WHEN JIM MCGUINNESS was piecing together his Under-21 jigsaw in the winter of 2009, he held a series of trial games.
At one such gathering in Convoy’s Pairc Naomh Mhuire, Joe Donaghy kicked 1-6.
He was in good form at the time, just breaking into a rising Naomh Colmcille team having featured the previous year in the St Eunan’s College team that reached a MacRory Cup semi-final.
Donaghy caught fire in Convoy and left that night believing he’d be back.
The call never came and his hopes of donning the county shirt faded.
His tale is not too dissimilar from that of Paul ‘Darky’ Callaghan, the current Naomh Colmcille club chairman.
Callaghan was one of the first Naomh Colmcille players – or Naomh Baithin as the club was known back then – to have his number dialled by a Donegal manager.
Callaghan was called up for the Under-21 campaign of 1991, in a squad that included McGuinness, John Gildea, John Duffy, Mark Crossan and Tony Boyle.
At the time, Boyle was also a part of the Donegal senior team and was unavailable for the Saturday morning challenge games when the seniors were in action the following day.
It was here that Callaghan’s chance arose.
One Saturday at Fr Tierney Park, he hit six points against Roscommon. Brian McEniff popped into the dressing room afterwards and singled Callaghan out.
It was Callaghan’s last time to don the jersey.
“What does a man have to do?” he wonders.
“I couldn’t understand it for the life of me and was left a bit disillusioned by the whole thing.”
Callaghan went on to carve a fine soccer career with Newtown, Fanad United and Kildrum Tigers, but is back at Pairc Colmcille now as the club chairman.
He’s overseen quite the rise in fortunes and this Sunday they take on Bundoran in their first-ever visit to the Intermediate Championship final.
It coincided with a successful underage team that included Donaghy, Thomas McKinley, Alex Deveneny, Paul Friel, Mark Dowds and Ryan McErlean.
Callaghan managed them to an Under-16 Division 2 League title in 2007 and they won-back-to-back Northern Board Division 2 Leagus in ’07 and ’08.
“We were always on the fringes or thereabouts,” Donaghy says.
“We had a good group of us that won an Under-16 Championship and a Minor League. We were always there or thereabouts. We were used to winning there and finals were nothing new to us.”
In 2009, they broke into the senior team in Stephen Friel’s first year as manager, a summer than saw them have the club’s most promising few months in years. In 2010, they won the Junior Championship, the club’s first since 1994.
They missed out on spots in the Intermediate finals of 2011 and 2012 after suffering semi-final replay losses against Naomh Columba and Aodh Ruadh.
They got a second wind this year, just when the plug was set to be pulled on their Championship run.
When they were 0-8 to 1-0 in arrears against Buncrana, 2015 looked destined to be a write-off.
Donaghy’s goal sparked the comeback that saved their lives.
“It was hard to lift it, but when you look around the dressing room, you see great chracters and also great character,” he says.
“We always have someone to pop up. That’s all over the team. We have a good level. There are no superstars, but you have the likes of Willie (Gillespie) who does his thing every week.
“It’s hard to put the finger on it. Anyone who knows Francie (Martin, manager) and Dougie (Corbett, selector) would know why we came back that day. We were gone at The Scarvey, out of the Championship.”
Donaghy was back at Pairc Naomh Mhuire last month for Naomh Colmcille’s quarter-final win over Carndonagh.
Like he did on the night his impressive haul didn’t quite catch McGuinness’s eye, the forward caught fire and hit Carn for 2-6. As Paul Callaghan put it: “What does a man have to do?”
They required a second day out against Gaeil Fhánada in the semi-final.
Having let a two-point lead slip away in the closing stages, the popular opinion was that they’d missed their chance.
They blew that notion out of the water in an eleven-point replay win.
“We came to training on the Tuesday and we were positive,” Donaghy says.
“We knew we could get the job done. Everyone put in a shift and we were all hungry for it.
“We could never get over the line the first day. We said coming off the pitch after the Fanad game that it just wouldn’t be us to do the business on the first day!
“We have great character there now. Look at Ricky (Hegarty) and John (Fullerton) – they’re real sticky men and they’re unreal at training. They have the bit between their teeth this year. They’re so consistent and have come into themselves.”Tags: