From the Land of the Rising Sun to the Gleanntáin Ghlas’ Ghaoth Dobhair, via Sydney: It’s fair to say that Naoise Ó Baoill took a road less travelled to an Ulster title.
Nine years ago, the Ó Baoill family moved back to the west Donegal Gaeltacht from Sydney and Naoise was coaxed along to the Gaoth Dobhair Under-14s.
He was as diminutive then as he is now.
Soccer was his game of choice in Australia, though he dabbled a small bit in Australian Rules, and he played for Letterkenny Rovers in the Donegal Youth League.
He can still recall his first day with the O’Neill’s football. An Under-14 League game against Termon, played at Errigal College in Letterkenny, offered Ó Baoill his first taste of Gaelic football.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” he says now, a double Ulster champion in 2018.
“It took me a while. It was hard to adapt. The weather was the big difference.”
Tom ‘Beag’ Gillespie was the manager of the Gaoth Dobhair U14s when Ó Baoill arrived at Magheragallon.
Siblings Caoilte and Mide were both born in Tokyo, but Naoise is Donegal-born. He spent a few months of the early chapter of his life in Japan, the homeland of his mother, Kumi, and remains deeply proud if his Japanese roots.
In 2014, when Gaoth Dobhair won the Donegal MFC, Naoise packed the county medal in his suitcase as he flew out to Kyushu, the most south-westerly Japanese island, to show off to his maternal grandparents.
In 2009, the family moved from Sydney – where they’d been based since 1998 – back to Gaoth Dobhair. His father, Colm, is a native of Bothar na Tra, Machaire Chlochair.
Yesterday, Naoise was a toast of Gaoth Dobhair after helping them to an Ulster final win over Scotstown.
Ó Baoill says: “It’s been a long journey. If someone had told me I’d be here playing Gaelic football in an Ulster final, I’d have laughed at them.
“That underage group haven’t lost in the championship since.
“It’s unbelievable. Looking out there, it’s just a sea of green. I can’t describe the feeling.
“I’m still in shock. Unbelievable.”
Gaoth Dobhair’s success has been remarkable since those days when Naoise was learning the trade at Under-14 level.
After blazing a trail to their first Donegal title since 2006, Gaoth Dobhair moved through Ulster before coming up against a rugged Scotstown yesterday – and needed to summons from the depths of their reservoir.
Seaghan Ferry kicked the last point in extra time to seal a 0-13 to 0-12 win.
Ó Baoill says: “The last point was the first time we were ahead since the first bit of the game.
“Scotstown are an unreal outfit, the two Hughes cause trouble, McCarthy and Beggan…they’re very good no other team was like then. We’re happy to get over the line and beat them.”
Gaoth Dobhair fell three behind in the early stages of the second half, but never wavered from their game plan.
Ó Baoill says:“We didn’t panic. We know we have the scorers. We know we have that in the belt. We never feel like we’re going to lose.
“Once the final whistle went, I went nuts. I couldn’t describe it!”
All the while, that first, simple, sentence from Tom ‘Beag’ has been running through his mind.
Ó Baoill says:“Tom ‘Beag’ just told me to get the ball and run with it – that’s what I’ve been doing since!”Tags: