobhair and St Eunan’s – their history, their traditions and their successes go back generations. For Malin, that process is only starting now.
“I remember a time, in the early 90s, when Malin would have been the worst team in Donegal club football.
“But then came a group of guys who took the club on a climb up the football ladder. Other clubs have established histories – we’re trying now to establish something here in Malin.”
They’ve set about making their impressive Connolly Park home something of a fortress. To date, the scalps of Ardara and Naomh Conaill have been claimed.
On Sunday, substitute Steven McLaughlin netted an injury time goal to defeat Naomh Conaill after they had recorded a 2-10 to 1-9 win over Ardara on the Easter weekend.
“It’s only natural that teams who come up from Division 2 will be seen as the favourites to go back down again,” says Colhoun.
“It’s still early yet and we have only played two games, we just want to take it one game at a time.
“It’s so far, so good for us alright, but we have had the advantage of playing two home games to get us started off and we’ve had good wins over Ardara and Naomh Conaill.”
Colhoun has just turned 35, but he’s far from a rookie in this business. He has managed the minors and the under 21s – reaching a county semi-final with the under 21s – and he helped out the senior team during Louis Walsh’s term as manager.
Louis Walsh is Mr Malin football and he is assisting Colhoun. The combination is working a treat and they have Eamon Ryan on board as the team trainer.
Division 1 is an unforgiving sort of a place, but Colhoun is undaunted.
“Is there an age to manage?” he wonders.
“To me, it’s just natural progression and I’ve done my time with the minors and under 21s, so the senior team is the next progression from there.
“It’s hard work, but I’m enjoying it.”
Malin won Division 2 the hard way last year.
When other teams were decimated with emigration and a swarm of players was buzzing away to the States on sanctions for the summer, Malin’s men remained in situ.
This, despite them having made an early exit from the Championship. For other teams, that might have spelled disaster. For Malin, it was just the spur they needed.
Colhoun, now in his second year in charge of his home club, says: “Last year, we went out of the Championship at the preliminary round stage against Kilcar.
“We didn’t give a good account of ourselves in either of those games, but we turned it around by beating Killybegs the following week. We had real drive out of that game – and from there we didn’t look back, really.
“It would have been easy for our boys to go away, but they didn’t; they stuck at it and were rewarded.
“It is all down to the players – they have a real never-give-up attitude. On Sunday we scored a goal three minutes into injury time. They just kept plugging away, kept fighting for every ball and eventually the break went their way.”
Before they’d won promotion last year, Malin had the biggest day in the club’s history in September when they watched one of their own, Declan Walsh, climb the steps of the Hogan Stand to take his turn in lifting the Sam Maguire.
A few days later, Malin stood still as Declan took the sacred chalice to the most northerly tip of Gaelic Games on this island. It was a moment those in attendance won’t forget for manys the long winter.
Also last year, Walsh scored two superb points in the Ulster final against Down.
“Declan is a great fella to have around, especially with the kids in the club who are really looking up to him,” Colhoun says.
“He is a great ambassador for the club.
“The club is very strong at underage level. We have sessions now for under 6 kids and have them right up the age groups.
“The whole thing, the association as a whole in Donegal, was boosted so much by the All-Ireland win. We’re no different here in Malin, it has given everyone a lift.”
In their first term back in the top flight, Colhoun has modest ambitions, but he’s looking forward to the new-look Championship. Still, it is the League that for now is the bread and butter.
He says: “The aim ultimately is to stay in Division 1.
“We haven’t really thought a lot about the Championship just yet. It is hectic at the minute in the League, what with a double round of games again this weekend.
“But the Championship this year should have more bite to it. The four groups of four teams, I think, will work.
“There are no easy draws in the Championship anyway, of course, but this should mean more interest when you have four teams battling for two positions. We are in with the Champions and the runners-up from last year, so that shows what we’ll be up against.”
That the big guns of Donegal football are back in Malin have given the locality a boost.
Once again, the names of St Eunan’s, Gaoth Dobhair, Ardara, Naomh Conaill, Four Masters, Killybegs and Kilcar are the opposition. This weekend’s double header just shows what it means.
“This is where we want to be as a club,” Colhoun says.
“You have to have ambition – and we’re no different in Malin. You could be happy to win lesser things, but is it not better to be in playing against the best? You may as well at least give yourself a chance to be the best – and you can only do that by playing against these teams.”