Sunday 8 December 2019

Naomh Conaill could put icing on Donegal's decade

Leo McLoone. Photo: Sportsfile
Leo McLoone. Photo: Sportsfile

Conor McKeon

Last Saturday night in the Abbey Hotel in Donegal town, the county's footballers were presented with their Ulster medals for 2019.

Michael Murphy - quelle surprise - was announced as Footballer of the Year, while Ciarán Thompson was honoured for his performances in the county championship, where Naomh Conaill, tomorrow's Ulster finalists, beat Gaoth Dobhair at the third attempt.

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This being the last year of the decade, some retrospection was inevitable and so too was mention of Crossmaglen in 2010 - Donegal football's darkest hour before any glimmer of dawn. Ground zero.

A nine-point defeat to an Armagh outfit who themselves had been beaten in Ulster by Monaghan by 12.

Over the nine years since, Donegal have amassed five Ulster titles - doubling their historic tally - and in 2012 they captured just the county's second All-Ireland title.

It would then be something of a symbolic end to an extraordinary decade for Donegal football were Naomh Conaill, the club from Glenties in the south west of the county, to win an Ulster title in Omagh tomorrow.

In 50 years, there was only one winner from Donegal - St Joseph's in 1951 - before Gaoth Dobhair made it two from 51 last December.

On only five other occasions has a team from the county even contested a final.

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"It's hard to say which came first but both (the club and the county) have complimented each other really over the years," observes Leo McLoone, who lines out for Naomh Conaill against Down kingpins Kilcoo tomorrow.

"I suppose if you go back when Jim (McGuinness) came in, he changed it. He brought in an element of professionalism to the county set up.

"I think that day in Crossmaglen was as low as you could go, really," McLoone admitted.

Similarly, this has been a redemptive year for Naomh Conaill to this point.

"We got beaten in the two previous county finals, we got a lot of criticism," McLoone said. "So we had the bit between the teeth really.

"We had the idea that we just kept coming back, that we weren't beat and we weren't going to give up without a fight."

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