Ulster summit in sight for McDaid's men from the Glen
LAST Friday night in the Glenswilly clubrooms it all got emotional.
The club were hosting an 'Up For The Match' night, part-fundraiser, part-hooley for members who could grow used to days like this. The big screen beamed messages of support from exiled sons and daughters of Glenswilly.
Shaun Burke, full-back on the team that lost the 2007 county final to neighbours St Eunan's came into view. Like many young men of Donegal, he emigrated for work in 2010, but, as he said in his message, he picked a rotten few years to go away.
Marty McGinley is another. The same age as manager Gary McDaid, he left in 2011 and flew home for the county final in October.
"There are a few of us around the world, but they never really 'leave' the Glen," says McDaid, "they just kind of move on, but it's always still there in your heart."
It was another McGinley, Michael, who penned the lyrics: 'On foreign soil I'm doomed to toil, far, far from Glenswilly' in the club's signature song, 'The Hills of Glenswilly.'
It was written circa 1878 and the reasons for emigration then and now are broadly similar.
That's what makes inspirational tales such as that of Glenswilly both compelling and important. At the heart of it all is McDaid, just as he was when the club landed its first ever silverware; the minor Division 2 championship with himself at full-back in 1996.
Alongside him on that team were John McFadden, Gerard McGrenra and Brian 'Shorty' McDaid, who will all be in contention for a starting place tomorrow.
"Those lads have come through all the way from junior football Division 4, to win a senior Championship in Donegal, to get to play in an Ulster club senior final," says McDaid.
"I don't think too many players across the province will have played junior Division 4 and got to a provincial final."
Ciaran Bonner is only a few years younger than him, but he managed Bonner's group to an U-16 division 2 championship. They moved up a grade and drew the townies of St Eunan's in the minor championship. Got tanked. Moved on. Kept going.
Either side of them, they watched as St Eunan's and Glenties' Naomh Conaill, the two clubs they are sandwiched between, carved up county titles in the noughties and got the odd charge in Ulster.
Before the establishment of the club in 1982, Glenswilly men would play their football for those clubs or Termon, but although it's a tiny place, such parts of the world crave their own identity.
"The parish is called Glenswilly," explains McDaid, "there is no actual address Glenswilly, just the parish name where the chapel is.
"Our club is right in the heart of it, it's right in the valley. People love coming there to watch matches right in the hills, it's nice air and it's banked up in a nice wee setting."
It's where they let their passions bleed. As a teacher in his old school of St Eunan's in Letterkenny, McDaid is busy with the McLarnon team there too.
He progressed to become club senior manager with John McGinley in 2011, when they won their first championship.
Missing the playing side of things, last year he took a break and captained the reserves. Once he began to miss coaching too much, he put his hat in again for the big job. The club readily accepted.
What they have in return is an enthusiastic coach with a keen tactical appreciation, who commands serious respect from his players without having to reach for it.
And he also has the eccentric habit of wearing shorts on the sidelines no matter the weather.
"I don't know," he says in bemusement about that peculiarity. "I have always done that since 2011 when I started managing. I just like wearing them on the day.
"Some people will ask you 'do you not feel cold?' But you are in the heat of the battle and kicking every ball on the sideline. Your adrenalin is pumping."
After the Ulster semi-final win over Roslea, he revealed that things had been a bit hectic at home with wife Mandy giving birth to little Jack, a brother for their 20-month-old girl Megan. It still didn't stop him from coming up with a formula that shut down the Quigley brothers.
"Every day we go out we change our game plan to try and limit the strengths of the opposition, but at the same time try and implement our own game plan," he says.
"I'd say the next day that's going to be harder than ever because Ballinderry, if one or two don't do the scoring one day, somebody else steps up and does it."
Being there is never reward in itself, the reward comes from winning.
No matter what happens tomorrow, though, rural clubs have learned that size is no barrier to reaching the very heights of the game.