Monday 21 October 2019

'It's been heartbreaking, it puts football to the back of your mind'

Donegal and Gaoth Dobhair star Mac Niallais planning to take time out from inter-county game to deal with the death of his close friend in tragic car accident

Eyes on the prize: Gaoth Dobhair midfielder Odhrán Mac Niallais gets on the ball during Saturday’s defeat to Galway champions Corofin. Photo: Sportsfile
Eyes on the prize: Gaoth Dobhair midfielder Odhrán Mac Niallais gets on the ball during Saturday’s defeat to Galway champions Corofin. Photo: Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

Odhran Mac Niallais has ruled himself out of a quick return to Donegal duty as he comes to terms with the death of his close friend Micheál Roarty and Gaoth Dobhair's exit from the All-Ireland series at the hands of Corofin.

Donegal are meeting neighbours Fermanagh this Sunday, the only unbeaten side in Division 2, in a game that will be a repeat of last year's Ulster final and a dry run for the Ulster quarter-final this summer, but they will be without their sizeable Gaoth Dobhair contingent.

Last Saturday's defeat has punctuated an intensely painful period for the Gaoth Dobhair community, who lost a hugely popular clubman in the Donegal road accident at the end of last month.

"I'll take a while out now anyway to see what happens. I will chat to Declan (Bonner) and the boys and see what their plans are," Mac Niallais said.

"I will have a few weeks out. I am nearly two years now on the go and it is non-stop. I just need a break, especially after the last few weeks. It's tough. I just need a bit of time out. There is a lot of pressure and I need to do a bit of relaxing.

"It's been a long season. A couple of months leading up to this game and you are waiting and waiting on it to come and it just goes like that. It's so disappointing and you don't know what to do with yourself.

"Football is going to be the last thing on my mind for the next few weeks anyway.

"I will just relax for a few weeks now and see what happens. The appetite, I don't think it's going to be right for a few weeks."

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A minute's silence for Roarty, along with his fellow passengers Daniel Scott, John Harley and Shaun Harkin, was impeccably observed by the crowd in Carrick-on-Shannon and Mac Niallais admitted it has been a terrible time for all.

Family

"It's been heartbreaking really. It puts football to the back of your mind really for the last few weeks. It really shows you what is important in life and it's your family, your friends. Football, yeah it gives you a lift and it is enjoyable and all…

"But at the end of the day, Micheál was a very, very close friend of mine and you never, ever expect something like that to happen. It's just heartbreaking. For family and everyone close to him.

"I just don't know how… Your heart goes out to them."

He continued, "Football means a lot to everyone in that dressing-room there. It is a massive part of our lives. It takes up most of our lives but at the end of the day it is not everything. You kind of take it all for granted and life for granted.

"Micheál was only 24 years of age and a great footballer. He would have been involved with this group too only he couldn't give the commitment, he was too fond of the partying. That's a real loss, whereas that today is just football."

Gaoth Dobhair looked like they might catch the All-Ireland champions Corofin going down the stretch with three late consecutive points, but Corofin's aggressive high line wore them down.

"We wouldn't be used to it in Ulster, teams pressing and going man-for-man on you," explained Mac Niallais.

"We are kind of used to teams dropping back into a defensive shape and that.

"They are kind of more pressing us out the middle of the park and once you are tackled there are two or three men around you. We are not really used to that in the north."

Gaoth Dobhair won their first Donegal title since 2006 last October and became the first Donegal club to win a provincial title (St Joseph's in 1975 were an amalgamation).

"A lot of people have been saying over the last few months that this is bonus territory for us. In reality it is. It's somewhere a club in Donegal have never been.

"We have exceeded all expectations and had a great year and that's the positive way to look at it," said Mac Niallais.

"It's disappointing there today, but Corofin are the top team in Ireland over the last few years and they showed that.

"To compete at that level, it's only a lesson for us and we are going to learn from it."

Retained

The Donegal championship has not been retained since St Eunan's managed three in a row from 2007 to 2009 and the idea of dominating domestically is a tall order for Gaoth Dobhair.

"It is a hard championship to win and especially to dominate year after year. The top teams are Glenties, Kilcar last year, there's a great team in Glenswilly too.

"We just came through this year and there are always four or five top, top teams in Donegal," added Mac Niallais.

"We'll look to build on this year. That's the plan. We will go back at it and build for next year and get another run in the championship."

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