Ball-X caught up with hat-trick hero Daire Ó Baoill last night, twenty-four hours on from Gaoth Dobhair’s dismantling of Crossmaglen Rangers, with Scotstown, Surfing and a certain Seosamh Ó Brolaigh, on the agenda.
It would have been around half nine or so, when Dáire Ó Baoill stepped off Crónán Mac’s bus and into the cold Gweedore night on Sunday past. It had been a solid day’s work. Three goals in an Ulster Club Semi-Final to knock out the famous Crossmaglen Rangers would have had most of us lording the masses on the nearest high stool. And let me tell you, in Gweedore, the nearest one is closer than you think.
But back Ó Baoill went, to the family home, drank a cup of his tea with his mam, and took in a Sky Plus recording of the game. Last night, after he was done with all this Ball-X….Ball-X…he had the lads coming round to watch a movie. Too often in the past denounced as “the piss-it-up-the-wall party men” of Donegal football, it’s not that the current crop don’t know how to have a good time. Not at all. You just get the sense, that when it’s time to party, they want to make this one, the best the parish has ever seen.
Despite holding the South-Armagh giants at arms length for most of the sixty minutes in Omagh, Monday morning brought with it a fair degree of aches and pains for the 21 year-old midfielder.
“Physically I was feeling it. I’d spent the night twisting in the bed trying to get comfortable and when morning came I was barely fit to get out, but mentally, yeah it’s been some buzz”.
Text messages, news stories and even becoming the subject of a Twitter stir involving Joe Brolly, were enough to keep the young man entertained throughout much of Monday. And with team-mate, Kevin Cassidy, giving him the night off from his shift behind the bar at Teach Mhicí, he had the evening free to laugh at the craic with those gathered at Teach Ó Baoill.
— Joe Brolly (@JoeBrolly1993) November 18, 2018
“I’m wile used to people spelling my name wrong at this stage. It’s Ó Baoill for me. It always has been, all the fadas and no apostrophes. You’d see people giving it the D-A-R-A. But no, look it’s just the way I’ve been brought up. I suppose, up here, it’s not taken as a big deal either way. There are those of us who will use our sloinne Gaelige and then there’s people who’ll just give you the English equivalent. But yeah, it was funny to see. It was a gaeilgeoir from the area that corrected Joe, and I’m sure he won’t make the same mistake again”.
Joking and gaunching aside, there was a serious topic of discussion at hand, you’ll be pleased to know.
The North-West club may have come into Sunday’s game a little under the radar, having struggled to really put Antrim Champions, Cargin, away in Corrigan Park a fortnight ago. But having tore a fancied Crossmaglen side apart in Healy Park’s wide open spaces, they certainly had a few sit up and take notice. Although, there was one group of people that it did not surprise, as Ó Baoill went on to explain.
“Up here, we’ve developed a style where the ball goes through the hands a lot more, and we knew Healy Park would play to our strengths” – Dáire Ó Baoill
“Going into Sunday, Mervyn (O’Donnell; Gaoth Dobhair’s manager) had his homework well and truly done. Against Cargin, we came up against a dogged side on a tight pitch at Corrigan Park, which certainly put us out of our comfort zone. I suppose Sunday was the polar opposite. It’s no secret that Cross play a particular brand of football, the way Cross have done for so many years. It’s long, it’s expansive and it’s beautiful to watch. Up here, we’ve developed a style where the ball goes through the hands a lot more, and we knew that Healy Park would play to our strengths. We knew they would press us high, so it was more or less a case of having boys in at the back that could play through that press and get the ball on to our runners like Naoise (Ó Baoill), Cian (Mulligan) and myself, so we could eat up the grass in front of us. I think if you look at the two McFadden’s at corner back and how comfortable they were on the ball, they were a key part to our success on Sunday.”
A success that didn’t take long to raise it’s head in the fading afternoon sunshine. Cross started the game strongly, and had opened up a two point lead before Odhrán Mac Niallais popped the ball over a back peddaling Stephen Morris’ head and on to the on-rushing Dáíre, who finished with aplomb past a stricken Jamie McEvoy. Five minutes later, and almost a carbon copy. This time, Cross were arguably even more exposed, as centre half-forward Naoise hand passed a ball off the shoulder to his in-full-flight cousin, who picked a line from wing to centre that Joe Schmidt would have been impressed with. Galloping through, what should have been the Cross defence, he had ample time to pick his spot and bury the ball past McEvoy again.
Rangers were well and truly on the ropes, and in the twenty-fifth minute, things went from bad to worse as Garvan Carragher’s clumsy challenge on Mulligan, gave the big man, the opportunity to grab a famous quick-fire hat-trick.
It wasn’t the prettiest penalty you’d see, but it managed to squeeze under McEvoy, and that’s what mattered. But was it relief or bewilderment etched on Dáire’s face as he broke out into a giggle on the way back down the field?
