WHEN Brian McEniff took the Donegal senior manager’s job for the fourth time in September 1989 the immediate task of the National League held little appeal for the Bundoran hotelier.
Donegal would reach the Division 1 quarter-finals – where they lost to Meath – but McEniff had his mind focused on greater things.
“It’s all about the Championship,” McEniff said after being appointed to succeed Tom Conaghan.
In the summer of ’89, Conaghan’s Donegal were hammered in an Ulster final replay by Tyrone, 2-13 to 0-7.
Tommy Ryan was back from America and John Cunningham had returned from London for the Championship with McEniff having already drafted back prodigal sons Declan Bonner, Sylvester Maguire, Manus Boyle, Barry McGowan and Matt Gallagher – all of whom fell foul of Conaghan’s regime – earlier in the campaign.
Cavan were first up in the Championship and the Breffni were beaten 0-13 to 0-9.
Martin McHugh and Donal Reid were replacement All-Stars and were only a week back from the trip to New York and San Franciso when Cavan rolled into town.
A groin injury prevented McHugh from taking part, but Donegal prevailed without the Wee Man, who made a Lazarus-like recovery for the 1-15 to 0-8 semi-final win over Derry – a game played in front of just 5,000 supporters in Clones as it clashed with the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup clash against Egypt.
McHugh was back in the starting line-up for the final against Armagh.
John Joe Doherty recovered from a broken bone sustained while playing for Naomh Columba and was throw straight in.
Preparations were going well, but two days before the game the plans of Gary Walsh, the Donegal goalkeeper, were thrown into a spin.
Walsh was based in Newry, where he worked for the Goodman Group. At noon on the Friday, Walsh received the news that a client in England had gone bankrupt.
By dusk, he was in Wigan, but he managed to return on the Saturday afternoon to take part in a kickaround.
Highlights of the 1990 (it’s not 1999 -honest!) Ulster SFC final between Donegal and Armagh
Video courtesy of Bryansford Gael
Donegal’s play against Armagh caught the eye, even if they couldn’t pull clear of Armagh.
Paddy Hickey, writing in The Irish Independent, said: “Their play was regularly punctuated with sparkling multi-man movements, often beginning in the last line of defence.”
Donegal led 0-7 to 0-5 at half-time, but the game could have been out of sight. Ten minutes before the break, Ryan looked to have scored a goal for Donegal, but the referee, Damien Campbell, bizarrely pulled the play back to award a free that was tapped over by Bonner.
Donegal were well poised, but McEniff’s men missed several chances that would normally have been bankers.
“Twelve minutes into the second half Donegal moved into a four-point lead (0-11 to 0-7),” wrote Sean Kilfeather in The Irish Times. “What they needed at that stage to turn the screw with finality was a goal, but instead they appeared to relax their grip on the game.”
A 19-year-old Tony Boyle sat anxiously on the substitutes bench in the Gerry Arthurs Stand.
McEniff gave the Dungloe teenager – who had never played before in the Championship – the nod at a time when the game was in the melting pot.
An eager Boyle readied himself with Ryan visibly tiring and urged McEniff to hand over the substitutes’ slip.
It all meant that Boyle gave himself his Championship debut!
“He was too engrossed in the game to heed me,” Boyle later remembered.
“There was a break in the play, I grabbed the slip and didn’t wait for him to tell me where to go or what to do. I only knew that I was coming on for Tommy.”
Armagh came back to level it at 12 apiece – it was the sixth and final time that the scores were even.
Manus Boyle and Martin McHugh posted scores before Tony Boyle made the first significant contribution of a career that would see him terrorise defences during the 90s.
Boyle, with that trademark slide, superbly fetched a ball on the endline and, via a transfer to Barry McGowan, helped to find Manus Boyle, who fired over.
When Shane Skelton boomed over deep into added time the margin was down to a point and Donegal prevailed 0-15 to 0-14 with Martin Shovlin magnificently marking Oliver Reel, turning in a display that helped see him win the Ulster GAA Writers’ Player of the Year award.
The 1990 Donegal squad will be honoured at half-time during this Sunday’s Ulster SFC final in Clones.
Donegal (1990 Ulster final v Armagh): Gary Walsh; John Joe Doherty, Matt Gallagher, Martin Gavigan; Donal Reid (0-1), John Cunningham, Martin Shovlin (0-1); Anthony Molloy, Brian Murray (0-1); James McHugh, Martin McHugh (0-4, 2f, 1 ’45), Joyce McMullen; Declan Bonner (0-2, 1f), Tommy Ryan (0-1), Manus Boyle (0-5, 2f). Subs: Tony Boyle for Ryan (53 mins), John Ban Gallagher for Murray (58 mins), Barry McGowan for Bonner (66 mins).Tags: