So many stars to savour in Donegal’s past
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Picking a panel of the 50 ‘best’ players ever to represent Donegal is as daunting as jumping off Mount Errigal without a parachute. Gerry McLaughlin was handed that task, and here is his selection, in no particular order ...
The best the county has seen, especially in 1992. The wee man from Bavin famously went “down the barrel of the gun” and the Dubs were so shocked, they have won only one All-Ireland since. Marksman and supreme motivator, playmaker extraordinaire and cocky enough to attempt the impossible, the Kilcar star would walk onto any team in the country. Got two Allstars and could have had more.
The godfather of Donegal football with a great football brain. A wing-back who worked relentlessly at his game and became a truly great leader in the late 1960s and ’70s. An Allstar, McEniff was a master of precision passing in an era when skyscraper clearances were de riguer. He would still be playing if they let him.
A truly unique talent from Dungloe. Perfected a famous sliding method of winning possession and turning in a flash. Could win and keep the ball and score as casually as you’d sip a cup of tea. Made it all look so easy and won an Allstar in 1992.
THERE were few better footballers in Donegal in the 1960s. O’Donnell was a brilliant reader of the game and had the subtlety to mark feared forwards without resorting to ugly tactics. Played from 1955-1968 but unfortunately never tasted Ulster success.
Majestic would describe the St Eunan’s midfielder. Played from 1957-1970 and still fit enough to make a comeback in 1975.
Hudie Beag Gallagher
The Gaoth Dobhair speed machine played when the Gaeltacht men ruled Donegal in the 1940s. Small in stature, his blistering pace and swerve broke the hearts of many Ulster defenders from 1934-1945.
He couldn’t be awkward if he tried. Donegal’s most graceful player had the balance, vision and intelligence to perform anywhere. The Killybegs man was converted into a corner-back for the All-Ireland final of 1992, and saw space instead of a skull to be stopped at all costs.
You can never have enough good midfielders and they don’t come any more special than Molloy from Ardara. Had levels of character and charisma that were very apparent in 1992 when he was captain and an Allstar.
A big man on the edge of the square with a fine mix of skill and steel. He could mix it with the best full-forwards around. Captained his county to an Ulster title in 1974 and received an Allstar.
Hughie Tim Boyle
Carved from Gaeltacht granite. Hughie Tim could play anywhere in defence but was an exceptional corner-back in the ’40s and ’50s. A key figure in the invincible Gaoth Dobhair team which took eight county titles in that era.
McLoone was like a meteor, with a thundering shot and incredible pace. Route one was the only way the St Joseph’s star knew and his performance in the All-Ireland club final against Dunmore MacHales in 1968 was epic.
Not many men score nine points in an All-Ireland final as a late call-up. One of the most natural strikers of a ball anywhere. A key figure in Donegal’s renaissance from 1987-1993 and spurred Killybegs to many club championships.
A colossal centre-back from Pettigo. Flood was a magnificent fielder who negated some of the finest forwards in the country. He played for Ulster in 1963 and 1966. Was remarkably agile and held his own against great Down sides.
When the going got tough, the captain of the 1983 Ulster title-winning side got going. Lafferty was a no-nonsense stopper at centre-back who also provided superb leadership to a young Donegal side in a year when they might have taken an All-Ireland if Martin Carney had been around.
The Ballyshannon native was a flying wing-forward with a headband. Played for the county from 1971-1987. One of the most complete footballers to come from the south of the county and key to Donegal’s Ulster successes in 1972 and 1974.
There were few better defenders than Paul Kelly. A tidy corner-back who went about his business in an unfussy manner.Paul was a key figure on the Railway Cup sides of 1965 and 1966.
Mr Versatility played in more positions than virtually any other player. Equally at home as an attacker or defender, he represented his county from 1958-1973 and was also a driving force for St Eunan’s.
Martin ‘Rambo’ Gavigan
His nickname was deserved as the Ardara man was probably the most powerful centre-back of them all. Held the line superbly in Donegal’s triumph in 1992 and his meticulous dedication and preparation was an example to all.
The custodian from Letterkenny raised the standard of goalkeeping immeasurably in the 1960s. Hoare’s talents were recognised by Ulster and he won three Railway Cup medals, as well as lining out for Tir Chonaill from 1955-1969. He was an icon in an unenviable position.
In the days before Martin McHugh, he was Kilcar’s superstar. A gifted wing-back and a bulwark 1983 Ulster final victory over Cavan. Carr always had time on the ball and he also played corner-forward in the 1974 Ulster victory.
A true class act from the Sean MacCumhaill’s in Ballybofey who became the first Donegal man to lift the Anglo Celt Cup on a wet day in Clones in 1972. An athletic midfielder whose early years coincided with a superb MacCumhaill’s side which took four county titles in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Vocal and versatile, he played a very successful brand of handball in the All-Ireland final of 1992. The Naomh Brid man was one of Tir Chonaill’s best performers from 1982-1997. Donegal had problems at full-back and Matt solved them superbly. If they gave degrees for grit, Matt would have first class honours. He played 147 county games.
Always remembered for two stunning goals which broke Down hearts in the final of 1974. The Four Masters man also got a vital goal against Tyrone two years earlier when the county took its first ever Anglo Celt. Strong and forceful, he has three Ulster medals and was equally at home at midfield and full-forward.
The St Eunan’s man was a commanding centre-back for Donegal in the Ulster triumphs of 1972-1974. Excellent hands and an ability to drive forward which was crucial to those victories over Tyrone and Down. Also a key figure for Eunan’s in the late 1960s.
