Wednesday 26 June 2019

'Bottles and stones flying off the dugout' - The day Donegal wanted to withdraw from Ulster Championship

In 1973, the mood on the terraces was so vicious that the substitutes were unable to warm up

Donegal’s Colm McFadden (right) lost his cool in the 2007 Ulster semi-final against Tyrone and was given his marching orders Photo: Sportsfile
Donegal’s Colm McFadden (right) lost his cool in the 2007 Ulster semi-final against Tyrone and was given his marching orders Photo: Sportsfile

Chris McNulty

When Donegal last lost a summer game to Tyrone in Ballybofey, the taste was so sour that they considered withdrawing from the Ulster Championship.

It was in June of 1973 and Tyrone left Ballybofey with a 0-12 to 1-7 win. It was about more than a game.

The following day, Donegal county secretary Frank Muldoon spoke with Ulster Council secretary Gerry Arthurs to convey the anger that was steaming in Donegal.

While Donegal considered seeking to affiliate with Connacht, nothing materialised.

Neilly Gallagher was Donegal's star forward of that era, but was left hospitalised after taking a belt from his marker, Mickey Joe Forbes.

"I was facing him at the time and wasn't expecting it," Gallagher later remembered. "He just drew out and hit me. He caught me totally by surprise."

Gallagher spent the night in a hospital bed and had seven stitches to a gaping wound.

The mood on the terraces that afternoon at Sean MacCumhaill Park was so vicious that the substitutes were unable to warm up.

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One player recalled "bottles and stones flying off the dugout".

To those who will pack the venue on Sunday, for the biggest game ever hosted in Donegal - with a place in an All-Ireland semi-final up for grabs - it is a rivalry that is unrivalled.

The feelings run deep when these two meet. Teams are at battle and, in many instances, families are at war.

Declan Bonner, the Donegal manager, has had his own history with the Red Hands.

He was given a six-month suspension after an ugly Under-21 final in 2016, when Tyrone defeated Donegal and an after-match brawl marred the occasion.

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That was a year after a case of 'sledging' in a minor game had Bonner considering his position.

It was alleged that two Tyrone players had goaded a Donegal player about the death of his father.

"If this is what is going to happen in games, then I don't want to be a part of it," Bonner wrote in a column in the Donegal News at the time. "I would rather walk away than be involved in something that has become so toxic."

Bonner was rather more measured last week in Ballybofey as he looked forward to the game.

"It gives it an extra edge being Tyrone," Bonner said. "There has been a great rivalry down the years, and this will be no different. We have introduced a lot of young lads too. A lot of the older generation of players have gone. But the game is no less. It's huge."


Donegal's 2012 All-Ireland winning midfielder Neil Gallagher would love to be in the heat of Ballybofey's inferno on Sunday.

"Tyrone in Ballybofey in a quarter-final with a chance to get into a semi-final, you'd love to be in the middle of that," Gallagher said.

"They're the games you'd be mad looking forward to as a player."

Hugh McFadden has taken over Gallagher's midfield role and, having been part of an intense under-21 battle in 2015 that Tyrone won, is well aware of the heat in the kitchen.

He said: "There has been a hostile, eager, over-the-top rivalry, and there is no point hiding that. We have two of the best teams going at it and that'll lend itself to a hostile environment."

Donegal's nemesis was once Armagh but, after winning Division 1 in 2007, they planned to get one over Tyrone.

Donegal's abiding memory of an Ulster semi-final in Clones is the chastening chimes of Ryan McMenamin bellowing into the air: "We have them, we have them. They can't handle it."

He was right. Donegal were beaten and Colm McFadden lost his cool, red carded after hitting out at Brian Dooher.

When Jim McGuinness took over in Donegal, the tide turned and Donegal beat Tyrone three times in the championship under his watch. It was by design, though.

"There was a reference to Tyrone most nights," former Donegal midfielder Rory Kavanagh remembered. "He had Tyrone drilled into us."

Donegal journalists Damian Dowds and Donal Campbell recalled in their book, 'Sam's For The Hills', how the 1989 Ulster final - won by Tyrone after a replay - re-set the tone.

"The rivalry that was born in Clones that July was immense and dark," they wrote.

"A dislike, perhaps mutual, swept Clones. Two tribes went to war and a ceasefire has still to be declared."

It's a line that rings true 29 years on.

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