Marty O’Reilly has no doubt his loyalties are with Donegal

While having affinity with his father’s county of Mayo the 24-year-old is focused on his own

Marty O'Reilly was just nine when he pitched up at Croke Park for the 2002 All-Ireland quarter-finals wearing Mayo and Donegal jerseys.

Even at that stage, the Donegal lad and son of a proud Belmullet man, wasn't exactly sure who to shout for so opted for the diplomatic gesture.

A decade later, he retained a fondness for his father’s county but was part of the Donegal squad that overcame Mayo in the All-Ireland final so was careful not to allow sentiment to cloud his judgement.

He was 19 in 2012, only in the Donegal door six months or so, but is a regular now under Rory Gallagher and has started all six of their games so far this season.


A win in their seventh game, this Sunday, will secure Donegal a first league final place since 2007, when they were champions, and wouldn’t you know it, they will need to chisel out a win in Mayo to qualify.

"My Dad is from Belmullet, Billy Joe Padden who played for Mayo, would be a second cousin of mine," said O'Reilly, a versatile player at home in the half-back or half-forward lines. "When I was growing up I always had a Mayo jersey. I remember that day Donegal and Mayo played in quarter-finals at Croke Park. I had the Donegal jersey on over the Mayo jersey. I pulled it off afterwards. So I was always a big Mayo supporter growing up.

“Look, you enjoy the games, Mayo are a top side and they have been the last number of years. Any day you get to play them it’s a huge challenge and we’ll be looking forward to it again come Sunday.”

Plenty have suggested that Donegal might be as well off leaving their A-game behind them at the weekend, for fear of ending up alongside Dublin in a league final.

Signing off

Dublin, chasing a fifth consecutive title, are currently top of Division One and need a win or a draw in Monaghan themselves to secure their place in the final.

The back-to-back All-Ireland champions have made a habit of signing off on spring in style, beating both Kerry and Cork by 11 points in the last two league finals and demolishing Derry in 2014.

The last thing a young Donegal group containing 13 under-21s needs is a morale-crushing defeat to stew over while preparing for the championship.

“Any time you get to Croke Park to play Dublin, even if it is just for the experience that the younger lads gain from it, it’s worth it,” maintained O’Reilly.

“For them to come in and to get to play Dublin would be great and, to be fair, every day we go out and play a game of football against Dublin we’re trying to beat them.

“We had a tough game in Ballybofey a few weeks back, it was a draw in the end, so if we happen to get past Mayo on Sunday we’ll be looking forward to a league final no matter who it is against.”

Dublin, of course, aren’t guaranteed to make it to a fifth consecutive final themselves as they’ll face an in-form Monaghan side away from home.

But it is only last weekend that they hammered Roscommon by 21 points to set a new unbeaten record for league and championship games.

“Dublin are 35 games unbeaten now, they are the form team in the country,” said O’Reilly, a 24-year-old Dublin-based primary schoolteacher. “If you even look at their last game against Roscommon, they were quite dominant over them last weekend whereas we just about got past Roscommon. They had a chance at the end and didn’t take it and we got a last minute winner.

“So if you look at it that way there could be signs that Dublin could beat Donegal heavily, if we meet, but the players wouldn’t believe that. We’ll go out and we’ll certainly put in the best performance that we can if we get to play them in the final.”