It is two years now since Pettigo GAA club called an urgent meeting, feeling that the end was nigh.
Formed in 1912, Pettigo’s struggle has been an ongoing an perennial one.
Picture: Representatives of Red Hughs and Pettigo, with referee Kevin McGinley, ahead of the Junior B Championship final. Picture by Geraldine Diver.
In 2016, having pulled out of the Junior A Championship that summer, the members were considering the options.
“We were at the wall,” says club chairman Colin McFarland.
“There were only three and four coming to training. What can you do when you only have that number coming to train? You’d be as well to go home again.
“We were in dire straits.”
105 years of history was on the line.
Pettigo’s greatest success has been its survival, but this Saturday the club has a chance to collect its first adult Championship title in 65 years. They take on Red Hughs in the Junior B final in Letterkenny.
Go back to the 50s, when the club won a Junior Championship in 1953 and Felix Gallagher played for Donegal, they were perhaps the club’s peak. That being said, PJ Flood donned Donegal’s colours with distinction in the 50s and 60s and Pat McCrea played in the Ulster Championship in 1981 and 1982.
One of the most remote clubs in the county, Pettigo are often the forgotten club and the forgotten people – until the county team has success.
Pettigo has traditionally been the first stop for victorious Donegal teams returning from Clones. McFarland is the proprietor of The Diamond Bar in the border village and was one of those determined not to ensure that the first stop for Donegal’s heroes would not be stripped of its own team.
He says: ““Donegal has always stopped in Pettigo and they’re always well received. They always come into the bar.”
The fight to survive stretches as far as facilities. Pettigo play their home games at the School Field, which poses some obvious difficult in an age where they watch their peers develop, brick by grant-aided brick.
“We’re sitting in the middle of no road and we have a two-hour drive to some away games,” McFarland says.
“It’s a lot of driving. We have no such thing as a derby.
“We’re only a small club and we get no funding because we don’t own the pitch. We’ve tried to lease it, but that’s not going to happen by the looks of it, so we’re looking to maybe source a pitch of our own. You can’t go out every day begging because people will get fed up.”
When the club convened for an emergency sitting in 2016, those present decided to go to Division 5 in a bid to arrest the slide.
It proved a Godsend.
They won Division 5 last year and reached a Junior B final. The natives began to take note again.
“We had a dinner dance last year and the turnout was unreal,” McFarland says..
“ We had 500 or 600. There are a lot more people coming out to watch us now too. There are only a few hundred people in Pettigo in total.”
John Kane, Jarlath Leonard and Johnny McManus netted the goals in a 3-9 to 1-10 win over Naomh Columba that sealed the Division 5 title, while Ryan Carlin’s hat-trick saw Convoy have the edge in the Junior B final, 3-12 to 0-12.
“After getting beaten last year, we were mad to get back and we’re mad to get the win now,” says Pettigo captain Paul Robinson.
“We’re fairly tight for numbers. Considering we nearly folded two years ago, it’s just about showing up more than anything for us.
“If we could win a Junior B, it would be another massive step. We won Division 5 last year and it’s about small steps for the club really, but just staying alive is the main one.”
The Conor Daly-managed team drew with Robert Emmets and Carndonagh in Division 4 of the League this year.
“We wanted to work with what we had and we’re flying again,” McFarland says.
“We used Division 4 as a sort of a trial for the Championship.
“Getting to the Championship final last year was huge and Division 5 boosted us. That kicked us on. We’re playing far better football now and we have progressed.
“Most clubs have been in difficulty, but we just had to do something and we regrouped just before it was too late.”Tags: