May 01, 1992
Tyone's Plunkett Donaghy ahead of derry's Anthony Tohill.
Badly bruised ribs, a wired-up jaw but Plunkett Donaghy is all ready to make up for lost time
Plunket Donaghy drove his battered frame through the pain-barrier as Tyrone scored an historic victory over Dublin to reach their first ever National Football League final. Badly bruised ribs and a wired-up jaw could not conspire to keep him out of the Croke Park cauldron where the Dubs battled for survival against the young Northern pretenders.
Ruled out of the game because of his injuries, Donaghy was unable to resist the challenge, coming into the game at half-time to lend a guiding hand with a masterful performance of inspiration and leadership Donaghy admitted afterwards that he was in agony throughout, but his fearless contribution to Tyrone's dramatic win over the National League champions gave no hint of his fragile physical state.
Those injuries sustained in a club game have mended somewhat, and the blonde midfielder is returning to his customary razor-sharpness as the League final approaches. That comes as bad news for Derry, but for Tyrone, Donaghy's presence is a major boost.
The former All-Star has been an ever-present on the Tyrone team for the past ten years, and it's significant to note that his arrival on the scene coincided with the beginning of the county's most successful era. Three Ulster titles, an All-Ireland final appearance, and now a first ever National League final spot. And the Moy stalwart has been a major force behind all those rousing campaigns.
The 30-year-old construction firm director's appetite for the game is as insatiable now as it was when he burst upon the scene as a raw 21-year old all those years ago. The hunger for success has never waned, and Donaghy's dream of winning an All-Ireland medal is the irresistible force driving him on. But just for now, a National League medal would do nicely. Victory over Derry, followed by an Ulster Championship success over the same side just a fortnight later would please immensely.
It's a remarkable two week sequence, with the two Ulster sides meeting in two crucial games back-to-back - a fascinating scenario and one which should produce wonderful entertainment for supporters of the two sides and for thousands of enthralled neutrals.
Donaghy prefers to concentrate on Sunday's Croke Park decider than to speculate on what may follow in the weeks ahead. "I think we're in with a great chance of winning the National League in our first appearance in a final. Derry are a good team and it will be a very tight game, but anything can happen in a final. It will certainly be a good yardstick for the Championship game a fortnight later, but we'll start thinking seriously about that after the League final".
A National League medal would be a welcome addition to the growing collection in the Donaghy home. Three Ulster Championship medals, three Railway Cup, an All-Ireland losers medal, an All-Star Award, as well as a host of club honours and a B& I Player of the Month Award for his performance in the 1986 All-:Ireland semi-final, combine as evidence of Plunkett Donaghy's magnificent career to date.
His greatest memory remains that All-Ireland final appearance in 1986, which also brought his greatest disappointment, when Kerry staged a magnificent fightback to win their last All-Ireland before the virtual break-up of arguably the greatest Gaelic football team of all time. "Winning my first Ulster Championship medal in 1984 was, at that time, the greatest experience of my life. That was an unforgettable experience. Most people remember that match as the McGuigan final, because of Frank McGuigan's brilliant performance, when he scored eleven points from play. But I remember it for a lot of reason, all of which are great memories. But I have to say that appearing in the All-Ireland final in 1986 was my proudest moment and my greatest experience. It's every player's dream to play at Croke Park on All-Ireland final day. If we reached another All-Ireland final, I think Tyrone would be more confident than they were in '86 when we lost to Kerry. The more often you play in Croke Park, the more you get to know the feel of the ground, and the more relaxed you become. I think in some ways we were a bit unfortunate in the early eighties in that, due to lack of experience, it took us a long time to settle down. I don't know if we would settle down any more quickly now, but judging by our last performance it looks like we would"
And he is in no doubt as to where the League final should be played, despite some speculation that a Northern venue would be chosen. "The National League final is, after all, a National Final, so Croke Park, as the national stadium, is the obvious venue. From a player's point of view, although I can't speak for others, Croke Park is the place where most people want to play. It's also important from the point of view of giving players valuable experience of playing in Croke Park, which will prove very useful in any future games there."
Tyrone have already played in Croke Park twice this year, whereas their opponents Derry, have been there just once. And two victories over Dublin have shown that their youthful side is far from overawed by the big occasion. "They are playing very well and getting the scores when it matters. That's the difference between winning and losing, and although we have a very young team with six of the Under 21 team on board, they have always proved they can take the pressure and produce the goods when it matters. But what many people outside Tyrone don't realise is that many of these young players, such as Adrian Cush and Peter Canavan, have been in the squad for three year. It does take that long for a player to settle in, and they are really beginning to show their real worth now. Our big strength is that this Tyrone team has more self-belief than any other I played on before. The All-Ireland Under 21 victory was very important, because it brought success to the county, and brought players in to the Senior panel who had made a habit of winning."
And that winning habit was certainly evident throughout Tyrone's National League campaign, with just one defeat by Galway at a time when play-off qualification was already assured. The semi-final triumph over Dublin shocked many so-called experts, but it came as no surprise to Tyrone followers. "We couldn't have met Dublin at a better time" says Donaghy. "We had played them at Croke Park in November, and we beat them, and we still had it in our minds that we could beat them again. We went out with that confidence and we proved that we were good enough. When we met Dublin in the 1984 All-Ireland semi-final, we had about 60 per cent of the play in the first half, yet we scored only a couple of points. But this time round we put our scores away when we got the chances, and settled down early on."
With Donaghy back to full fitness, Tyrone will, no doubt, be a much more potent force next Sunday. His enforced absence during the past few games came as quite a shock to the system, for he had never before had to watch from the sideline during an-injury free ten years at the top. "Since I started playing for Tyrone ten years ago that was the first time I had the tracksuit on. I have had a couple of minor injuries in the past, but they always cleared up in a few days. During the Roscommon game especially, when I had no chance of playing, I found it very difficult to sit and watch. There were a few tense moments. When you're watching from the sideline you can see things happening that you may not see on the field. Everybody makes mistakes, including myself, but when you're watching you think you could have done something about those mistakes. It's a very frustrating situation, especially when I had never experienced sitting on the sideline before."
Plunkett Donaghy intends to make up for lost time this Sunday, and the energy and enthusiasm which have been somewhat suppressed of late could be unleashed upon Derry with devastating results.
Taken from Hogan Stand 01-05-92
Written by Francis Mooney
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