April 30, 1993
Ardara's Martin Gavigan
The man the Donegal fans call 'Rambo'
The idol of football fans for years now across the beautiful landscape of Rossbeg, Tullyclave and beyond, Donegal's Martin Gavigan has proven himself a man for all seasons, all games and all gaels in his native county.
Square shouldered, instantly recognisable in the heart of the All-Ireland champions defence, Gavigan the Lionheart epitomises the finest qualities of the guardian you'd trust with your life. As tough as whalebone but with the silken skills of a libero let loose to do his own thing, the Ardara school teacher is a class act and a perfect role model for pupils of Ireland's most popular field game.
Rock solid and built like the gable wall of so many of the B&Bs sprouting up around his seaside home town that also boasts the mighty talents of one Anthony Molloy, the now Ballybofey based defender promises to be one of the main playmakers in Sunday's upcoming National Football League Final clash with Dublin. Nothing short of brilliant in Donegal's rise and rise to the top of gaelic football's most high profile pile of inter county teams, Martin Gavigan is under no illusions as to the nature of the Metropolitan challenge.
"Dublin will have a big incentive to do well against us on Sunday. They've an old score to settle and this time around I feel they will try to rough us up, but by virtue of our physical training programme, we've done enough to prepare for such an eventuality," explained the Saint Columba's College, Stranorlar school teacher.
Not one to divert off the party line, the inspirational centre half back rows in with the general League cover note as adopted by the Donegal grouping. Staying in Division One was the county's initial aim, getting to the decider has proven to be a bonus, word has it officially at least. However, much as Brian McEniff's men have tried to retain their preferred low profile, Martin Gavigan for one, by virtue of his outstanding displays to date, has failed dismally to gallop clear of the media's collective spotlight.
Still, just weeks after overcoming a troublesome groin injury, Martin himself confesses to being only eighty per cent fit at present. Significantly though, he insists that he'll be operating at full throttle come August! Hitting peaks after all, at the right and opportune time, has been the Donegal scheme of things for the last couple of seasons at least, and in this respect the team's defensive fulcrum, has not been found wanting. To his credit, the Ardara ace reckons that he and his colleagues will need to be at their best on Sunday next in order to douse the Dublin fire and passion which inevitably tracks their appearance at headquarters. Donegal's defensive powerhouse singes out two Dubs, especially for whom he has reason to believe will need to be watched particularly careful by his team mates.
"Paul Curran is an exceptional player and definitely one of the best half backs in the country. He's a very influential player for Dublin and a key cog in their match tactics, I've no doubt about that. Although Vinny Murphy's role with Dublin seems to have changed slightly, he's one we'll certainly have to keep an eye on. Of late he has tended to move out towards midfield and to be honest, I'd be happy to see him operate there because I believe he's much more dangerous in front of goal."
Admitting that he'd have preferred to have seen Kerry emerge through to the final, Martin nevertheless fully goes along with the widely-held view that the two best teams in the country have won their way to the decider on merit. In addition, Martin acknowledges that for Donegal's part, the element of surprise (which some fans would perhaps ungraciously suggest served them well in their 1992 All-Ireland success), may now have been lost to the Donegal armoury. However, he adds a qualifier to such acquiescence.
"People tend to forget that we had already met Dublin in the League quarter final at Breffni Park. They knew a good deal about us before the All-Ireland Final and after all the same panel, apart from Charlie Mulgrew, had been to League and Championship semi finals. I don't think that we caught them totally unawares," offered the 28 year current club captain.
Being frequent visitors to Croke Park over the last four seasons, Gavigan and his fellow Donegal travellers have long since shaken off the monkey of big-stage uncomformability from their backs and, indeed, the ex-Thomand College Sigerson Cup star is quite content to revisit the hallowed sod for this team's latest high-profile set-to. "The team has no fear of going to Croke Park these days and in reality, we have always given a good account of ourselves there. Added to that is the fact that Donegal are a footballing team and the Croke Park pitch itself makes for a good game of football."
Reared in the townland of Tullyclave on a diet of the football exploits of the sixties local hero Frankie Brennan (a role of inspiration later added to by 1983 veteran Kieran Geeney), Rambo's early football days were enjoyable, a learning experience and fairly successful. An able basketball player with Glenties Comprehensive School until ankle trouble fastened his switch of allegiance to the gaelic football code, the bustling youngster was an instant hit on the local football scene, with club under 14 county championship honours helping to cement his new, earnest commitment to gaelic football on the ultra-competitive domestic Donegal front. With the help of outings as a member of the best local rowing crews competition on the Donegal regatta circuit, Gavigan's upper body strength developed ahead of schedule. Added to his inherited footballing talent (his uncle Danny Maloney was a famed Donegal player of the 30s), the young Gavigan possessed the wherewithal also to establish himself on successful Donegal county minor and under 21 teams from 1982-86.
Married to Kathleen Flanagan and brother of former All-Ireland Under 21 medalist Luke Gavigan, Donegal's 5' 11" and 13 stone 8 pounds first choice centre half has patrolled the Donegal defence throughout his career, but closer to home, a midfield berth at Ardara alongside A Molloy has allowed him more scope and freedom to fully express himself. Not that Gavigan's regal ways have been curtailed in any way by team boss McEniff. It's obvious that Martin is as happy as Larry living the football life as dictated by the aforementioned Brian.
"Brian has been a great man manager above all, perfecting the art of keeping everyone happy, no mean feat when you consider the different personalities assembled in our dressing room at any one time. Brian has proven himself to have been the right man to guide us and his sheer commitment has rubbed off on the players. I'd have to say too that given such diverse personalities in the camp, he's learned a lot and has taken a more ruthless approach at certain times which has helped everyone in the long run."
A luckier than most player of the lottery that is the game of playing your way through an injury free existence (save his recent groin trouble and a chipped knee bone some five seasons ago), the 1990 Donegal Senior League winning captain of the proud Ardara club, son of Patrick and Peggy Gavigan and an all-round player has never looked back, in essence, from two seasons ago when honours at home were added to by an Ulster senior championship medal, a McKenna Cup medal and a momentous trip to the antipodes as vice captain with Eugene McGee's Irish compromise rules squad.
Determined to spearhead Ardara's push for a first ever Donegal senior football championship, Martin's own theory on the relative health of club football in the county is honest if not downbeat. Given his knowledge and expertise of the scene, his opinion craves respect and is entitled to it.
"The biggest problem with club football in Donegal concerns a lack of players, there just isn't the numbers around with emigration still a major factor here. I feel that an amalgamation of clubs would help and ultimately the setting up of a super league would be a great help to breaking the south west county dominance and to improving club standards all-round," suggested the two times Railway Cup winner in 1991 and '92.
Committed to playing for as long as his body allows him and fully enjoying the comraderie and jouivre de vie that has become a symbol of the on-rolling Donegal senior bandwagon, Martin Gavigan feels that the ball has been running well for the defending All-Ireland champions, that it has been bouncing in a direction and at a pace that never seemed to happen prior to 1990. Looking forward to the balance of season 1992-93, he is enthusiastically optimistic about the team's potential but is realistic and unblinkered in his view of things to come. "We were a good side in 1992 but we are hoping to establish ourselves as a great side in '93. This year will be our biggest test, but I'm hopeful ..."
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
30th April 1993
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