TOMMY HOURIHANE went to bed the night before Bundoran’s Ulster quarter-final against Clann Éireann ‘just hoping just to get a good night’s rest’.
It was 1am when he flicked the light switch.
Two and a half hours after he laid his head on the pillow, he jumped from his slumber and got into a sequence that is now routine.
It’s a common occurrence for men in his profession. Hourihane is one of nine firemen in Bundoran’s fire station.
When the pager goes, it’s not exactly like an alarm call with a snooze button.
“Once you get the alert, you have five minutes to get out of the bed, get into the station and get dressed,” he says.
Picture caption: Bundoran captain Tommy Hourihane lifts the Cathal McLaughlin Cup after Bundoran’s win over Naomh Colmcille in the Donegal IFC final.
“One minute you’re having a dream and the next you’re at a house fire. That’s just the way it is.
“The night before we played Clann Éireann, I only got about two hours sleep.
“When you’re about, you’re on call 24-7. If the pager goes, I have to go. If you’re at an event, or at a family day out, you’ve got to go if the pager goes off. There’s no thinking about it.”
Hourihane was unsure as to his next move when he returned to Bundoran after spending a couple of years at college and ‘working for a while in Dublin’. He got a job in one of the local arcades – which still counts as the day job – and spotted an advertisement one day.
“They were looking for firemen and I just went for it,” he says.
He’s been eleven years in the fire service and, it’s fair to say, he’s seen it all. As he sits in a quiet corner of the Holyrood Hotel, Hourihane, with a youthful look that belies his 34 years, mentions that he ‘loves’ the job.
“There are sad times, but it’s enjoyable and rewarding too,” he says.
“If you were heading to a house fire or a car accident, it’s quiet and sombre. Everyone is just thinking about the job. You just don’t know what you’re going to come across.”
This Sunday, Hourihane captains Bundoran into the Ulster Intermediate Championship final. They meet Loughinisland from Down at Owenbeg.,
“Janey Mac, it’s massive,” says full-forward Hourihane.
“We’re not going away up the road on Sunday to look about Owenbeg and admire the stand. We’re there to win the game.”
When Bundoran were last Donegal Intermediate champions in 2010, they were beaten by Doohamlet as a disastrous start, during which they gave the Monaghan men a seven-point headstart, saw them bow out.
“We let the occasion get to us,” as Hourihane reflects now.
“If you’re a first time winner the celebrations can go on for a while longer than they should. That happened us.
“After 2010, we talked about ‘If we’d done this, that or the other’ and we have a few ghosts to bury this year.”
Hourihane is well positioned to talk about a change in Bundoran: A change in mind as well as matter.
He was just 16 when Seamus O’Reilly took him in for his senior debut. He scored 1-2 in the last ten minutes as Bundoran won in Glenfin. “My legs knew all about it that day,” Hourihane says now.
In the summer months, Bundoran opens its arms to tourists from near and far. The seaside town remains a popular destination and the influx means the culture in the town was, for many years, hardly conducive to a team wanting to hit championship form during those weeks when the party was at its best.
Charlie O’Donnell is the man Hourihane credits with much of the alteration.
The day after Donegal won the All-Ireland in 2012, O’Donnell did something extraordinary. He called training at Gaelic Park.
“It was a psychological thing,” Hourihane says.
“We were absolutely hanging, but we were there.
“We had to be there at 5 o’clock. He had 27 men above on the pitch that day. We were pale alright, but every man was there.
“We didn’t want to let Charlie down. That was some change for Bundoran players. That was just Charlie and the level he wanted to take us to.
“After every away game, we’d have stopped at Biddy’s, but now that has changed. We stopped there once, after the county final.
“The young lads are coming in and seeing that. It was never a bad thing, but it was something that was there. We’d never be off it for the couple of weeks at a time. Charlie changed the whole mindset of the club and stuff that he started are the norm now.
“He brought a level of professionalism with him. He changed the training and he changed the culture in Bundoran. Charlie knocked a lot of things on the head. It was just what we needed.”
In 2012, after that hungover gathering the evening after the night before, Bundoran’s endeavours showed when they reached a senior quarter-final. A missed penalty by Fergal McKiernan and the sending off of Ciaran McCaughey meant they were beaten, but they’d got a glimpse of what was possible.
Twice in the previous three years, they missed out on promotion to Division One of the All-County Football League. Play-off defeats by Killybegs and St Michael’s were met with many ‘what ifs’ by Bundoran firesides.
This year, they have still to play Four Masters in a play-off for which a place in Division One for 2016 is the reward.
“We’ve been touching Division One for the last couple of years and being so close has been our driving force,” Hourihane says.
“We’ve been beaten in two play-offs that we should have won. We left them behind us.
“That’s been driving us on now. Division One football has been the aim.
“For a while there we were just floating above the water line in Division Two, but we’ve been up near the top now for a couple of years. We’re building well and consistency has been the key.”
Sunday is the biggest game by some distance that the modern Bundoran will contest. During their days of the amalgamation with their neighbours from Ballyshannon, they toiled under the banner of St Joseph’s and won the Ulster Senior Championship in 1975.
They remain the only Donegal club to win that title.
The clubs went their separate ways in 1977 and now Bundoran stand ready to create their own chapter for the history book.
“The St Joseph’s talk is always there and the legends are still among us,” Hourihane says.
“We have all got great time for them, but we want to make our own bit of history. This is the furthest that Bundoran has got on its own. We’re aware of that.
“It’s unbelievable. You can see it in the town and so many people are coming up and asking us about the game.
“The young ones in the town before would have been saying something smart, but they’re looking up to us now.”
Bundoran walk out on Sunday without the likes of Kevin McManus, Michael McEniff, Johnny Ward, Adam Coyne and Brandon Goodwin, who have taken their leave and gone to other corners of the globe.
“To lose them boys has been hard,” Hourihane says, regretfully.
“When I heard they were going I thought: ‘That’s us’. We’ve had good finds since though and we have a very good squad of players with us now.
“The week of the Donegal final, we had five men really chomping at the bit to get into the team. Things like that really help in a squad.
“And we have a very good squad here. You look at the likes of Shane McGowan – he really should have had an All-Ireland medal in 2012 – and men like Paul Brennan, Gary Clancy and Peter Gonigle, they could all play in the county set up.”
When the group format for the Donegal SFC was introduced for 2013, with the pairings in place for two years, Bundoran were given Kilcar, Glenswilly and St Michael’s, three of the heavyweights.
Or, as Hourihane puts it, ‘a real bitch of a draw’.
They finished bottom of the pile in 2013, with a points difference of -13. Last year, they lost by 16 points to St Michael’s, by 23 to Glenswilly and by 27 to Kilcar on a day when they scored just three points.
O’Donnell had departed because of work commitments in England. Brian McEniff assumed control on a caretaker capacity before Brian Gavigan, the current manager, took the stand.
The memories of those whippings last year were still crystal clear when they returned to work this summer.
At half-time in the Donegal IFC final they were 18 points in front of Naomh Colmcille. They kept the foot down and won by 25.
The new Bundoran had arrived.
“Everything clicked for us in the final,” Hourihane says.
“I talked about it at half-time. When you play against the top teams, they don’t ever come up for air. They just keep coming at you.
“That’s what you have to do. You’ve got to be ruthless. You realise that when you’re competing with the best teams. There’s no such thing as easing off.”Tags: