BY CHRIS MCNULTY
WHEN Cloughaneely surveyed their lot at the end of May, two months into the season, it didn’t make for pretty reading.
With just four points from a possible 16, having lost six of the opening eight games, Joe McGarvey’s side looked far from Intermediate Championship contenders at that stage.
The scene had been grim and Cloughaneely were in right in the middle of a relegation battle but a Bank Holiday home win against Sean MacCumhaills was just the spur they needed.
They made a vow to themselves at that stage and have turned the corner since. That they go into Saturday’s Intermediate Championship final against Buncrana as the favourites says a lot about their turnaround.
“The boys realised themselves that they just had to pick it up,” McGarvey says.
“We put in a couple of extra training sessions and stepped up the training. That helped us. We went to the last game against MacCumhaills needing to win and we won it by a point due to a last-minute penalty.
“That kept us safe, which was very important. You need to be playing in Division 2, against the better-quality teams.”
The prize on offer in Letterkenny isn’t just a second Intermediate title for the Falcarragh club, but the prospect of ensuring senior football returns to Pairc Naomh Fionnan is the rather more appealing incentive for victory. McGarvey managed the club’s previous title win at this level, in 2006, and would dearly love to guide his men back into the senior championship.
With their closest neighbours like Gaoth Dobhair, St Michael’s and Termon on the top rung these days, Cloughaneely are determined to add to the sizeable participation along that north-west seaboard in the senior ranks.
McGarvey says: “It would mean a lot to get back into the senior championship again. You want to be in with the big boys all the time. Last year we had to blood an awful lot of young lads and we had to use too many. We had four minors playing against Glenfin in the relegation play-off in Ballybofey. We had a lot of injuries last year so we had no choice.”
Cloughaneely dropped into the Intermediate ranks after losing to Glenfin in the relegation play-off 0-16 to 2-8. Paul Sweeney and Shaun McGarvey netted the goals, but Cloughaneely came up short. McGarvey, the manager’s son, who scored 1-5 against Glenfin, will miss out this weekend because of a torn medial ligament, while Paul Sweeney (London) and John Harley (Aberdeen) have recently left the panel to head for a further shore.
He says: “We’re working off a very small panel. We have only used 24 players in the League and the Championship this year. We have a small base anyway and then the three lads are gone.”
Cloughaneely have a youthful look to their squad in large areas, but theirs is an experienced bunch, with Denis Boyle and Kevin Mulhern having been members of the Donegal senior panel, while Kevin McFadden was the captain of the Donegal Under-21s and the likes of Darren McGeever, Lee O’Brien, Declan McGarvey, John McGarvey and John Fitzgerald have all worn county jersies at underage level.
McGarvey says: “We have a good young panel coming through. Nine of the panel are under-21 this year so that bodes well for the future if we can keep them about.
“I’ve worked with these lads and brought them through to the senior squad. Hopefully that continuity will stand to us. I know what they’re capable of on their day. The big question is all about getting that day.”
McGarvey led the club to the 2006 Intermediate crown when they came through a three-game marathon with Fanad Gaels. The teams shared the spoils, 1-10 apiece and then 1-8 apiece, before Cloughaneely won at the third time of asking, 1-11 to 0-8. McGarvey was also at the helm for the 2010 loss to Bundoran in the final.
Now in the second year of his latest tenure in charge, McGarvey – who has also managed the club’s minor and senior teams – has been impressed by how his side has hit form after their disastrous start to the campaign.
“We’ve had to battle on and we’re improving with every game,” he says.
“We’re progressing each week. It was important to get the winning mentality early in the Championship and get started off on a good note.”
Cloughaneely were the only side to win three-out-of-three in the group stages. A tense 2-8 to 2-6 win over Naomh Colmcille kick-started their quest for the Cathal McLaughlin Cup. A narrow win over Burt was followed up by their 1-9 to 0-7 win over St Naul’s which sealed the top spot. After seeing off Burt in the quarter-finals, Cloughaneely came up against their old foes from Portsalon on Saturday in the semi-finals.
Fitzgerald scored 1-5 and Mulhern hit 1-1 as Cloughaneely struck a 2-14 to 3-5 win. The manner of their destruction of Fanad was impressive and McGarvey’s team will surely have taken a lot of confidence from that game.
He says: “Fanad was a big step up for us. Fanad were one of the favourites and are also a Division 2 team. We played Naomh Colmcille and Burt who are in Division 3 and while we played St Naul’s, it was in the third group game when both teams were through anyway. We knew that Fanad would test us more than we had been tested up to now. I was delighted with how we reaction.
Cloughaneely lost to Glenswilly in the 2005 Intermediate final before getting over the line, eventually, a year later against Fanad. Current captain Shaun Maguire has been involved in those previous finals.
“We’ve been there a number of times now over the years and it’s been a mixed bag,” Maguire says.
“It would be great to do it again at the weekend. We’ve a couple of young lads coming through. We’re looking forward to it. It’s a great experience for all those lads. Hopefully they’ll do themselves justice at the weekend.”
CLOUGHANEELY PANEL: Sean McClafferty, Cian McFadden, Kevin McFadden, Martin Ferry, Kevin Mulhern, Lee O’Brien, Declan McGarvey, Martin Maguire, Ciaran Scanlon, Paddy Cannon, Denis Boyle, Darren McGeever, John McGarvey, Shaun Maguire, John Fitzgerald, Michael McGinley, Michael Lynch, Conor McGee, Eamon Curran, Cillian Gallagher, Shaun McGarvey, John Harley, Paul Sweeney, Liam Coyle, Paul McFadden.