‘I love playing for Donegal, I love playing for Naomh Conaill’ - Ciaran Thompson looking forward to All-Ireland series

Naomh Conaill clubman Thompson set the tone for his county in Ulster final shootout

Donegal Ciaran Thompson with Conor Early of Louth during the National Football League match played at Fr Tierney Park in Ballyshannon on Sunday 3rd March 2024. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Donegal's Ciaran Thompson took the first penalty in last Sunday's Ulster final shootout. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

THE first man up for the penalty shootout was Ciaran Thompson and he set the tone last Sunday.

His county would have taken hand and all if you’d offered them penalties after 53 minutes of the Ulster final. They trailed by four points then and it seemed a long, long way back for them. They reeled Armagh in but, even then, they were two in arrears in the second period of extra-time.

Penalties was probably the best they could have hoped for then and when the shootout came Thompson bravely volunteered to take the first one.

With the terrace swaying in the background, he stood at the end of his run-up, took a deep breath and then drilled a left foot shoot straight down the middle. Armagh goalkeeper Blaine Hughes dived to his right and the ball hit the net as Thompson jogged away.

“You pick your spot and hope you get a good connection and a bit of luck,” he said.

“Thankfully it went in and we won.”

Donegal never looked like missing after he scored.

“It was unbelievable,” said Thompson.

Donegal's players at the end of the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Final between Armagh and Donegal at St Tiernach's  Park, Clones on 05-12-2024.Pic Philip Walsh
Ciaran Thompson (11) and his teammates celebrates Sunday's Ulster final win. Picture: Philip Walsh

“We were four down, two down and we came back to draw and that’s what this team is all about over the last year. We’re building that character and building that resilience and there was no way we were going to be beat.

“It’s a horrible way for Armagh to lose it, it’s unbelievable because there was nothing between the teams and I feel sorry for them. We got the luck of the draw in the end-up.”

The Naomh Conall half-forward didn’t have to take another penalty. Donegal shuffled their pack and Aaron Doherty went first in the second round. He scored and then goalkeeper Shaun Patton saved and the Anglo-Celt Cup was on its way back to Donegal for the first time since 2019.

It was Thompson’s third Ulster winners’ medal.

“Is it the sweetest? It’s definitely up there,” he said.

“100 per cent, but all three of them are sweet.”

Thompson played in the two final losses (2020 and 2022) since 2019 and the semi-final defeat to Tyrone in between. He was in Pairc Esler last year when Conor Laverty’s Down sent Donegal crashing out of Ulster at the quarter-final stage as well, so he’s had his fair share of disappointment.

“Every time I pull on the Donegal jersey it’s a proud moment for me,” he said.

“If I’m available, I’m always there to play. Jim came back in and I’m even more proud, even more privileged to play under him. I love playing for Donegal, I love playing for Naomh Conaill… It’s what I love.”

Armagh fans usually well out-number the opposition but the hordes in green and gold that invaded the pitch after Sunday’s win showed the support that is right behind this Donegal team. The Ulster champions received a rapturous welcome when they returned to Donegal Town with the Anglo-Celt Cup on Sunday night but they will now be preparing to face Tyrone in the first round of group games in the All-Ireland series.

“It’s wide open,” said Thompson.

“It’s going to be very competitive and we’ll give it our best shot. The support we have is unbelievable, over the last weeks and months Donegal supporters have been top class and we thank them so much.”