“We knew if we got the right man in front of us we’d do well.” Caolan McColgan hoping for luck with injury as Donegal target quarter-final against Louth

Donegal success in 2012 inspired Muff clubman McColgan to chase his Tir Chonaill dreams

Donegal’s Caolan McColgan and Armagh’s Conor Turbit during todays Allianz GAA Football league Div 2 final at Croke Park, Dublin.  Picture: Mark Marlow
Caolan McColgan tackles Armagh’s Conor Turbitt during the Division Two final at Croke Park. Picture: Mark Marlow

HE couldn’t possibly get close enough, he couldn’t see enough, or hear enough. A 10-year-old lad in a swaying sea of Donegal green and gold when the All-Ireland came home to the Hills in 2012.

“Jimmy’s winning matches, Jimmy’s winning games…”

Caolan McColgan marvelled at the size of the gleaming Sam Maguire up on the stage and wondered if he could lift it. A dozen years on and he’s three games away from getting his hands on it. He’d love that. Of course he would - but wouldn’t they all?

The Muff clubman has been struggling with injuries this season. He pulled his hamstring playing for the club last year and broke down a few weeks later when he lined out in the Donegal championship.

That meant surgery in London last October but when he’s fit, he’s always in Jim McGuinness’s plans. He missed the first six games of the League but he has a Division Two winners’ medal after starting the final against Armagh. He missed the first two rounds of the Ulster Championship but returned at half-time in the decider, also against Armagh. So he has an Ulster winners’ medal too.

After the Ulster final he pulled his other hamstring and missed the entire group stage so he needs is a bit of luck with the injury for the rest of the season. If he gets that he’s in contention to start against Louth in Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final.

“It’s frustrating,” he says in a typically understated Donegal way.

“Especially when it’s the same injury over and over again. You think you’re back and then you’re out again and you’re back and then out… You just want to play football but you have to focus on getting the recovery right because if you’re performing in training, you’re going to play.

“Jim said that and we all know that, so everyone is working hard in training. There’s always massive competition for places – everybody wants to be playing football and we’re just happy that we have Jim back and we can push on.

“We all looked up to him growing up and everyone was excited when he came in. The pre-season was tough but you need that work and that’s probably why we’re going well this year. I missed a lot of the pre-season but even watching the boys you knew it was great. It was hard work but you can’t beat hard work.

“Jim is a great manager with great knowledge of the game and he’s his homework done on every team.”

A Leo Murphy Cup winner with the Donegal U20s in 2022, he was brought into the panel by Declan Bonner the following year and made his senior debut in the Division One opener against Kerry last season. Donegal’s victory in that game was a good start but that was as good as it got in what turned out to be a traumatic year for the county.

Manager Paddy Carr resigned and Aidan O’Rourke was brought in for the rest of the season, meaning that McGuinness is already the fourth manager McColgan has played under.

Jim McGuinness talks to the Donegal players during their All-Ireland SFC clash with Tyrone at Ballybofey
Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Jim McGuinness has spoken of his desire to repay the faith of the Donegal supporters Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

If it stays like that for the rest of his career, the pacey corner-back/half-back won’t be complaining.

“We had a lot of injuries last year which wasn’t good for Donegal but it was good for me to get my foot in the door,” he says.

“I was happy-enough with my year but it was frustrating from the team’s perspective. Everyone knows that there’s great footballers in Donegal and we knew that ourselves and I think we knew if we got the right man in front of us we’d do well.

“We’re going alright now and there’s a real buzz about the county. We’re enjoying playing football so we want to keep it that way.

“Winning Ulster was a surreal feeling. Back in Donegal town, the supporters out in their thousands… It was great, aye. Great to have Ulster back in Donegal.”

He comes from Inishowen which has a deep-rooted soccer structure. McColgan has dabbled in soccer, indeed he played a game for Buncrana’s Cockhill FC in the FAI Cup last in July, but he’s “a Gaelic man” through-and-through.

“Gaelic was always my number one,” he says.

“My dad played both, but Gaelic was always my favourite growing up and all’s I wanted to do was play for Donegal.”

Soccer players are usually pushed to the front of the queue when it comes to taking penalties and McColgan admits he was “thinking about it” when Donegal and Armagh went to a shootout in the Ulster decider.

“I wouldn’t have the best penalty record,” he says.

“One of my friends reminded me of that a couple of that a couple of weeks before and it kind of put me off. We didn’t practice penalties once at training before the shootout against Armagh – it was all just on the day. We have a lot of good soccer players in Donegal and they took them well to be fair.”

Last time out, Donegal hammered Clare (2-23 to 0-5) to secure top spot in Group Three and a place in this weekend’s quarter-finals.

Sunday’s opponents Louth are this season’s surprise packets and they have reached the last eight on merit. Ger Brennan’s side only added to their growing reputation by pushing Dublin all the way in the Leinster final and beating Cork last Sunday showcased the fighting spirt in the ‘Wee County’ side.

“We can only look at this game,” said McColgan.

“The semi-final will come around quickly if we get there and there are no bad teams left in the competition. Everyone is pushing on, everyone wants to win an All-Ireland.”