Where are they now? Brendan Devenney talks Electric Picnic, Father Damo, Darragh O Se and the Donegal days
Club: St Eunan’s, Letterkenny
When did you play for Donegal? 1997-2008…ish
What do you do nowadays?
I’m a sales manager for Larsen Building Products. I’m based in Letterkenny but I’d be all over the country. I also do a bit of work for BBC Radio Ulster, Newstalk, RTE, Highland Radio, I was on eirSport, Sky a few times… the whole lot of them. Just whatever - I’m a bit of a media tart!
I’m happy enough with that, the radio’s good. I love the craic with all the lads
I remember seeing you on a panel show at Electric Picnic a few years ago, along with Joe Rooney, the guy who played Father Damo in Father Ted, and a couple of others…
I’m still friends with Father Damo since that! We’ve stayed in touch
You arrived fashionably late on the back of a golf kart a couple of minutes into the show from memory…
Haha, late as usual. That was one of the most embarrassing things, me being trolleyed through Electric Picnic on the back and everybody looking to see ‘who’s this famous singer coming?’ sitting with their phones out.
Then there’s me sitting there like a tube
On to the football now - are you still involved with the game?
Not at the minute. In 2012 I was part of the joint management team that took Eunan’s, we won the championship. I wanted to get in and see what it was like, see how it all ran, and once I did it I thought ‘that’ll do me for a while’.
At the minute it doesn’t suit but I’ll probably get involved with a bit of underage. I’ve a wee lad who’s eight but he’s not that bothered at the minute which is probably why I haven’t bothered – he likes to dance, funny enough.
He’s mad for hip-hop dancing and all that kind of sh*t, a bit of a freestyler, so he’s getting the footwork right first at least.
What do you remember about your first game for Donegal?
It was at the end of 1997 when part of the League was played before Christmas. It was [Declan] Bonner’s first year, and it was my first year playing senior club even, but I was straight into the Donegal team. By the end of the next summer I’d actually started for Ireland in the International Rules.
My debut was away in Longford, there was nothing that interesting about it except a boy hit me a lovely crack in the ribs. I soloed the ball a wee bit too high and he hit me a lovely shot, so that was a nice welcome to senior inter-county football.
We were playing Derry at home two weeks later – Derry and Donegal were huge rivals at this stage. I had cracked two ribs but I was so determined to play I didn’t tell them, and I remember at training on the Thursday night before we were doing sit-ups and I couldn’t even lift my body.
I took a couple of painkillers before the game and did alright, but it just shows you that early enthusiasm. If that had happened a few years later you’d have been like ‘f*ck that’
What’s your best memory from your playing days?
Anything good Donegal had then was in the back door. Our biggest issue was we came up against a very good Armagh team that, tactically and physically, was way ahead of us. We still managed to come close to them a few times but because they played to a system, they always had the upper hand.
Jim McGuinness learned that and he turned it on its head – he made Donegal an Armagh, to a point. Nobody wanted to play Donegal then, they were horrible, and that’s what Armagh were whereas we were just this free-flowing team that went out, a bit gullible, and tried to beat this machine.
If we had been up to the pitch of it, I’d love to have seen what that team could’ve done because we had good players. I was involved in three Ulster finals, the first one Derry beat us by a point and if we had got across the line that day it would’ve been a bit special.
In 2003 when we beat Galway after a replay down in Castlebar was a good day, beating Meath in 2001 at Croke Park… there was days there but, although we won the League in 2007, you kind of felt we could have done more
And the worst?
That first Ulster final in ‘98 still annoys me. That day we had the beating of Derry and there was one ball that came in late on and I fisted it across to Tony Boyle because people were always getting on to me that I was head down, taking people on… if I was back there now I’d have stepped inside and stuck the thing in the net.
But I fisted it to Tony and he was sort of off balance a wee bit and he fisted it over the bar. Those wee things creep up on you every now and again
Biggest character you played with?
I’d have to say probably Darragh O Se from that Irish tour. Me and Darragh are still good friends now – he even gave me a mention in his book.
Before I met him I thought ‘captain of Kerry, he could be one of those GAA boys who’s a bit of craic with a lock of pints in him but he might be a wee bit, you know, heart and soul stuff’.
What I found was a complete and utter messer/header/lunatic; somebody who was there for a good time. With O Se, anything was possible. It just shows you should never judge a book by its cover
Are you glad you played in your era rather than the modern day?
Ah, I don’t know. Football has gone to sh*t. It’s starting to turn a small bit thankfully but between tactics and the rich and the poor, I’ve a lot of fears for the future of it. Just at the start of my career, there was a lovely generation of football and when the back door came in there was a real excitement.
It was in a great place with some magic games
I don’t do regrets. I feel blessed, I love my job, I’ve a great family and for me sport always was sport. I wasn’t a guy that ever panicked about retiring or leaving it. I always thought there’s a big world going on out there, plenty going on.
I love my GAA and always will but when I was gone from it, I was gone from it. There’s plenty of beaches here in Donegal and I haven’t been on them all yet
Interview by Neil Loughran