Boyle looks to defy logic and inspire injury-hit Killybegs to shock title success
"IMPOSSIBLE is nothing" is the adidas brand catch-phrase, but it might have been invented for Killybegs, who have put together the most remarkable championship run on the back of, well, nothing.
Less than nothing actually. The club hadn't won a first round championship match in Donegal in eight years before the 2010 campaign. With the 'home and away' system in place in Donegal for opening rounds, that's 16 matches without a win.
There was little to suggest that this year would be any different, but the draw handed them near neighbours Ardara and no shortage of motivation, so there was always hope, even if the club openly targeted promotion to the top flight as their goal at the start of the year.
Somewhere, somehow the stars aligned for them. Fate intervened to bring 1992 All-Ireland winner Manus Boyle back into the fray. The 44-year-old started training for a marathon, but the hard road was unforgiving and reignited a few old injuries. The sod of the club's field was more forgiving and manager Peter McGinley -- who was part of Jim McGuinness' back-room team when the county U-21s reached the All- Ireland final earlier this year -- coaxed him back. Incredibly, he has featured off the bench in recent matches and he's likely to do the same tomorrow.
Ardara were beaten over two legs. Dungloe also fell, as did Four Masters in the semi-final after a replay. Their progress caught everyone by surprise, even the club's chairman who will miss the match as he is abroad. Local newspaper, the 'Donegal Democrat,' for whom Boyle writes a column, asked 12 local experts for a verdict on the match. Every one of them plumped for last year's beaten finalists Naomh Conaill.
"We wanted to get promoted from Division 2 at the start of the year," Boyle admitted. "That was our main aim. The draw against Ardara was a lift and that focused everyone and we just went from there."
But disaster struck last weekend. Despite much lobbying, Killybegs were forced to field in a league match, just seven days before their county final, and Lady Luck turned her back on them. Full-back Barry Cannon picked up a cracked shoulder, while Pauric Gallagher broke a leg and, suddenly, the club were down two starters for the final.
Their anger is palpable. Win, lose or draw, they'll release a statement in the wake of Sunday's game outlining how they feel they have been wronged. In the meantime, they'll try to focus on the job in hand.
"We asked the CCC not to have us playing that weekend, but we've no influence there. We feel we haven't got a fair crack of the whip here at all. I'm acting chairman and we have a statement ready to go. But we're trying to concentrate on Sunday first."
Within their own ranks, they have a track record of overcoming adversity. Kevin Martin was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, but the 27-year-old will lead the attack. They also lost some of their brightest and best, including a former Ireland U-17 international rules star who has emigrated and of course, Everton star Seamus Coleman.
Coleman, who was centre-back on the Killybegs team as a 16-year-old, is expected to make an appearance in MacCumhaill Park. He was home earlier in the week and has been sending messages of support to the squad. He'll probably see some action for the Toffees against Birmingham today before jetting home.
None of this disguises the fact that Naomh Conaill are overwhelming favourites. They hit Glenswilly with a sucker punch in their semi-final with two late goals.
"That's them, they never stop going, they always play right until the end," Boyle offered. "They probably feel they let St Eunan's off the hook in last year's final, so they'll want to put that right. They've plenty of talent and lads with inter-county experience and some serious firepower."
Boyle goes in search of his sixth county medal tomorrow. The club won four from 1991 to 1996, but "haven't had a sniff" of a title since. It's been a long wait, but either way, Donegal will probably be saying goodbye to the last playing member of the 1992 side.
"I don't mind whether I come on or not. The lads have put in serious work and I know because I watched them do it. We're up against it, but we'll give it everything."
If they pull it off, adidas might just have found the subject matter for their next ad campaign.