WHEN BRAY WANDERERS beat Finn Harps in the second replay of the 1999 FAI Cup final, it left a seven-year-old Johnny Dunleavy in tears at home in Ballybofey.
This Sunday, now 24, Dunleavy will captain Cork City as they grapple for that same trophy at the Aviva Stadium against the SSE Airtricity League champions Dundalk.
In soccer terms at least, Cork is a one-club city and the City Hall is illuminated green this week, while Dunleavy’s native Ballybofey will be turned blue on Friday night as Finn Harps and Limerick play the second leg of their promotion-relegation play-off, with the winner of the tie joining Cork and the elite next season.
“In terms of support, Cork is unbelievable,” Dunleavy told Donegal Sport Hub. “A full Turner’s Cross is as good as it can get and now ahead of the final, everyone’s turning the city green. There’s great expectation.
“I’ve always supported Harps and was listening in on Monday and watching the updates online from the Markets Field and will be doing the same on Friday night. It’d be great to see them promoted.”
Twelve months ago, Dunleavy led Cork into action on a final day showdown in the Premier Division at Oriel Park and although the Co Louth Outfit came out on top in that particular occasion and retained their title this term, the margins are still thin.
Cup football can throw up anything and Sunday’s final is expected to be close.
Dunleavy picked up a knee cartilage injury after just 19 minutes and in a contest of high quality, Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk left the banks of the Lee with a 2-1 with courtesy of a brace from Richie Towell in April.
Both other fixtures – 1-1 in Dundalk in July and then 2-2 back at Turner’s Cross last month – ended a point apiece.
“The games have been tight and Dundalk are a great side, as they’ve shown with back to back league titles,” Dunleavy added. “But we’re happy enough with how things are going. We’ve a full compliment for Sunday and that’s always important.”
After that cartilage injury, Dunleavy was sidelined for two months and not long after his return against Limerick FC in August, was unfortunate to pick up another injury.
“It was a bit of a freak,” he continues. “The ball bounced up head height and I went to flick it with my head around the corner if you like and Paudie Quinn came in and I got his forehead in the jaw. It was completely unintentional; just one of those things really but it was very sore. Straight away I could feel it in my jaw and teeth.”
As it turned out, something of a misdiagnosis was actually something of a blessing in disguise.
“I got it checked and it was thought that the jaw was broken in two places, which might’ve meant seven or eight weeks out but as it turned out it was broke just the once so I got back within three or four,” Dunleavy said. “I’ve had plenty of injuries down the years and they can be frustrating but I’m good to go now.”
When Dunleavy walks out of the tunnel on Sunday, he might have a word with his opposite number. Dundalk’s captain is Stephen O’Donnell, who is Galway born to a Donegal father – PJ from Chapel Road in Dungloe.
And only in the last week or two, there’s been an interesting link discovered between the two captains, who are already pictured side by side on the official matchday programme.
Tom Comack of the Donegal Democrat, who lives in Dungloe, made the connection.
Johnny’s father Brendan Dunleavy, who manages MacCumhaill’s and was an Ulster SFC winner with Donegal in 1983, listened attentively.
The O’Donnell family also have strong GAA connections, with Stephen’s uncle Jimmy having been a selector for Brian McEniff’s Donegal as they won the Anglo-Celt in 1972 and 1974.
Johnny’s grandfather, the late Frank Dunleavy, and O’Donnell’s grandmother Mary O’Donnell (nee Ward) were first cousins.
“Tom was telling my dad that myself and Stephen O’Donnell are actually related,” Dunleavy added. “It wasn’t something I was aware of but it’s a nice coincidence and nice for Donegal.”