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16 February 2019 14:30

Gaelic Athletic Association Gweedore Ireland

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Gaoth Dobhair get a rare sight of glory amid the grief

Calling the shots BelfastTelegraph.co.uk ALL-IRELAND CLUB FOOTBALL SEMI-FINAL -the-shots-37821189.html Ask us three weeks ago, and we would have been confident of Donegal's Gaoth Dobhair getting a result against the reigning All-Ireland champions. The half-parish meet another big town team here, but forewarned is forearmed for the likes of Colm Cooper and company, who should book their passage to Croke Park for St Patrick's Day. With a full complement of Slaughtneil players lining out for the opening stages of the league this year, manager Johnny McEvoy will be pleased with the work that has gone on so far, but they will struggle here nonetheless. Donegal are trying to absorb the loss of several seasoned campaigners such as Kevin Campbell, Jamesie Donnelly, Bernard Lafferty, Enda McDermott and Davin Flynn, and while they put in a good showing against Kildare, they could be in for some sticky times. Monaghan have been suffering in the early part of the league without their Castleblayney players and there is little sign they will have them back in time to make a huge difference here. How Kerry's Ó Cinneide played key role in Gaoth Dobhair rise BelfastTelegraph.co.uk A speech with a line such as, 'My heart is lifted to heavenly heights' is always going to leave an impression.

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-kerrys-cinneide-played-key-role-in-gaoth-dobhair-rise-37821187.html In accepting Sam Maguire in 2004, Kerry captain Dara Ó Cinneide set in train a set of circumstances that led to today and the Leitrim town of Carrick-on-Shannon - which pauses from its reinvention as a latter-day Mecca for stag and hen dos - playing host to the All-Ireland Club semi-final as Gaoth Dobhair gear up for their biggest ever day in taking on defending champions Corofin. Donnchadh MacNiallais, a PE teacher who had played for Gaoth Dobhair in the 1977 Donegal county final, wanted to acknowledge Ó Cinneide for his speech. After some back and forth, he found himself with a coach-load of under-age players heading to Kerry to pay a visit to Ó Cinneide's An Ghaeltacht club for a friendly game. They said, 'We want somebody outside of Donegal with the Gaeilge'," explained Ó Cinneide. "Even back then I remember having to change my dialect as they weren't understanding me, and Cassidy said, 'Can you speak the Donegal Irish?' And I had to plug into them and speak their lingo." They went back to training that Thursday, the evening after the funeral, and on the Saturday, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte came up to speak about how to cope with the grief of losing a popular member of a team - something he is all too familiar with.

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"Whatever contacts were made with Mickey, to come at such short notice - and to think he had a game the following day - but he made the effort to come up the road and had a great chat to the lads and the lads had immense comfort from that," said Boyle. It's been several years since Ó Cinneide has been up in Gaoth Dobhair, but the link remains. When MacNiallais' son Odhran started developing into one of the most elegant ball-players of this generation, indeed one that would be more typical of Kerry than Ulster, Ó Cinneide recognised the class. Mervyn O'Donnell figured the best thing for them to do would be to go straight to Carrick-on-Shannon, where they will meet to face the reigning All-Ireland club champions, Corofin, at 1.30pm. "He put his cards on the table and was very refreshing." O'Donnell is a former Gaoth Dobhair player.

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I knew from the year before there was a communication issue between management and players. Gaoth Dobhair were like a streak of gold through the autumn, playing sparkling football as they swept to their first county title since 2006 and were at times breathtaking against Crossmaglen in the Ulster semi-final. Things have gone so scientific, really, and last year, I just wasn't good enough to train the team. "She had been ill from May. And I kind of had a good idea all the way through from the county final... You would love to think that you could go on and be like Corofin and come back next year.

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But what is different about this Gaoth Dobhair team to teams in other years is: unity." In accepting Sam Maguire in 2004, Kerry captain Dara Ó Cinnéide set in train a set of circumstances that leads today to the Leitrim town of Carrick-on-Shannon that pauses from its' reinvention as a latter-day Mecca for Stag and Hen dos, to play host to the All-Ireland club semi-final as Gaoth Dobhair gear up for their biggest ever day in taking on defending champions Corofin. Donnchadh MacNiallais, a PE teacher who had played for Gaoth Dobhair in the 1977 Donegal county final wanted to acknowledge Ó Cinnéide for his speech but after some back and forth, he found himself in a coachload of underage players heading to Kerry to pay a visit to Ó Cinnéide's An Ghaeltacht club and play a challenge match. Gweedore's Peter McGee, Niall Friel, and Christopher McFadden celebrate at the final whistle after their Ulster Club SFC win over Scotstown. Gaoth Dobhair could sense some fallow years were coming for the club and they needed to know if their five-year plan, drawn up by the likes of Brendan Boyle — father of county player and hat-trick destroyer of Crossmaglen, Dáire — Kevin Cassidy, Tom Beag Gillespie among others, was fit for purpose. "The next thing they were back to me asking if I would become some kind of an ambassador, that 'we want somebody outside of Donegal with the Gaeilge,'" explains Ó Cinnéide.

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But the last couple of months and leading up to the Ulster final, I would be involved in other parts of the club as well. And then came a most terrible event to arrange, in the funeral of 24-year-old Micheál Roarty, the popular clubman killed in a car accident the week after they returned from a challenge match against London in Ruislip. They went back to training that Thursday – the evening after the funeral, and on the Saturday, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte came up to speak about how to cope with the grief of losing a popular member of a team – something Harte is all too familiar with. "Whatever contacts were made with Mickey, to come at such short notice, and to think he had a game the following day, but he made the effort to come up the road and had a great chat to the lads and the lads had immense comfort from that," says Boyle. It's been several years since Ó Cinnéide has been up in Gaoth Dobhair, but the link remains. "But there was a huge affinity for us in 2004 (when An Ghaeltacht reached the All-Ireland club final to be beaten by Caltra of Galway), and they underestimated how many came there to support us on the day. Like anyone else, Ó Cinnéide was tickled by the scenes that greeted Gaoth Dobhair's first-ever Ulster title, posted up on social media after beating Scotstown. Gaoth Dobhair will likely have to step up again if they want to reach an All-Ireland club final. They became the the first Donegal team to win the Ulster title since 1975 and this is their first foray into the last four of the All-Ireland.