BY CHRIS MCNULTY
IN the 2009 Donegal Under-21 Championship, played in February 2010, St Michael’s defeated Donegal’s under-21 kingpins, Naomh Conaill, 0-13 to 0-6.
Daniel McLaughlin kicked three points that day and was Man of the Match.
Nine of the ’09 Under-21 winners will be in line for places on Saturday night when the Creeslough-Dunfanaghy flag-bearers take on St Eunan’s in a senior semi-final.
McLaughlin is joined by Mark Anthony McGinley, Stephen Doak, Antoin McFadden, Andrew Kelly, Martin McElhinney, Martin Breslin, Lorcan McDaid and Michael McGinley in a panel that goes toe-to-toe with Eunan’s.
The prize at stake is a place in Sunday-week’s senior decider. St Michael’s have been in just one senior final in their history, in 2011 when they lost against Glenswilly.
They’ve never won a senior League or Championship.
But their dressing room brims with big game experience. Six of them – McLaughlin included among the likes of Colm McFadden, Christy Toye, Martin McElhinney, Antoin McFadden and Peter Witherow – were on the Donegal squad in 2012 when Sam Maguire was captured.
McFadden and Toye had been part of a previous generation that broke down barriers for St Michael’s, taking them into the senior ranks for the first time.
At senior level, they still wait.
“Probably with the players we have – we have had a lot of men on county teams and we won an Under-21 with the club too – we should have achieved a wee bit more,” McLaughlin admits.
“We had six men on the 2012 Donegal squad, which was massive for the club.
“We maybe haven’t pushed on from that like we could have when you look at the standard of players we have.
“We’ve come back this year again and we’re in a semi-final – so hopefully we can push on this time. First of all we have to deliver a performance against St Eunan’s.”
McLaughlin watched from the Sean MacCumhaill Park stand in 2006 when Ross Wherity’s late goal sank St Michael’s hearts – ‘just a horrible time to concede a goal’ he says now – and hopes to be involved tomorrow night.
He says: “Eunan’s are always strong. They’ve a great panel of players in every department. We will need to up it by 20 per cent on Saturday to trouble them.
“The Kilcar result for us was a huge one, going to Towney and beating them the way we did. To come out of Towney with a big win gave us a lot of confidence. We were decent against Dungloe on Sunday, we did what we had to do and win the game.”
McLaughlin has savoured big days with Donegal, having been a part of the county set-up in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Last year, he started college in Preston and now plans to begin a Masters in Sports Performance at University of Limerick. His college commitments in England meant he had to step off the carousel just as Jim McGuinness was loading it up for another ride.
McLaughlin says: “I was in England so just wasn’t able to give a commitment like Jim was asking for. With the amount of work on dissertations and the like it wasn’t going to be possible to come back once or twice a week from Preston.
“I decided to go to America for the summer and it was always something I wanted to do.
“Being under Jim with Donegal was a great experience for those few years – I had him at the Under-21s too.
“I learned a lot about myself – as an individual and as a player. Everyone who was on those squads would say the same. I gained a lot of experience and am definitely the better off for it.”
McGuinness’s recent departure will mean that Donegal will be under new management when the new inter-county season comes around. McLaughlin would love to get a chance again.
He says: “Every player in donegal strives to be on the county squad so, yeah, I’d like to make it back.
“Whoever the next manager is, I’m sure he’ll have plans he wants to take in and players he wants on board. Hopefully I’ll be a part of that. It’s just about putting the best foot forward between now and then and hoping to catch the eye.”
For now, the ambitions rest with St Michael’s. Having initially been in Preston for some of the early League outings and then having gone across the Atlantic for the summer, McLaughlin has found it hard to reclaim his place in the first XV, although he’s sure to run it close this weekend.
He says: “The competition for places here is great at the moment. I only came in around late August again after America. I’ve had to put the shoulder to the wheel like everyone else is.
“I was getting word when I was in America that things were going really well in training and I wasn’t long back until I realised they were right.
“I had missed a few games so I wasn’t expecting to get back in right away. The boys in there have earned their spots.”
Now, McLaughlin and St Michael’s are hoping to earn their stripes.