Bonus territory for Letterkenny Gaels

By Michael McMullan

WHEN Brian Diver grabbed the insurance point to sink Carndonagh it sparked a week of celebrations as Letterkenny Gaels won a first county title.

Donegal’s newest club travel to Crossmaglen this weekend hoping bonus territory can morph into another championship win.

The Gaels, found in 1996, lost last year’s final at the hands of Ulster finalists Downings and were beaten in the 2019 decider.

“We came in and we knew there was pressure to deliver a championship with them being so close, but thankfully we got over the line,” said Dougie Corbett, who is joint manager with Paul Melaugh who had previously done some underage work with the Gaels.

They’d been knocking around the semi-final stages, with a Division Four league title all they had to show for their efforts.

The CCC’s restructuring saw them in Division Two this year with four senior clubs. The Gaels were one of two junior clubs, with the rest made up of intermediate clubs including champions Dungloe.

“We had two goals…to stay in Division Two and to win the Junior Championship. We managed to do both and everything else from here is a bonus,” Corbett said of their 2022 pre-season ambitions.

The league was a learning curve that saw them face the big guns at the latter stages and a one-point win over Dungloe kept them out of the bottom four, free from any relegation worries.

The Gaels were one-point winners over St Naul’s, lost by a similar margin to St Naul’s and were holding Milford to a point with time almost up in a “three or four” point defeat.

“The form at the end of the league was good, but we had players back and the momentum was building,” Corbett said.

“The players started to believe we were doing something right that we were able to compete with these teams.

“Getting over the line against St Naul’s and Dungloe wasn’t necessarily a game changer, but it certainly helped.”

After eking through against Na Rossa with two late points in a 0-12 to 0-10 semi-final win put them to the county final, aiming to right the wrongs of registering a paltry points against Downings in the decider 12 months earlier.

“You are not going win anything in 60 minutes of football scoring points,” Corbett said.

“One of the things we wanted to have was an attacking plan rather than men behind the ball because there are some good footballers in the Gaels’ team if you play to their strengths and that’s not playing behind the ball.”

After making history, the Gaels’ players were granted a full week off to bask in their long-awaited glory.

“The game was on Sunday and we met up on the (following) Saturday morning and were very pleased with the bite that was there,” Corbett said.

Now it’s Ulster and swapping contentment with ambition. They face a Derrynoose team who won a first title since 1973 and edged out Middletown in the semi-final.

“We played Middletown in the Ulster league and they won by four points, Derrynoose beat them by a point in the (Armagh Championship) semi-final…that tells me they are a good team,” Corbett said of Sunday’s opponents.

An avid follower of football, Corbett is enthused by the Ulster stage. It’s a brilliant competition. If he wasn’t in the Gaels’ camp, he’d be trekking to games all across Ulster.

There is a supporters bus arranged for this weekend, something the club would’ve dreamed about when the 1996 foundations were being laid.

“It’s a reality now and we’re heading to Crossmaglen and it’s an iconic venue,” he said. “It’ll be tough going up there, I’m sure they (Derrynoose) will know it a lot better than us, but I’m looking forward to it.”

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