WITH his team in arrears and struggling, Declan Bonner went for broke.
Midway through the first half, Bonner called on his substitute goalkeeper – to play at midfield.
In 2013, Caolan McGonagle was called into Donegal’s under-17s as a ‘keeper, acting as the understudy to Naomh Columba’s Paddy Byrne.
With Byrne in a firm possession of the number 1 shirt, McGonagle was left to kick his heels.
In a facile Jim McGuigan Cup semi-final win over Monaghan, McGonagle came on at midfield, impressing enough for Bonner to give him the nod when Tyrone were on top in the final.
McGonagle, sent on as a 17th minute substitute, helped turn the tide in Donegal’s favour and a year later he started at midfield in the All-Ireland minor final against Kerry.
“I played as a goalkeeper in soccer my whole life so it was what I was used to, but then I started to play outfield with the club and I started to enjoy it,” McGonagle said.
“I suppose the skills of a goalkeeper are transferrable to any position at that age anyway.
“I played goalkeeper in soccer so it wasn’t something new to me. It was something I had done for years.
“I wouldn’t have seen myself as a good enough goalkeeper to play at that level. We didn’t do that much goalkeeping training at that time so you were just involved in games and stuff like that and I was playing at midfield for Buncrana for years.”
A few weeks after his Jim McGuigan final appearance, McGonagle starred as underdogs Buncrana defeated St Eunan’s after extra time to win the Donegal Minor Championship.
McGonagle was on the money with long-range frees in extra time, including an ice-cool effort from 55 metres.
In 2009, McGonagle played in goal when Buncrana defeated St Eunan’s to win a Northern Board Under-14 title.
In soccer, McGonagle lined out for Buncrana Hearts and in 2013 he kept a clean sheet for the Inishowen Youth League in an FAI Inter-League game against a Donegal side that included current Ireland international Ronan Curtis.
Alongside the likes of Jamie Brennan and Eoghan Bán Gallagher, McGonagle stepped into the minors in 2014 with Bonner at the helm.
A strong cohort has come through the ranks with Bonner, although McGonagle has had to be patient for his big break.
“I was a late developer,” said McGonagle, a maths and PE teacher at St Eunan’s College in Letterkenny.
“There were a couple of summers where you were thinking ‘am I going to do it, is this for me?’ But you just put the head down and work hard.
“It’s obviously frustrating. You’re coming to training and the aim is to get the jersey but I suppose if you want it bad enough it probably makes you work that bit harder.
“I thought that I was good enough and you have to prove that to yourself as well as anybody else.
“If you enjoy it, it does not make it that hard. I have a lot of friends up here and it makes it that much easier.
“I’m in training now for four or five years so I’m well used to what goes on and playing at this level.
“I’ve had to bide my time in the squad and waited to get that chance, and now that I have it is something that you have to try and build on every day.”
McGonagle and Donegal toppled Dublin in the All-Ireland minor semi-final in 2014, the same day as Jim McGuinness’s Donegal seniors handed the Dubs a defeat that remains their last in Championship football.
McGonagle said: “That day we beat Dublin in the semi-final in 2014 and then the seniors went on to beat them was an unbelievable experience and it is something I want to experience more of in my life.
“There is competition for every place here and you can’t rest on your laurels because someone will take the jersey.
“It’s very competitive. No-one is happy to be on a B team so to speak, so you have to go out and put the best foot forward. It’s good to be back at it. It was a long lockdown and we worked hard on our own.”