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McLaughlin back from brink and focused on final

THE DONEGAL village of Clonmany, population 470, will be emptied this weekend, with bus-loads heading to Dublin to watch local hero Stephen McLaughlin line out for Derry City on the big stage of the FAI Cup final.

It's not quite the other side of the world, just a four-hour drive, but as far as some people are concerned, it's not even on the map in terms of football.

Right now, the 22-year-old is one of the best prospects in the League of Ireland and Sunday's game against St Pats could well be his last appearance in the Derry City shirt as a number of cross-channel club, envious of the value that Sunderland got when the paid Derry just €400,000 for James McClean, go looking for the next bargain.


But not so long ago McLaughlin was left out in the cold, passed over just because of where he came from and it almost caused him to pack in football and try his hand at something else.

"I played with Ireland at schoolboy level but I got forgotten about, that happens when you come from Donegal. It's the forgotten county. I was told that I was too far away," McLaughlin told the Evening Herald this week.

"When I was with the Irish U18 schoolboys I thought I would get picked but they said where I came from was too far away to travel down.

"I was gutted to hear that. It took a lot out of me and I nearly gave up football over it, to be honest. You get a letter to say that you have been picked but I never got the letter and later on I found out that was why, someone thought that Donegal was just too far away to make the journey.

"But I stuck at it, within a few months I was picked up by Finn Harps, I did well there and got a move to Derry and who knows what could happen next," he says, proud of the fact that a band of Donegal-based fans, still dining out on the county's All-Ireland success a few weeks ago, will make another trip to Dublin aiming for glory.

"My dad is taking a bus down from Clonmany so we'll have a big crowd down from there. I'd like to think that I'm doing people proud there and when people come to watch me I'd like to perform the best I can."

Events like the All-Ireland final win over Mayo or a Donegal presence in an event like the FAI Cup final (Tír Chonaill lads McLaughlin and Barry NcNamee are likely to start for Derry while Mark Farren is expected to be on the bench) are a big deal, as McLaughlin knows.

His family and friends are making a short trip to Dublin this weekend for the Cup final but so many others have had to leave permanently.

"Times are hard in the country now, but especially in Donegal. A lot of my friends have had to leave and go abroad," says McLaughlin, who was working part-time in a local golf club recently but is now concentrating on his soccer career with Derry. "A lot of my schoolboy team, Clonmany Shamrocks, have emigrated, and it's the same again when I played with the Inishowen Select team, there were a lot of very talented footballers in that team but a lot of them are off in Australia or Canada now.


"So I feel lucky to have this opportunity with Derry and a chance to play in the final. Just being part of this with Derry over the last week has been amazing, you don't get too many chances to play in an FAI Cup final.

"I was here last year in the Aviva with the Airtricity League team. It's amazing to play here, on the home ground of the national team."

Pats and Derry have shared eight goals in their three league meetings this season and McLaughlin expects more of the same on Sunday.

"It will be a very open game, with a lot of attacking as that's how the two teams play, I'd expect it to be end to end stuff and a few goals," he says.

"Pats are a good side, they are the favourites and rightly so, they have had a tremendous season in the league and in Europe. We will go down and see if we're good enough to win."