“Aw, myself and Naoise would have this thing between us, where I’d give him a wee wink on the way back from scoring a penalty. I’d been getting a bit of grief from him and the boys for missing one against Bundoran in the quarter-final of the Donegal Championship, so I had to let him know on the way back down. Kieran Gillespie would have got one, too, had he’d been there. The penalty itself was a bit fortuitous. The spot was in awful nick and I was trying to ask the ref could I move it. I had to set it up on a mound of muck, and almost kicked it into the ground when I struck it. Sure the boots are ruined because of it, they’ll hardly see the final.”
That youthful camaraderie underpins this Gaoth Dobhair side. There’s a real sense of these young men enjoying the time, and the football, of their lives. The brand they brought to Healy Park, relies on almost telepathic understanding – an understanding that saw many of the squad achieve glory in the Ulster Club U-21 Championship earlier in the year. Ó Baoill feels that those involved learned so much from their run through the Creggan Kickhams tournament in January and February, that they have been able to put into practice, as they look to double up with the Senior crown.
“The U-21 win was a great experience…and probably has us further on than what we would be in terms of dealing with these big games” – Dáire Ó Baoill
“The U-21 win was a great experience, and just a great tournament to be a part of. We trained all over Christmas and New Year with Tom ‘Beag’ (Gillespie) and playing in Ulster competition for the first time taught us a lot about how teams outside of Donegal play, and how we can put our strengths to good use. I think it’s helped no end over the last couple of weeks and probably has us further on than what we would be in terms of dealing with these big games.”
Mervyn O’Donnell has a great balance in this side. With outstandingly skilful and energetic footballers in abundance throughout his thirty, the know-how of the McGee’s and Cassidy give a steadying influence of reliability, allowing the youngsters to express themselves freely. But, as Dáire, points out, there’s one not-so-young-fella who’s left foot is still very much in working order.
“Aw, ‘Cass’ is just brilliant. You just have these five or ten minute periods throughout the game where he’s untouchable. You saw him in the run up to half-time against Cargin and then there on Sunday, how he grabbed control of the game when Cross went down to fourteen men. People will think it was fortunate enough that the ball landed plum for him for his goal. But he’d have been switched on enough to know where to be in the event that Carroll hit the post. The man’s a genius”.
Now, if there’s a man not chancing his arm at a raise, I don’t know what is.
It’ll be a return to Healy Park on December 2nd for Dáire agus na buachaillí and a meeting with the might of Scotstown. An Bhoth will be back in Monaghan this week, counting their lucky stars, to still be alive, after a dramatic late comeback and the boot of – who else? – Rory Beggan, rescued them from a shock defeat to Coleraine, in Sunday’s opening encounter. It was a match that the Gaoth Dobhair men didn’t choose to take in, and that may stand them in good stead come the decider.
“We’ve tried to keep things as normal as possible. We arrived about an hour before our own game as we would do before any other match. So by the time, we got ready and things, the first game was over. Obviously, we’ve heard that Scotstown were ran close, but Coleraine are a good side and that’s not a huge surprise. But if Scotstown did have an off-day, they’ll sure as hell not have another anytime soon. It shows the balls they have, and they’ll be no worse for having a tough game in a semi-final. They’ve an extra game under their belt too, and look, you are talking about some of the best footballers in Ireland when you see what they have at their disposal. Beggan, McCarthy, Darren Hughes, Kieran Hughes – I mean these are household names. The country has been talking about Scotstown for the last six or seven years, long before most of us would ever have been thinking about playing in an Ulster Championship. We haven’t talked about it yet as a group, but look, on a personal level, I’ll be trying to approach it like I do any other game, and I’m sure the other boys will to.”
Something tells me he’ll not let it get to him too much. Ó Baoill is as laid back as they come, and in Gweedore, that’s a lot of laid back. Having taken a year out of University in Maynooth to concentrate on enjoying his football, you might find him this afternoon out on the Derrybeg dunes, tackling the Atlantic Ocean’s waves with the same ferocity he did the Crossmaglen forward advance on Sunday. It’s something he enjoys.
“When Sunday comes and the college boys head away off, and you have the lads up here who could be working to five or six, there’s a few of us – myself, Odhrán Ferry and Gillespie, and a few of the lads who don’t kick ball – that have a bit of time during the day and we’ve take into a bit of surfing. The other lads keep us going about it, but it’s a great way to pass the time. A great way to get the head showered and beats sitting at home looking at the phone”.
And why not?
This Gaoth Dobhair team are very much themselves, and confident enough to show a uniqueness that people from other parts of the island sometimes struggle to show. There’s a freedom instilled in na conallaigh – a freedom that was more than evident on Sunday. Whether they have enough about them to overcome their biggest test to date is another matter, and in two weeks time, we’ll have answers. But there’s two things for certain. One, when the time comes, they’ll be ready. And two. By God, if they win, the villagers won’t sleep until Christmas.
I could be tempted to join them. After all. Why not?