Iarla McGowan is a well-known figure in Donegal soccer circles.
McGowan has played with Bonagee United, where he won the Donegal League Division One title; Letterkenny Rovers, where he tasted Division Two league glory, and Convoy Arsenal. He was also a double All-Ireland winner with St. Mary’s College, Galway.
McGowan has this week picked the best 11 (3-4-3) he has faced over his career, with honourable mentions for Ciaran Martin (Sligo), Darren Toland (Kilmacrennan), Mickey Rodgers (Drumoghill), Fabian Duddy (Letterkenny), Aubrey Dolan (Sligo), Ryan Shields (Kilmacrennan) and Sean ‘Budgie’ Sandilands (Astroturf).
Padraig Lally: I first came up against Padraig when he played for St.Enda’s, Salthill. He was a huge presence in the goals. He later transferred to my school where we played together on a few teams and I got to really witness his worth. Ruled his box. Went on to win a GAA All-Ireland with Galway, but football was his first game.
Paddy Patton: I would have played against Paddy, who was a few years above me, at underage and again at senior level. He was a brilliant reader of the game. Always composed and did the right thing under pressure. Effortless in style, yet he could bite. Fantastic player. One of the best defenders in the county for years. Was lucky to play with him briefly with Convoy.
Arthur Lynch: Arthur and I became friendly when we played together for a few regional teams growing up, but then in opposing teams as we moved into senior football. He was a colossus of a centre-back, who could play on the floor when needed. Arthur went on to have a fantastic playing career with Fanad.
Conor O’Grady: When I played for St Mary’s (Galway) we had many a titanic battle with an excellent Summerhill College (Sligo) team, our main rivals in Connacht. This man and I usually marked each other. He wasn’t their best player, but he was defensively astute, leggy, and strong. Always working, always running. It was never an easy day. No surprise he went on to play at senior level for Sligo Rovers and was recently appointed Head of their Academy. Application trumps talent.
Rodney McCullagh: Rodney first came on my radar at U17 level. He was part of a fantastic Raphoe team that also included the likes of Darren Barclay and Kevin McGinley, who was a goal machine. But Rodney, on the wing, shone brightest. Sadly that star burned out too soon. A great fella and a wonderful player. Strong and skilful, who, like Kevin, died far too young.
Paul Nash: Nasher played mostly in a pivot role for Finn Harps. I came up against him in the USL. A wonderful player who was a Xavi type before we even knew what a Xavi type was. Paul was gentle in his approach but could show his teeth when needed. Always kept the game flowing. They say simplicity is the highest form of sophistication, well that sums up this man’s playing style. Quality. Gentleman to boot.
Timmy Burke: I am sure this man’s name comes up a lot in these types of things. We were all in awe a bit of Timmy growing up. I remember playing underage for Lurgy against him and our own manager even openly applauding after he pulled a ball from the sky, locked it and effortlessly weaved through a few players. He made space. We all knew he had something special. Beautiful to watch. Grass was his canvass. Superb.
Gerard McGranaghan: Gerard was a brilliant player. A nightmare to mark. Constantly moving and making himself available. Always thinking ahead. He would ghost into positions and understood that the ball could move quicker than the player. He was at the top of the pack with Raphoe when we were growing up and carried that into senior football most notably with Finn Harps. No surprise he has turned into a league winning coach. Top man on and off the pitch.
Cory Gallagher: I came up against Cory in recent years. He was part of very good Keadue team, with the likes of David Ward (who narrowly missed out here). Corey is quick, with great skill levels, fantastic lower body strength and ruthless eye for goal. Like Wardy, a great player, in his position. A pleasure to watch, not so much play against.
Kevin McHugh: I remember playing in a Summer Cup in Lagan against a young Kevin McHugh when he exploded onto the scene. He was maybe 15 and played like a 27-year-old. Huge core strength and power, teamed with a quickness of thought and a ferocious right peg. His left isn’t bad either. All hallmarks of his game still. Went on to great things but definitely peaked that day in Lagan.
Harry McCourt: I made my Letterkenny Rovers debut against Omagh Town at Swilly Park. We should have beaten them if it wasn’t for this man. I think we drew 2-2. Harry had an unbelievable towering presence up top. Strong, sharp with two great feet, who coasted towards the goal. One of the best players to play in the Irish League.
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