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Many tales make McEniff a man worth watching — in any language

By Declan Bogue

While it should be the subject of a column in itself, the service that Irish-language station TG4 has brought to the GAA has been inestimable.

I was thinking of that while I watched the latest in their superb ‘Laochra Gael’ series this week, an episode focussing on Mr Donegal; Brian McEniff.

It’s hard to believe, but Donegal’s Ulster title last year was their sixth success, but the first won without McEniff’s involvement.

Among his former players, there is a treasure trove of anecdotes about the man, always delivered with the utmost of affection.

Like the time he walked into a Donegal dressing room at half-time, stared every man in the face, spat on the floor and walked out in silence — a game they subsequently won.

Or the time he generated a siege mentality by taking to the airwaves to proclaim a replay against Galway as forcing the Donegal fans to go on ‘a pilgrimage to Castlebar’ — another win. Even the night he came down in his housecoat to tend to a bar full of his Interprovincial-winning Ulster team when the Skylon barman had enough for one night, before they skipped on to the airport for even later drinks.

How about the one he tells himself in the book ‘Green Fields’, when trying to escape a disgruntled crowd at a seven-a-side tournament at the Belcoo Sports Day, he took a fist to the ear along with the insult; ‘McEniff, I was at a wedding in the Holyrood (his hotel) and got bad spuds!’

In the documentary though, Tony Boyle said: “I think everyone knows about Brian and his hotel life, but any time I spoke to him, it was about football.”

Although he was the one factor linking all of Donegal’s successes before Jim McGuinness came along, it didn’t save him from the inter-club politics that removed him from the county management job. In 2003, he was county chairman and took the managers’ job for an astonishing fifth time — because nobody else was interested.

At the start of last year, I was reporting on Donegal’s opening league game against Sligo. McEniff was there, picking out the players for the reporters on a dank night when you could only identify them by their style of play.

As the game entered injury time, Donegal were chasing desperately when Neil McGee struck a goal to draw. McEniff ran the length of the press box, whopping and cheering.

This Sunday, a camera will pick out McEniff and rightly so. For football men like him, there is a light that never goes out.

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