Jim ‘Natch’ Gallagher
A tough, uncompromising centre-back who featured prominently for Donegal in the 1940s and 1950s. The Aodh Ruadh man was very much a prototype for ‘Rambo’ Gavigan, who also excelled in this position. Was a driving force on the Aodh Ruadh side who had great tussles with Gaoth Dobhair in the 1940s.
A truly legendary figure in the 1940s who brought an element of tactics to playing at centre-forward. The Glenties man also had the distinction of playing with the great Cavan team which won the All-Ireland in New York in 1947.
‘Red’ Jack Gallagher
‘Red’ Jack was a small man with a huge spring and immense physical strength. The Aodh Ruadh dynamo was a flying wing-forward for Donegal from 1943-1949 and helped Aodh Ruadh to two championships in 1942-1943.
The Four Masters man won an Allstar in 1974 at right corner-back after his county team had taken their second Ulster title in three years. Formed a fine line with Padraig McShea and Andy Curran.
John Joe Doherty
More Gaeltacht granite which was very important in that 1992 victory. Famously came in as a last minute replacement for Martin Shovlin and played superbly to win an Allstar. A direct player who could hold the line with the best, he played for Donegal from 1988-1995 and 1997-1998.
A teak tough defender for Four Masters in the leaner days of the 1950s. Could mix with the best forwards around. A corner-back who represented the county from 1949-1957.
The 1950s were lean times but Ardara’s Frankie Brennan stood out like a beacon. At home in midfield or half-forward and was feared throughout Ulster.
Almost ever-present from 1984-1998. A great pair of hands and a perfect foil for Anthony Molloy in 1992. The Aodh Ruadh man was a stylish midfielder.
Eloquent and adaptable, the Killlygordon man made a seamless transition from half-forward to wing-back and was a key figure in 1992. Best known as an attacking wing-back who played from 1983-1986 and 1988-1993.
An army midfielder who kicked the ball with military precision. Was a commanding figure on the St Joseph’s side which dominated club football in the county in the 1960s.
A very skilful corner-forward from Gaoth Dobhair who spent many of his formative years abroad. Was a great dead-ball kicker who was a key figure in 1974.
A very classy wing-back from Sean MacCumhaill’s. Dunleavy, Michael Lafferty and Michael Carr were Donegal’s finest ever line.
Dunleavey played for Donegal from 1975-1989.
The rock on which many an Ulster full-forward perished. Jackie was the lynchpin of the great Gaoth Dobhair team which won so many Donegal titles in the 1940s and early ’50s
A LIVEWIRE corner-forward who won two Ulster Championship medals in 1974 and 1983. Exceptionally fit and able to stand up physically.
One of the most physical forwards ever to play for Donegal. Showed remarkable raw power in 1983 when a very young Donegal side took an Ulster title. Was a wing-back in the All-Ireland of 1992 and gave the team an extra edge in the physical battle with the Dubs.
Won an Allstar in 2002 and his combative spirit has inspired Gaoth Dobhair in recent years. Equally at home in defence and midfield.‘Cass’ has shown much improved leadership qualities in recent years.
The St Eunan’s legend was a clever wing-back in the late 1940s and 1950s. Was a great thinker about the game. Also a central figure in the Letterkenny club.
A pocket rocket from St Joseph’s who cut swathes through defences in the 1960s and early ’70s. Had a definite eye for goal as well in his career which lasted from 1965-1977. Tested All-Ireland champions Offaly in the All-Ireland semi-final of 1972.
If you were going into battle you would always have ‘Higgs’ with you. Hegarty had one of the greatest engines ever seen on a football field and he could solo for Ireland. Played for his county from 1991-2001
A wing-froward who had the abiility to play really well in the shadow of big brother Martin. Great vision as well and deserved his Allstar in 1992. A little Kilcar jewel.
A most commanding full-back in the mid-60s. Played for the county for five years from 1963-1968 and was a match for many of the top full-forwards around.
HE was a quite remarkable keeper and an excellent shot-stopper. Didn’t go for theatrics but was a very steadying influence on the characters who stood in front of him. Almost an ever-present figure from 1984-1996.
So much phsyique and raw natural talent. A free spirit who made the edge of the square his own and had one of the finest catches ever seen on Donegal fields. Did not quite fulfil his enormous potential.
MAY be gone from the county scene but he is not forgotten. At his peak ‘Eddie’ was a superb natural scorer who earned an Allstar in 2003. Strong upper body enabled him to swat off challenges easily.
The enigmatic one’s career may or may not be over but he has left his mark. Remembered for scoring 0-14 in the county final of 1999. Great pace and natural strength ensured he was a big hit in the International Rules series. A St Eunan’s icon.
A really towering presence for Donegal in the late 1930s. The big Ballyshannon man was selected on the Donegal team of the century in 1984 and played for Tir Chonaill from 1936-1945.
The Na Rossa man had skill to burn and tremendous accuracy, a left foot to die for and an ability to
punish mistakes ruthlessly. His celebration after hitting a late point in the 1992 final is still a vivid image in Donegal. Played almost without interruption from 1987-1995.
THE tombstone carver from Corker is the county’s current favourite little big man. The record appearance holder has been a fixture for the past 14 years and has the ability to kick truly memorable points against high-quality opposition.
VOTING WILL BEGIN AFTER ALL NINE COUNTIES HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED. THE PLAYERS NAMED IN EACH COUNTY ARE SUGGESTIONS ONLY AND READERS SHOULD FEEL FREE TO NOMINATE ANY PLAYER WHOM THEY REGARD AS WORTHY
Remember if you think, we have left someone out who you think merits a place on the top 125 of Ulster's great footballers feel free to add you own.
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