BY CHRIS MCNULTY
DARACH O’Connor has the Championship buzz this week.
The Donegal minor captain leads his team into the heat of battle on Sunday at MacCumhaill Park as they take on the defending Ulster Minor Champions, Tyrone.
O’Connor has only returned to Gaelic football fields this year having taken a sabattical of sorts to concentrate on soccer last year. The lure of the county jersey was too strong to turn down, though – and the 18-year old Buncrana man can’t wait to get into action on Sunday.
He doesn’t have too far to turn to for advice ahead of what will be the biggest game most of these young players will have played in. He is the son of the Roscommon football legend John ‘Jigger’ O’Connor.
‘Jigger’ played on the great Roscommon team that won four Connacht titles between 1977 and 1980. In ‘80 they reached the All-Ireland final, meeting Mick O’Dwyer’s great Kerry side of that era. O’Connor had the dream start, scoring a goal past Charlie Nelligan just 35 seconds into the game. While Roscommon led 1-2 to 0-0 at one point, Kerry hit back and eventually won by 1-9 to 1-6.
This was a Kerry team that contained the stardust of Jimmy Deenihan, Paidí Ó Sé, Jack O’Shea, Pat Spillane, John O’Keefe and Mikey Sheehy.
A native of Strokestown, John O’Connor was as gifted a player as Roscommon had seen and alongside the likes of Dermot Early. ‘Jigger’ senior had an evasive streak that marked him out as one of the greats of his time – and now he can pass on some nuggets to a young man who caught the eye while playing with the Donegal Under 21s this year.
“It’s a different game now to when he was playing, but it’s great to have someone around who has the understanding of what it’s like,” ‘Jigger’ junior says.
“He knows what it feels like to come in after having a bad game and is a great help to me.
“Playing and training with the Under 21s definitely helped me along as well. I was with them three or four days a week and the intensity there was so much higher than anything I’d done before.
“Hopefully now I can bring some of that back into the minor set up.”
A fourth year at Scoil Mhuire in Buncrana, O’Connor is not lost on the importance of captaining his county – and is glad he made the choice he did over the winter months.
He says: “Two years ago, I decided to go solely at the soccer, but I missed the Gaelic football something savage.
“I’d miss the soccer now, but there’s no comparison to what this feels like.”
He’s in the middle of his end-of-year exams at school, but the big test will come on Sunday when they head into the trenches.
“I just can’t wait ‘til Sunday,” O’Connor says.
“It’ll be a brilliant occasion. The senior game is so highly anticipated, it’ll just add to the occasion.”
Donegal reached the Ulster Minor League final, losing narrowly to Monaghan. It was generally felt that it had been an encouraging League camapign from the Tir Chonaill youngsters.
“We were happy with the League,” O’Connor says.
“We played Fermanagh in the first game and we blew a big lead, but we went into that game having no ball work done at all.”
A little while later, before they played Antrim, Stephen Friel took him aside and told him he wanted O’Connor to be his captain for 2013.
“I gladly accepted the opportunity,” he says.
“It’s a brilliant feeling to be captaining a Donegal team. It’s a proud feeling, too. To think that six months ago I wasn’t playing the sport and now I’m leading them out, it’s unreal.”