My GAA Life

My GAA Life with Donegal ’92 All-Ireland winner Barry Cunningham

Name: Barry Cunningham

Which teams did you represent?

My home club, CLG Na Cealla Beaga, Tir Chonaill Gaels, London, and Donegal New York.

Ulster Colleges football at Mc Larnon and Mc Rory cup level with my school, PCC Falcarragh.

County football at all levels with Donegal.

What’s your current involvement?

I’m part of a small, determined group of men who have overseen the development of our new pitch and club rooms over the last 15 years. We mean well and we are glad that the goal mouths have grass in them these days but we sometimes need reminding that football pitches are for playing on, not looking at!

What was your greatest moment in the GAA?

Think of a young fella who grew up in a GAA family with a football under his oxter (the area between your elbow and your arm pit), watching Donegal playing in division three north of the National league with a championship hammering to look forward to, normally before the end of June. Now think of that young fella with about three minutes left in the All Ireland Final when he realised that Donegal were going to win the All Ireland! That was me. I just happened to be standing in the middle of Croke Park at the time.

What was the most surprising moment in your career?

When I was called into the Donegal senior squad in July 1984 for a challenge match against Meath, partly because I was 17 and partly because we were out of the championship by then (before the end of June as usual). I had been part of the minor team that year which won the Ulster Minor League, ‘the challenge game cup’ winning 12 out of 12 challenge games and lauded as potential All-Ireland champions. We were beaten in the first round of the championship. They went to the next round and we went home to the hay for the summer.

When I was sent on in the second half to mark Robert O Malley and made the mistake of saying ‘hello Robbie’ who it turned out didn’t like young fellas, playing challenge games, or being called Robbie! How was I to know? Sure that’s what the commentators were calling him at the time. Meath went to the Leinster Final that year and gave the Dubs a right rattle…. We went home to the hay, me along with a thick ear!

Who was the best player you ever played with?

I played with Larry Tomkins in New York in the early 1990’s on his way to two all Irelands with Cork. Just reward for the effort and commitment he put into the game. I met Larry at an All Ireland a few years ago, we said our words and we parted, him limping on one leg and me on the other!

What was the best score you ever saw in a game you were involved in?

With a minute of injury time gone in the county final in 1988 our local rivals, Kilcar kicked a point to go two up. In those days there was no such thing as injuries, so there was no need for much injury time. Our goalie booted the kick out straight up the middle. Cluxton, or his ways weren’t known to him at the time. The ball missed about six sets of hands of various colours and fell to the feet of John Ban on his two knees in prayer, or so it appeared. He, with divine inspiration, flicked the ball on to our fella whose looping, and entirely usual, pass landed at my backside as entirely usual. I lumbered forward a few steps with a big Shalwy man on my back and blarged the ball in towards their goalmouth, there wasn’t much else for it.

The ball somehow attached itself to our corner forward who was within or without the square, his exact location depending on the viewer’s allegiance.

For reasons known only to himself he fisted the ball across the goal to no one in particular and for reasons known only to providence it collided with Jimmy White’s boot and ended up in the net. The referee, noting his proximity to the river Finn, blew for full time, but not before Kilcar had hopped the ball off our cross bar. The series of events described above could not have been foreseen or designed, even by accident. The events of the following week in the parish were similar. You might ask how can I remember such details, I could answer how could I forget? Or I could tell you I’m after watching it on You Tube!

Which manager made the biggest impact on you and why?

I played under quite a few coaches/managers and it would be unfair of me to single any of them out. They were another small, determined group of men who brought Donegal from division three north to the steps of the Hogan stand within the space of 15 years.

The people of Donegal owe these men a tremendous debt of gratitude.

I was in a pub in Tralee about two weeks before the final in 1992 having a quiet pint to myself when I got a tap on the shoulder, there stood Mick O Dwyer and him telling me I wouldn’t be there if he was the manager.

Apparently romance stands behind football in Kerry.

He said that Dublin would start quickly, but if we could stay with them and play the type of football we played in the Ulster Final then we had a great chance. He didn’t rate the centre of the Dublin defence and he reckoned we would win if we ran at them.

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW