’71 reasons to celebrate as Kerrykeel toast League glory

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Hughie Walsh paced Rabs Park yesterday for what seemed the longest ten minutes of his life.

Walsh’s Kerrykeel 71 Club defeated Deele Harps 5-2, but had to wait for the final score in the Raphoe Town-Letterbarrow Celtic game before being crowned Donegal League Division 2 champions.

Kerrykeel kept their side of the bargain with a superb win, but there was an agonising wait for news from Deele College. Just as the final whistle shrilled in Kerrykeel, David Dorrian put Letterbarrow 3-2 in front.

Walsh waited for a further update from James McGroary.

Soon the call game.

‘You are the champions,’ was the simple message.

It was the cue for an eruption of euphoria at Rabs Park as ’71 toasted only their third League title in their history and their first in 18 years.

“That ten minutes was just cat,” Walsh, the Kerrykeel 71 Club manager, told Donegal Daily/Donegal Sport Hub.

“I was just walking around the field not knowing what to do. Letterbarrow kicked off ten minutes late so we knew we were going to have to wait.

“That news was just amazing. It was a massive day for Kerrykeel. It means so much.”

Walsh is married to Deirdre, a daughter of John Joe and Peggy McAteer, stalwarts not just of football in Kerrykeel, but of the Donegal League.

From their formative days in 1971 (hence the name!), Kerrykeel were managed by John Joe McAteer, until he passed the baton to Walsh seven years ago.

“He didn’t so much ask me as just tell me!” Walsh says.

“This title was for John Joe and Peggy. It’s savage, the work they do for the club. We’re a small, family-based club. They do so much work, and Deirdre too, they give everything to the club from fundraising – they do a card night every Monday –  to administration.

“We don’t have many big fundraisers like a lot of clubs do.

“If you go to Cork, they’d know about John Joe! Everyone knows him.

“I’m just a blow-in here from Letterkenny, but the club means so much to the whole family here.  This is for them.”

Kerrykeel lost just once all season in the League – to Raphoe.

Michael Sweeney’s brace of goals yesterday took him onto 18 for the season.

Walsh says: “Michael came back in from Whitestrand this season and he’s been a massive asset. For any team to have a player who can score that volume of goals is a massive boost.

“We got Johnny ‘Nanny’ back in as well and things have fallen into place. We had great commitment all season from the players. They’ve been excellent. We’ve had great numbers out at training all season and we’ve had a full match card at every game, too.

“It was a very tight league, but we dug deep.”

The addition of Shane Sandilands as his assistant at the start of the season was another coup for Walsh.

He says: “Shane is a huge asset for us. It was a proud day for us all yesterday.

“We targeted promotion at the start of the season, but we wondered if we were good enough to do it.

“We’ve had a challenging season at times, but the boys responded to everything we asked of them.”

Sweeney (2), Paddy Carr, Sean Little and Conor McGonigle hit the goals that corked the champagne yesterday and now Walsh is already hoping his side can stay together and make inroads next year in Division 1.

He says: “We said to them yesterday how they should be so proud to be playing with their local club and winning a title.

“There are a lot of clubs around our area and it’s hard for us all to keep players, but our plan now is to stick together and try to make it as far up as the Premier Division. That’s the dream for us.”

The Kerrykeel 71 Club panel for the 2018/19 season was: Eddie Boyce, Eoin McGonigle, Jerome Doherty, Michael McDevitt, Paddy Heraghty, Conor McGonigle, Kevin McGonigle, Sean Little, Tony McBride, Bernard McGettigan, Paddy Carr, Johnny Friel, Michael Sweeney, Paul Coyle, Matthew Stewart, Evan Hewitt, James Coyle, Shane Friel, James Gallagher, Mark Gallagher, Paul Gibbons, Patsy Friel, John Herrity, Jack McKelvey.

Sports writer from St Johnston, now based in Letterkenny, with ten years' experience covering sport in Donegal. Was a nominee for NUJ Sports Journalist of the Year in 2010. Honoured by the Donegal Boxing Board in 2016 for his coverage on the sport.

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