Donegal’s McFadden says preparation for now is all about Meath

Midfielder says when you win an Ulster title ‘you have to enjoy it for all it is worth’

Cavan’s Gearoid McKiernan and Hugh McFadden of Donegal in the Ulster final in Clones, Co Monaghan. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Cavan’s Gearoid McKiernan and Hugh McFadden of Donegal in the Ulster final in Clones, Co Monaghan. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

There was a line from Dublin defender David Byrne last week where he said that once Dublin won the Leinster football title they were already thinking about their next game. 

Hugh McFadden was sitting beside him and gently interjected. “We were thinking how fast can we get back to the Abbey Hotel in Donegal Town to begin the celebrations,” said the big midfielder, providing some mild comic relief to the otherwise routine exercise of match promotion. 

McFadden wasn’t being disrespectful to Byrne or in any way mocking of Dublin, who in beating Meath last month won a ninth successive Leinster title – and 14th in the last 15th seasons – it’s just that Donegal, in beating Cavan in the Ulster final, collected their fifth title in nine years; before that they had only ever won five in 104 years. 

“All jokes aside,” McFadden later added, “we are in a very privileged position in Donegal to be able to celebrate an Anglo Celt coming back in over the Pettigo mountains two years in a row now. We see it as a bit of a golden period in Ulster, to be part of two winning teams. It’s a prestigious place, and brought some great celebrations. 

“We are also humble enough to know and we have had enough dark days that when you do get an opportunity to lift something like that you have to enjoy it for all it is worth.

“There are men in our group who have lost three Under-21 finals, and three senior finals, and those dark days make you appreciate when you are lucky enough to get up the steps in Clones too.”

Celebrations

For all four provincial winners the celebrations are now well on hold as their Super-8s campaigns get under way this weekend, Donegal hosting Meath at Ballybofey. Given their campaign to date, Donegal are being billed as the team perhaps most likely to halt Dublin’s quest for that record fifth successive All-Ireland, although McFadden was not falling for that one. 

“Everyone needs to make a story, to say Dublin can be beat. If you say ‘pack it in now, give them the Sam Maguire’, you won’t get too many articles this summer.

“From our point of view they are a phenomenal team, we’re not getting carried away, and there’s a lot of football to be played before we’re even in the position to play Dublin. We’re just focused on Meath, to get our performance up to beat them, we’ll be happy enough.” 

First brought into the senior team in 2013 by Jim McGuinness, having initially made his mark in League of Ireland football with Finn Harps and Sligo Rovers, McFadden has grown into one of the central members of the team: vice-captain to Michael Murphy, he also doesn’t buy any of the claims that Dublin have a major financial and geographical advantage on everyone else. 

“I suppose in the last few weeks we’ve been reading reports about financial backing, all these things that give Dublin an added ‘preparation’ or whatever. But I think what gets lost in this is the sheer quality of player that they have in their squad. They have some of the best footballers that ever played the game, and when it comes down to that last 10 crunch minutes in an All-Ireland final, they have the expertise, and shown they’re ahead of us.

On the bounce

“Yet for all that dominance they only beat Mayo by a point, twice, so it’s not like they’re winning every All-Ireland by nine or 10 points. Last year Tyrone were phenomenal for the first 20 minutes of the final, then conceded 1-3 on the bounce, and that gave Dublin the platform to win.” 

Donegal did put forward a motion, unsuccessfully, looking to ensure Dublin only got to play one Super-8 game at Croke Park.

“I suppose there are two different ways to look at it. As a player I don’t pay any attention to it. Heroically there’s only one place you want to beat Dublin, and that’s a full Croke Park. 

“As a member of the association and looking at the equality and fairness of it, I can see where they’re coming from. It’s a home venue. That’s my opinion, but it doesn’t bother me, I’ll go play them wherever they want. But there are two different sides to look at, you know.” 

A teacher at Scoil an Linbh Íosa, a primary school near Donegal Town, McFadden recognises Donegal’s remoteness, but again that alone does not explain Dublin’s dominance:

“People talk about that being a benefit to Dublin, it’s not their fault. Look, we have two or three boys who are employed full time in Dublin, and when the college season is on we have guys scattered throughout the whole country, and that provides logistical problems of its own. But we’re no different to Mayo or Cork or Kerry, and come summer we have the majority of people back.

Four years 

“I would notice the difference in my own preparations since moving back from Dublin. I spent four years in Dublin in St Pat’s, and didn’t realise at the time but I’d be looking at the clock at 3pm, thinking I need to be in Donegal for 7pm, to try to be on the field for 7.15pm, then to get back up the road. But we’re not the only ones in that situation.” 

As for any difference with Donegal this season, McFadden does credit the addition of former Mayo manager Stephen Rochford.

“Declan Bonner deserves a lot of credit for inviting someone of Stephen’s calibre into our setup. Regardless of what everyone says, Mayo have been the second best team in Ireland for a very long time, and the team that actually put Dublin to the pin of their collar. Some of their performances have been heroic, and to have someone involved in that it can provide us with useful information to make us better.”

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