Stars assemble to remember ‘special’ Pat Shovelin

By Frank Craig

Gaelic football’s elite will gather in Ardara tonight to celebrate the memory of one of Donegal GAA’s most loved individuals, Pat Shovelin.

The former Tir Chonaill goalkeeping coach sadly passed away from cancer at just 41-years-of-age back in 2017. It was a loss that devastated anyone who was fortunate enough to call Pat family, a friend or a teammate.


This weekend though is about remembering and honouring the way Pat lived. And the dignified and positive manner in which he faced into his final months remains an example to us all. The genesis of the weekend’s idea began in those final days. Pat had made peace with his fate.

Dr. Charlie McManus and Pat were work colleagues at Letterkenny University Hospital. They were also part of Jim McGuinness’ backroom team as the Glenties man led his county to three Ulster titles and, of course, back to an All-Ireland title in 2012.

But above all of that, they were extremely close. And Charlie was the one that planted the initial seed that has since grown into what will now take place over the weekend. Speaking to the Donegal News, he explains exactly how Pat’s All-Star Weekend came to fruition.

“We were at the stage where Pat knew there was nothing more anyone could do,” Charlie recalls. “He rang me and I went out to the house to him. There was a finality to it and it was a sad time. The reality of what was coming was there.

“I said to him that he needed to get busy living and focus on something positive. The suggestion of a game came up. It really picked him up. He picked his team and the idea was a big game against the 2012 All-Ireland winners.

“Of course those plans never materialised as Pat became quite unwell quickly after. Shortly before Christmas in 2017, I asked his wife Chrissy was it all right if I wrote to the team Pat had chosen. I didn’t have any addresses so I wrote to their clubs.

“I kind of forgot about it for a little while. But one of those players, Chrissy McKeague, launched the letter onto twitter. And it seemed to roll really from there. More and more people then became aware of Pat’s wish to have this match.

“From there the Ardara club, in that way they always do, took it on board and really ran with it. It was quite extraordinary to watch them push it. The other aspect of the weekend is a Tractor Run on the Sunday.

“People might say ‘What’s that about?!’ But Pat actually had an interest in tractors, particularly the (Ferguson) TE20, the grey one. He used to be able to quote the registration of his dad’s TE20. One of his hopes one day was that he’d be able to track down that old tractor and do it up!

“Chrissy’s family would be big farmers. And the two boys Ethan and Tom are mad for tractors. So the Sunday is also going to be a really special and exciting day for them. For a lot of us it will be the reality that Pat is really gone. And I don’t say that lightly.

But there should be a great turnout because he was that loved. He’ll be as proud about all of this. I can just imagine him with his chest out! I think it’ll be a great way to honour him.”


John McConnell is hard to label. He’s an Ard an Rátha clubman of course and he’s a former county chairman. But his influence and application at the coalface in Pearse Memorial Park, over the years, is immeasurable. He, along with Mary Kelly, are the real go-to people in the club if you need something done quickly and efficiently.

He’d have seen Pat come up through the club’s underage ranks in Kentucky and that instant warmness and vibrancy was as evident then as it still was in Pat’s final weeks. Everyone has needed time to come to terms with the fact that Pat is gone. But the time is now right, John feels, to celebrate everything that he encapsulated.

He explains: “Pat’s friends formed sort of a committee here in the club. That started around last October. We picked the date for after the National League finals as we felt it was the safest bet to try to bring all these players together.

“We began contacting people and, to be honest, we’d very few refusals. The few that just couldn’t make it had the type of commitments that they really couldn’t move or miss. We’re just overwhelmed with the support and the feedback from everyone.

“Himself and Jim (McGuinness) were always close, big buddies. And any time Jim was there on the sideline Pat was never far away. The lads loved to give him a wee bit of stick about that! He really enjoyed that craic.

“It’s just amazing really the amount of people that knew him and called him a friend. He had an instant likeability. That’s really rare. I suppose it really is a testament to his popularity that everyone has come on board.

“The other thing is that his ability as a goalkeeping coach shouldn’t be underplayed. I think sometimes he didn’t get enough credit for the job that he actually did. He was central to all of what Donegal were doing with Paul Durcan.

“If you ask any of those lads like Paul or Michael Boyle, they’ll tell you how hard he worked on them. He lived in Donnyloop but he loved to get back over to Ardara once or twice a week to do whatever he could for the club.

“He’s a huge loss. And this event is really all about celebrating the man and the mark he left on us all. He contributed so much to so many things and this is the opportunity to show our appreciation. I’m sure he’ll be looking down and he’ll have the biggest grin on his face!”


