Pauric McShea has nothing but fond memories of championship clashes between Donegal and Down in Ballybofey.
A noted golfer and a former captain at the Bundoran club, |McShea first caught the eye when lining out for Donegal minors for five successive seasons.
Such was his remarkable versatility that when injuries struck the Donegal squad in 1972, the then player/manager Brian McEniff called on McShea to provide the team with cover at full back.
It proved to be a real baptism of fire for he found himself in direct opposition to the legendary Sean O’Neill.
“Brian McEniff found himself without a full back in the weeks before the championship game with Down.
“I was playing centre half forward at the time and Brian asked if I would play full back.
“I thought Sean O’Neill was God back then and I wasn’t looking forward to marking him.
“He was a far better footballer than I ever was and I ended up pulling and dragging him, but in the end we progressed to the next round.
“The next time we met was when we were both playing Railway Cup football with Ulster,” he said.
The two men were to become firm friends and regular golfing partners.
It’s a friendship that has endured the passing years and to morrow you can be sure they will meet again, swapping stories of times gone by.
McShea, a company director with a private equity company, is keeping his fingers crossed that John Joe Doherty’s side can progress. But he admits to having serious reservations over a side that was dumped out of the championship by Antrim in the first round in Ballybofey last season.
“Throughout the league there has been an over dependency on Michael Murphy.
“He’s a quality player but the rest of the team has to step up to the plate and offer him some decent support.
“No matter how talented or gifted he is, he can only do so much on his own.
“It’s likely Down will double mark him so Donegal have to be prepared for that.
“Traditionally Down play their best football at this time of year and Daniel Hughes is a real threat.
“They also have a potent attack with Martin Clarke deadly from frees so Donegal have to be on their guard and vigilant at all times,” he warned.
McShea agrees that Ballybofey is no longer the fortress it once was, but warns that it’s time some of the more established players rose to the occasion.
He said: “We’re lucky that a number of players who had been absent are now available again, but a player’s career doesn’t last forever.
“The onus is on them to put a marker down for there’s no point having regrets once you hang up the boots.”
McShea, who won championship medals with Donegal in both 1972 and 1974 as well as two Railway Cup medals with Ulster, is convinced it’s time for a new generation of Donegal footballers to emerge — and tomorrow represents as good a time as any.