Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Glenswilly have that X factor when it got tough, Donegal team had the belief to respond and reach final

Held fast: Roslea's Dermie Reilly of is  challenged by Glenswilly's Ciaran Bonner in Sunday's club semi-final
Held fast: Roslea's Dermie Reilly of is challenged by Glenswilly's Ciaran Bonner in Sunday's club semi-final

In moments of high tension, games filled with dread and pressure such as an Ulster semi-final, character will reveal itself.

The story of Glenswilly's march to their first Ulster final – becoming only the fourth Donegal club to do so in the process – owes much to the intervention of Joe Gibbons.

When Roslea came out of the half-time break, they threw off the dust covers of Plan B, opting to run the ball into a shooting position, altering their gameplan. It narrowed the gap to two points when Conor Mulligan's speculative shot for a point ended up dipping in past goalkeeper Philip O'Donnell.

That goal caused much consternation, most observers mentally chalking it down for a point until they noticed the reaction of the Roslea players and the umpire reaching for a green flag. In the tunnel afterwards Glenswilly's Ciaran Bonner (right) explained, "We were just discussing it there in the warm-down. Philip said that it dropped over the bar and went in through a hole in the net. I think we are going to have to look at the replay, we are not sure!"

In any case, it was a period that Glenswilly were put under severe pressure. Only five minutes previous, Niall Cosgrove collected a Seamus Quigley pass in the area and was homing in on goal when Gibbons dragged him to the floor and conceded the penalty that Quigley converted.

Rather than glossing over the mistake afterwards, it's Gibbons who brought it up, stating, "The penalty was my mistake – it was completely stupid. In the heat of the moment it happens sometimes."

After the second goal, Gibbons atoned for the error. Taking possession from a sideline kick opposite the stand, he rode the tackle of Peter Lynch before slotting over for a point that was conjured out of nothing.

That rousing point was followed by two more from play that made the game safe for the men from the Glen.

Having drifted into the defence to help out with the defensive effort throughout, Gibbons described how they went about their business.

"Personally I had no nerves and I don't think this team had any nerves," he said.

"We came up here relaxed and we knew we had a job to do. We knew they had a gameplan. Without spelling it out, it was long diagonal balls, one after the other. From a defender's point of view, it was easy to read what they were going to do."

And while the Donegal team were completely in control of what they needed to do to reach an Ulster final, the scale of their achievement needs to be set into context. At the start of the year, they began life playing division two league football in Donegal, having been relegated in 2012.

Present manager Gary McDaid had stepped down for a break after winning their first Championship in 2011, and without him and a host of key players who had left to go travelling, they found themselves sliding into the second tier.

This year, their most challenging games came against the likes of Termon and Glenfin, two teams that failed to qualify from the group stages of the senior championship. Glenswilly's progress has made a mockery of the notion that teams need to be used to playing in hothouse conditions to live with the heat generated by Ulster club matches.

Only two teams can make it to the showpiece day and the fact that one of them happens to be Glenswilly brings to mind something Ciaran Bonner recalled Martin McHugh saying, that if the floodlights are on at this time of the year for training, then the club are doing plenty right.

Gibbons admitted that days like this can become dreamlike.

"You go out all the days of your life to train and you train as hard as you can just dreaming of this. If you'd told me a few years ago that we'd be in an Ulster senior final I'd have laughed at you. This is the stuff of dreams."

Ciaran Bonner was in similar mood, commenting, "If you would have said at the start of the year we wouldn't have believed it.

"We had St Gall's up first, and after that everybody was tipping us to be in the final but it's one game at a time, we will change our focus onto Ballinderry tomorrow, enjoy tonight and turn our focus back onto Ballinderry tomorrow."

The very mention of the Derry club and the prospect of them in the final has Gibbons excited as he finished up, "Outside Crossmaglen, Ballinderry are one of the teams you look up to.

"It's a massive challenge, but we'll knuckle down and get a gameplan sorted," Gibbons added.

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