‘These are the days you dream of’: Versatile Ciarán Moore making a big impression with Donegal

St Eunan’s star caught McGuinness’s eye days after return to Tir Chonaill hot-seat

Donegal's Ciarán Moore caught the eye again in Saturday's Ulster Championship victory over Derry at Celtic Park. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Donegal's Ciarán Moore caught the eye again in Saturday's Ulster Championship victory over Derry at Celtic Park. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin (MARGARET MCLAUGHLIN PHOTOGRAPHY )

JIM McGuinness was less than a week into his second coming as Donegal manager when he stood among his people at Davy Brennan Memorial Park.

Local photographers were more interested in the action between hosts Naomh Conaill and St Eunan’s as the county championship swung into life, but the snappers from national agencies were determined to capture the most familiar face in the crowd.

Naomh Conaill battled back to grab a share of the spoils, having trailed Eunan’s by seven at half-time. McGuinness, though, left the ground with much more.

Playing wing-forward for the Letterkenny men was a tall, red-haired lad called Ciarán Moore. He curled over a point as the comeback gathered pace, but it wasn’t his attacking threat that caught McGuinness’s eye.

“At that stage I just saw the athlete in him, but I also saw that he has a natural tendency to see danger,” he said.

“If something is happening, he wants to get involved and help out, that’s something that is difficult to coach. I feel you either have that trait or you don’t.”

Moore made his first appearance for the Donegal seniors in a December challenge match against Roscommon. As the months wore on, McGuinness realised what a diamond they had on their hands.

A Tir Chonaill injury crisis saw him thrust into action from the first League outing against Cork, starting at midfield in Ballybofey before featuring at wing-forward and wing-back until, at the start of March, a foot injury ruled out regular full-back Brendan McCole for the remainder of the Division Two campaign.

Moore looked to the manor born, seamlessly slotting in as promotion – and a League title – was secured.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s played every position on the pitch at this stage, and he’s still so young,” said McGuinness.

“Once you see a player like Ciarán getting those recovery runs in and getting back and getting a hand in, all without being told to do it or being coached how to do it, then you can see he has a natural firefighting tendency and that makes it much easier for the manager.

“He has stepped up and marked some of the top forwards in the country who are well established and have good scoring prowess, and he’s done great on them.”

Coming up against reigning provincial champions Derry in Celtic Park represented another acid test.

With McCole restored to full-back, shackling Shane McGuigan, Moore initially kept tabs on Lachlan Murray, before the ultimate compliment - being asked to quell the threat of Derry’s first half danger man Ethan Doherty.

The Glen All-Ireland winner managed just one more score, finding himself forced to the fringes of the game.

Throw in a first point in county colours as the Tir Chonaill headed towards a famous victory, setting up an Ulster semi-final showdown with Tyrone on Sunday, and the 21-year-old has repaid the Donegal manager’s faith in some fashion.

“When you’re growing up these are the days you dream of,” said Moore, “I’m just really thankful to Jim and the boys for giving me the opportunity - hopefully I can keep going now and build on it.

“In 2012 I was 10... they were great times, looking up to the likes of Paddy McBrearty, [Michael] Murphy and them boys. They set the standard and they showed us how good Donegal can be when we put our minds to it.

“That’s the standard we try to live up to.”

And, in McGuinness’s second term, Donegal have already laid down a considerable marker – with Saturday’s victory owing as much to their dogged defence and the deadly right boot of Moore’s club-mate Shaun Patton as Daire O Baoill’s brace of goals.

“Ah yeah look, we knew it was going to be a tough task coming in here.

“We knew where Derry were at because they’re such a good team, but we had a plan to come in here. We worked on trying to keep them out and minimise those goal chances because we know how dangerous they are in transition and getting in behind. I thought we did well in that.

“Patton’s unreal with his kick-outs, he’s able to pick out passes behind the far 45 nearly, so we use that to our advantage and thankfully we got a few goals off it... that really gave us breathing space in the game.”