GAA Football

'I always seemed to be in the right place at the right time for club and county - Joe Brolly's goal aside'

Few forwards got the better of Barry McGowan during his days with Donegal

Age: 51

Club: Killybegs

Position: Corner-back

When did you play for Donegal?

1989-1998

What do you do nowadays?

I’m an engineer with ESB networks.

What do you remember about your first game for Donegal?

It was a National League game against Kerry in Ballyshannon, October 1989. I had to pinch myself lining up against a couple of my heroes, the likes of Jack O’Shea, Charlie Nelligan…

I remember the first thing I did that day was kick the ball into Charlie Nelligan’s hands and I was kind of proud of myself. Not long after that I was hauled off – I think I was the only one who was happy with that!

I didn’t actually make my Championship debut until 1992, and I was very close to pulling the pin prior to the Ulster final that year. I was fed up sitting on the bench, not getting my chance.

But then everything changed - unfortunately my club-mate, John Cunningham, was sent off and we were down to 14 men against Derry. I ended up being put in to corner-back for the second half and that was the start of a long association with Joe Brolly.

I marked him a fair few times through the years, and I think the only time he ever scored on me was the famous time six years later… but we’ll not say anything about that.

And then the first Championship game I actually started for Donegal was against Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final – the first game, for club or county, I had started at corner-back having always played as a forward.

When you think back it’s a bit crazy, but you were young and fit and you just went with it.

What’s the best memory from your playing days?

There are a lot of games that stick out, the ’92 Ulster final particularly.

We were backs to the wall, playing the second half with 14 men - up the hill in Clones - against a really special Derry team, and we managed to beat them. It was probably one of the best performances ever by a Donegal side, and was the obvious springboard for winning the All-Ireland.

People often said to us that team should’ve won more but I always say, when you look at the landscape in Ulster then and how competitive it was, we mightn’t have won anything.

But definitely, if there was a back door system Donegal would have been in more All-Ireland semi-finals and finals.

And the worst?

Obviously ’98 was a low point, losing the Ulster final to Derry to the famous Joe Brolly goal. It was the only time I let him out of my sight all day, though Joe has a different take on it.

He seems to think I went wandering up the field once too often but he seems to forget Geoffrey McGonigle got away with a push on the back of Noel McGinley and that left me two against one and I took my pick and left Joe to his own devices, hoping Geoffrey’s pass would maybe be cut out. But, as the man says, the rest is history.

I didn’t realise at that time it would be my last game for Donegal. I just seemed to be picking up more and more injuries, and really the fun aspect had started to go out of it. I seemed to be spending more time on the treatment table than the pitch.

My father also passed on in early 1999 and that knocked the stuffing out of me as well, so all things considered I thought I was only asking for trouble. My body was trying to talk me and it was time to start listening.

Declan Bonner and Barry McGowan talk tactics at a team training session 20 years ago. McGowan describes Bonner as one of the biggest characters he played with

Who was the biggest character you played with?

That particular Donegal team was packed full of characters. You had the back of the bus crew, there was maybe a dozen or so guys down there who were great singers, joke tellers. The likes of Declan Bonner, the current Donegal manager, especially when he’d a couple of pints in him. Donal Reid was another gas character.

Are you glad you played in your era rather than the modern day?

I was very fortunate to play with the group of players Donegal had at the time. But, absolutely, I’d have loved the chance to play under the likes of Jim McGuinness because it would’ve given me free rein to attack at will.

Any regrets?

Injuries. From ’93 on I seemed to be battling continuously with hamstring injuries, and it was always there in the back of your mind. You couldn’t relax and just think about the game and who you were marking.

You’d also regret that Killybegs didn’t go on and win more. We had an exceptional team at that time and really should’ve gone on and won a couple of Ulster titles, and then who knows where we’d have ended up?

But really I can’t complain at all because I’ve been incredibly fortunate for most of my career.

I always seemed to be in the right place at the right time for club and county - Joe Brolly’s goal aside.

Interview by Neil Loughran

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