BY CHRIS MCNULTY
HE ONLY turned 23 in July, but Eamon Doherty already has a wealth of experience tucked away in his satchel to rival anyone.
He was just 17 when he played in St Eunan’s 2007 Championship final win over Glenswilly. He has four winners medals now having also played in the finals of 2008, 2009 and 2012.
Winning was all Eamon Doherty knew when he was growing up on St Eunan’s underage teams. The wake up call came rather unexpectedly three years ago, when Four Masters trumped Eunan’s in a Donegal SFC quarter-final. Eunan’s were on a mission to win Dr Maguire for the fourth successive year, but they came up short that night.
“It was surreal when the final whistle went,” Doherty says.
“Four Masters were the best team, no doubt about that.
“We always thought that we would come back; we always had done you see. When the final whistle went, it was just surreal. I was lucky enough that I was heading away to college so I got away from it.”
His senior career was only in its infancy and Doherty just weeks into his seventeenth year when he played against Aodh Ruadh in a quarter-final replay win in 2007. He’s pretty much been an ever-present in the black and amber since he broke through that summer.
He says: “When I came into the St Eunan’s team first all I ever knew was winning. The first time I ever tasted defeat was that night against Four Masters.
“You almost take it for granted. It was pure luck, to be honest. I was going into a team that had ‘Rhino’ (Kieran Ryan), John Haran, real experienced players and real leaders, too.
“We had lost the two previous finals (2005 and 2006). I was lucky that Brendan Kilcoyne took me in when a couple of lads picked up injuries. He kept faith in me for the rest of the campaign. I was always very thankful for that chance.”
In 2011, Doherty headed to America. In his company were Antoin McFadden, James Carroll and Malin’s Declan Walsh, who’ll be an opponent in this weekend’s quarter-final. In Boston, they had an enjoyable summer. Doherty returned for a quarter-final replay of the Donegal SFC. They were beaten by derby rivals Glenswilly. Again, the pain hit hard.
“In fairness, Gary McDaid had them well drilled, but we were just stunned I think,” Doherty says.
It was good to get away to America. It was something that I always said I wanted to do. It was great to get over to Donegal Boston to play football.
“A lot of people think that the standard isn’t good over there, but there are so many people who have gone over there it’s quite good. We found the standard high that summer we were over.”
After rubbing the sleep from their eyes in the winter of 2011, gazing over the parish boundary as Glenswilly was bedecked in county final mania, Eunan’s came back last year with a purpose, claiming Dr Maguire again thanks to Mark McGowan’s nerves of steel in the final.
In hindsight, those empty years can be reflected upon in a strangely positive light.
Doherty says: “If you keep winning you can slacken off. We had two rough years and they made us determined to be better.
“It was probably, in a strange sort of a way, good for the likes of me who hadn’t known many defeats growing up. I knew then what it was like – and didn’t like it. We know now what it feels like.
“We put a lot of work into last year and that has proven to be a very good foundation stone for us.”
Doherty was a central figure on the Donegal Under 21 team that won Ulster in 2010 and reached that gut-wrenching All-Ireland final. This year, he was drafted into the senior squad by Jim McGuinness. Games may have been hard to come by, but Doherty can feel himself in the shape of his life.
“You’ve got to see an improvement in your own game when you’re training with the best footballers in Donegal or when you’re working with strength and conditioning coaches like Adam Speer or coaches like Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher,” he says.
“When you bring that back to the club it makes a huge difference.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. Doherty knew what to expect – but was still shaken.
“They had all been there for two years, but it was new to me. Luke Keaney came in at the same time. I had been through it with Jim when I was with the under 21s, but nothing could have you prepared for this. It’s just not at the same level at all.
“The first night I trained I came up from college that night. I was nervous for sure. It was an eye opener and I remember thinking to myself: ‘What am I doing here?’
“I’m now playing with lads that I’d have looked up to, boys who would have played the same position as I do, like Frank McGlynn or the McGees. In fairness to everyone in the set up, they’re all so supportive.”
A MacLarnon Cup winner with St Eunan’s College in 2007, Doherty has also represented the school in the MacRory Cup. Underage successes were many at St Eunan’s and at senior level the pockets have been filled too.
Eunan’s manager Eamon O’Boyle has freshened thing up this year again. He’s now aided by trainer Pat McNabb.
Having managed MacCumhaills, McNabb, a Tyrone native, has garnered knowledge of the Donegal club scene and has added to the zest in training in recent months.
Doherty and co have had enough quarter-final pain to know the pitfalls of underestimating Malin this weekend.
The Champions also face the test of having to go into Inishowen with The Scarvey in Buncrana playing host to the contest. Doherty himself is teaching in Scoil Mhuire, Buncrana these days having finished at DCU. The maths and physics teacher is home based now for the first time in four years. When the flame-haired centre-back talks up Malin, it’s with good reason.
“People might not have paid attention to Inishowen teams in the past but, this year, Malin have really made people stand up and take notice. They have been one of the better teams in the League this year,” he says.
“They’ve taken big scalps and have played well. To come out of the group in itself shows you what they’re capable of.
“They have come in and put their foot down. They’re one of the most dangerous teams left in the Championship.”