But Igoe’s Exiles are hoping to cause an upset
By Damian Dolan
Donegal, who have realistic aspirations of winning the competition outright, will present a very sizeable challenge indeed for the Exiles at Tir Chonaill Park, Greenford, on Saturday (throw in 5:30pm).
From Letterkenny, McBrearty represented Donegal at Minor and U-21, and even played alongside some of those who held off Tyrone by two points at Colaiste Ailigh. That followed a four-point win Monaghan in Clones.The Exiles will certainly have their work cut out on Saturday.
“They’re a good, big, strong physical team with some good footballers. It’s going to be a very tough game,” McBrearty told the Irish World.
“They’ve quality throughout the team; Brian McLaughlin was very good and won a National League with Donegal in 2007, and they’ve Michael ‘sticky’ Ward playing in the corner and he’s excellent for them. He’s very fast and is still playing senor for his club team.
“They’ve got a lot of good players with county experience, so it’s going to be very tough against them.”
London opened their 2018 campaign with a 3-15 to 1-9 defeat at the hands of last year’s runners up Sligo. McBrearty, 43, made his Masters debut in the game having been kept out of action last year with a knee injury.
David Igoe’s charges then pushed Antrim close at St Paul’s GAC in Belfast before eventually going down by 2-13 to 1-7.
Like Sligo, Donegal will have their eyes on winning the All Ireland Gaelic Masters series outright. Shield winners in 2016, Donegal finished joint top in 2017 with Sligo before losing out to eventual champions Mayo in the semi-finals – their only defeat last year.
“They’re pretty handy; when I saw them play Tyrone I recognised some of the guys I played with at underage. They’re a very decent football team,” added McBrearty.
“We’ll be up against it, but hopefully we can improve on our last two games. Even though we didn’t get the results [against Sligo and Antrim], we put in two good performances. Hopefully we can put in another good performance against Donegal and keep building.”
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McBrearty represented London between 2005-2012 and that included playing against his native Donegal in 2006 at Ruislip in the National football League.
“It was the middle of March and I remember it was a horrible day, but there was a good few people at it. Donegal always get a good following,” recalls McBrearty.
Fellow London Masters Aidan Dillane, Vinny O’Sullivan, Eamonn Brennan and Fergal Cunningham also played that day, as Brian McIver’s Donegal ran out 1-21 to 0-4 winners against Noel Dunning’s Exiles.
Captain Christy Toye scored Donegal’s goal while Michael Doherty contributed nine points. Donegal’s line up included five players who’d go on to win an All Ireland six years later under Jim McGuinness; Karl Lacey, Neil McGee, Paul Durcan, Neil Gallagher and Rory Kavanagh.
He added: “Donegal will attract a good ground to Tir Chonaill Park, because of the club’s association with Donegal. They’ll be a lot of club members out for the occasion.”
He’s not alone in expecting Saturday’s match to be quite the event at the home of Tir Chonaill Gaels – a club well-known for its strong Donegal connections.
London Masters teammate David Cannon, 44, won a Donegal senior title with Kilcar in 1993 and will come up against three of his former Kilcar teammates on Saturday, in Ross Brady and David and Michael McShane.
In 1996, Cannon played for Donegal Boston, alongside Shaun Boyce, who’ll also be lining out for Donegal Masters at Tir Chonaill Park. Rory Gallagher, who was part of Jim McGuinness’ 2012 All-Ireland winning management team, was also part of that Boston panel.
Saturday certainly promises to be an occasion for old friendships to be renewed, and for new ones to be forged. But then that’s the whole essence of the Gaelic Masters.
“There’s a massive Donegal connection at Tir Chonaill…..there’s a great respect for Donegal football all over,” Cannon told the Irish World.
“I know a few of the lads playing for Donegal [Masters] and they’ll be coming over to put on a good show. And we’ll raise our game a bit more as well.
“I’ve a good number of family members coming to support and they’ll be a lot of Donegal people over here who’ll be interested in seeing some familiar faces. It’s been a while since a Donegal team came over to play in a competitive match, so it’s going to be an occasion.”
Cannon played senior for Donegal in the mid-1990s before arriving at Tir Chonaill Gaels in 2001. He won several senior London championships with the Greenford club, and played for London in 2001 under Chris Lloyd, and then under Noel Dunning when he returned to the city.
“Sean Campbell and Maurice Carr were also Kilcar men and Maurice would have been the biggest sway towards me joining Tir Chonaill Gaels,” said Cannon, who was part of the London Masters side which last year ran champions Mayo to within two points at Greenford.
“Tir Chonall Gaels was a home away from home, but the football wasn’t taken lightly. It was very serious and competitive, and that was attractive. As much as people find it hard to come to London and work and train, we managed it because we had pride in the jersey, whether it was Kilcar, Donegal, London or Tir Chonaill Gaels, you give it your all.
“It’s no different playing for the Masters.”
Saturday should be some occasion, and although the challenge for London’s Masters is immense, some game too.