Safe hands…. Former Ireland International goalkeeper Shay Given with Donegal GAA Goalkeeping Coach Pat Shovelin and keepers’ Michael Boyle and Paul Durcan at training in Convoy on Friday night. See page 42 for more coverage. Photo: Donna El Assaad

Paul Durcan – the two-time All-Star winning goalkeeper – is a Donegal legend. His revolutionary approach to netminding and kickouts was one of the main weapons in Donegal’s arsenal as they firmly reconquered Ulster and once again climbed back to the Gaelic footballing summit with Sam Maguire tucked under their arm.

He and Pat formed the most unlikely of duos. Physically, they were polar opposites. But again, Pat’s genial personality reeled the man mountain custodian in and an alliance was formed. It was professional but it was unavoidably personal too. Pat was Pat and anyone in his vicinity was powerless to avoid that – warming to him. You simply fell into friendship with Pat.

However, Paul points out that he wasn’t immune to the odd moment if or when Donegal’s goalkeepers weren’t applying themselves in the right fashion.

“He’d very rarely lose patience,” said Paul. “But there would be the odd time he’d get frustrated with us! But he’d soon get things going in the right direction and we’d have a little laugh about it after.

“He was the one that really brought the best out of us, myself and Boyler (Michael Boyle). We tried our best for him and I think he really appreciated that too – particularity in the early days when he’d just come on board.

“I only really got to know Pat in 2011 after he and Jim had come in from the Under 21s. We started to build a relationship straight away. I’ve such good memories. We’d some great laughs in between it all.

“The parts I loved the most and remember the most was the time spent on the training ground. That was where we’d our best times. And he loved to get between the posts any time one of us got injured or pulled out. He was right in!

“If he ever got a save off (Michael) Murphy he’d remind him and the rest of us about it for the rest of the week!

“I suppose it was a bit of journey for us both. I improved over the years and Pat improved too. He was always looking to be better, to find ways to do things better.

“He was that good. It was always very structured and well organised. He brought a different approach to our training. It was innovative and really fresh. He pushed us hard but there was always a smile to things and an element of fun.

“Myself and Boyler had a great relationship with him. It was hard work but you looked forward to going to training. He was a real character and he brought that onto the training field as well.”

Durcan had been away from the inter-county scene for the past three years while working in Doha, Qatar. But the 35-year-old returned home before Christmas and is now back in the Donegal ranks.

He reveals that both he and another Donegal man in exile at the time, Ryan Bradley, got the chance to say a final goodbye to Pat shortly before he passed.

“I was abroad at the time. And it was just unfortunate that I couldn’t get back. Myself and Ryan were out in Qatar. It hit both of us really hard for a while.

“We got the chance to talk to him about a month before the end. We had him on load speaker sitting in the middle of the bedroom. The craic was good again for that wee while.

“It was hard for us not being there at the time. But the weekend now is a chance to honour him and really celebrate the man. It looks like it’s going to be a huge night of football.”

Pat’s All-Stars will take on the Donegal 2012 All-Ireland winning team tomorrow evening with throw-in at 6.30pm. Afterwards there will be a meet and greet with the players and a Championship preview hosted by MC Sean Perry.

The night will end with a dance in the Nesbitt Arms Hotel. On Sunday, the Tractor Run registration begins at 1pm with matters getting under way at 2pm. All proceeds of the event will go towards the Irish Cancer Society, Donegal Hospice and the Oncology Unit at Letterkenny University Hospital.

Pat’s All-Stars: Niall Morgan (Tyrone), Conor Mortimer (Mayo), Aaron Kernan (Armagh), Benny Coulter (Down), Adrian Sweeney (Donegal), Chrissy McKaigue (Derry), Daniel Hughes (Down), Dick Clerkin (Monaghan), Eamon O’Hara (Sligo), Enda Muldoon (Derry), Joe McMahon (Tyrone), John Doyle (Kildare), Michael Hegarty (Donegal), Owen Mulligan (Tyrone), Oisin McConville (Armagh), Paddy Bradley (Derry), Paul Finlay (Monaghan), Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone), Finian Hanley (Galway), Steven McDonnell (Armagh), Brendan Boyle (Donegal), Barry Monaghan (Donegal), Raymond Sweeney (Donegal), Peter Harte (Tyrone), Padraic Joyce (Galway).
Manager: Malachy O’Rourke (Monaghan).

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