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Gaoth Dobhair's journey to Ulster club final is one for romantics

By Declan Bogue

There is something hugely romantic about the story of Gaoth Dobhair's footballers reaching the Ulster club final on Sunday, where they will face Scotstown.

Monaghan champions Scotstown have put together four consecutive county titles and this is their second provincial final of recent times, having lost the 2015 decider to Crossmaglen after extra-time.

One of the most popular theories that attaches itself to the Ulster club scene is that you need to dominate in your own backyard in order to get up to speed with the requirements.

Gaoth Dobhair have turned it on its head this season, winning their first Donegal title since 2006 and then going on to beat Cargin, before sending out a warning by hammering no less than Crossmaglen in the semi-final almost a fortnight ago.

If they have made it look easy up until now, there is plenty of work that has gone into this.

A decade ago, dismayed by the lack of Championships the most successful Donegal club were delivering, a number of coaches within the set-up got together and plotted a way forward.

At under-age level, they would not concentrate on results until the players reached the Under-16s. Beatings at Under-12 and Under-14 were not to be mentioned, as long as they could implement a coaching policy that drew on the fundamental skills of the game.

It was the brainchild of, among others, Tom Beag Gillespie and Odhrán MacNiallais' father Donnchadh.

The group that started it all off ended up winning the Ulster Under-21 Championship last February. On the sideline was Gillespie as manager and Kevin Cassidy as selector.

Now, half a dozen of them will be playing for the Donegal seniors in 2019.

It was a different way of doing things than the depressing sight of Under-12 coaches shouting and guldering on a sideline, fixated with winning silverware at that stage.

And this non-pressurised environment has yielded huge benefits. Daire ÓBaoill - the hat-trick hero of the win over Cross - Cian Mulligan and Michael Carroll are some of the more high-profile members of that group, along with the cruciate victim Ciaran Gillespie.

They are supplemented by the genius that is Odhrán MacNiallais, and the veterans Eamon and Neil McGee. Up top, standing on the opposition square like a totem pole, stands Cassidy, 37 years of age.

Gaoth Dobhair is a unique place. Shouldered by Mount Errigal and jabbed back inland by the Atlantic, it is a coastline of rugged beauty.

Barring the recently-formed Laochra Loch Lao club in Belfast, they are the only truly Gaeltacht side in Ulster, and they communicate with each other on the pitch entirely in Irish.

Whatever happens on Sunday, it's a day for the romantics among us.

Belfast Telegraph

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