Gary McFadden admits that the possibility of playing in an Ulster Senior Club Final is not one that Gaoth Dobhair could ever have envisaged a couple of years ago.
It wasn’t that they didn’t have the players. In fact, if anything, they were the envy of most clubs in Donegal.
McFadden was one of six Gaoth Dobhair players on the Donegal minor panel that reached the All-Ireland Final in 2014, while Dáire and Naoise Ó Baoill also starred at underage intercounty level in the following years.
When you added those young stars to the McGees, Kevin Cassidy, and Odhrán Mac Niallais, it seemed like only a matter of time before the Magheragallon men made their mark.
However, there are no quick fixes, and it wasn’t until last season, that they even made it past the group stages in Donegal.
They have pushed on since then, and after claiming the Dr Maguire Cup earlier this year, now have their eyes fixed on defeating Scotstown today and claiming the Ulster Club crown.
“This is the stuff of dreams,” said the teak-tough defender.
“I think this was a long way away a couple of years ago. We had good players, but for one reason or another, we just couldn’t get out of the group.
“That was in Donegal, never mind Ulster. We have come far since that, and it’s just a dream come true to be honest, and to go out with your friends and boys you grew up with in an Ulster Final is unbelievable.”
Gaoth Dobhair booked their spot in the semi-final with a tremendous 4-11 to 0-16 win over Crossmaglen two weeks ago.
Cross are considered the aristocrats of club football in Ulster, but they were blown away by the pace and poise of Mervyn O’Donnell’s team.
“It wasn’t bad now. Any time that you rack up a score like that against Crossmaglen is a good day given their history.
“You have lads like Daire (Ó Baoill) who can take on five or six men and put the ball in the net, and he’s not the only one either. We have men all over the field that can do it like (Odhrán) Mac Niallais and Cian Mulligan.
“There’s too many to name, but everyone is doing their bit.”
Cross started that game impressively and boomed over three majestic points early on.
Many teams would have feared a hammering coming their way at that juncture, but Gaoth Dobhair didn’t panic.
After a disappointing semi-final defeat last year, they know the importance of keeping the focus for the entire game.
“When you get to this stage, it’s vital to stay cool and stay calm under the pressure.
“There’s sixty minutes in a game, and we know that there will be time to come back.
“We learned from our mistakes last year against Glenties in the county semi-final.
“We were six points up, but we let that lead slip. Games aren’t won in the first half.
“You have to just give it your all for the sixty minutes and give it your all the whole way through.”
McFadden might not receive the same plaudits of some of his teammates who operate further up the field, but he has been in wonderful form for Gaoth Dobhair this season.
Built in the same mould as Neil McGee, the 21-year-old is a no nonsense defender and he has already taken the scalps of some highly-rated attackers this season.
“I was on (Kyle) Carragher against Cross and then (Cian) McConville when he came on.
“I was marking Tomás McCann in the Cargin match, and I have had (Ciaran) Thompson twice, and (Jamie) Brennan as well.
“It’s been a tough year, and you don’t get any easy jobs really at this stage. Things are working out ok, and hopefully it will stay like that.
“You just have to move on to the next game, and pick up whoever you are told to pick up.
“I’ll just go out and do the best I can do, and hopefully that will help the team.”
Gaoth Dobhair have the flexibility to operate with a defensive structure if required, but they haven’t been utilising that in recent games.
They have instead opted to go with a more traditional set-up, and that has seen their attacking players cause havoc.
It also means that there is no safety net for defenders, but McFadden, like the rest of the backline, thrives on one-on-one combat.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that we can go man-to-man.
“We want to play attacking football, and that has worked well for us in the last couple of games.
“Everyone has that confidence and belief in themselves to go man-to-man and just pick up whoever comes your way.”
McFadden is studying PE and Biology in DCU, but the books will be forgotten about this weekend.
He already has one Ulster medal this year, after he helped the Gaoth Dobhair team defeat Lavey and clinch the Ulster Under 21 Tournament in Creggan.
As it goes, McFadden and his teammates are not accustomed to losing finals and they don’t want to start against Scotstown this Sunday.
However, he appreciates that they do face a huge challenge if they are to get their hands on the Seamus McFerran Cup in Omagh.
“We have a good record in finals, but that won’t count for much this week.
“This is a different game and there’s nothing won yet.
“It would be nice to get an Ulster medal, but it’s going to take a big effort.”