THE DARK clouds lifted momentarily over Glenswilly on Wednesday evening.
For the last fortnight, the small Donegal parish has been in an emotional vice grip following the tragic death of Manus Kelly.
Tens of thousands streamed to the home of the 41-year-old father-of-five and much-loved rally driver, politician, businessman and GAA clubman, who was killed while competing in the Donegal International Rally.
On Wednesday night, Glenswilly defeated Sean MacCumhaills in the Donegal Northern Board Under-14 League final.
It was a poignant occasion as Glenswilly were captained by Mandy Kelly, Manus’s eldest son, who was Man of the Match.
The dressing room was missing one figure, though.
Manus Kelly, among his many roles, was also a mentor with the Glenswilly Under-14s.
“Manus was always there for the last couple of years,” says coach Gerard McGrenra.
“After the semi-final in Cloughaneely, Manus took the boys all into McDonald’s for a treat.
“He was great with the boys. They could all relate to him and the stories about how he won rallies on the last stage – it was great if we were trying to win a second half!”
McGrenra is involved with the east Donegal Under-14 Development squad and tells the story of a game in Inishowen just a few weeks ago.
“The boys were wrecked and Manus landed with bananas, jelly sweets, jaffa cakes and sandwiches,” he says.
“That was just Manus.”
Michael Murphy, the Donegal captain, only learned of the tragedy after leading Tir Chonaill to victory over Cavan in the Ulster final.
“It just hit me,” Murphy says.
“The emotions, when I was told, just drained away and changed completely.
“It just wasn’t nice. It changed the whole outlook.
“You feel pity and sorrow for everyone and you feel a certain sense of guilt, playing a game, celebrating, lifting a cup, without knowing about it.”
Murphy watched as Mandy Kelly led the way for Glenswilly from centre-back, just six days after burying his father.
McGrenra, who is aided by Lee Gildea and Sean Bonner, says: “Mandy was always in the forward line, but went to Cloughaneely for the semi-final, he went into centre half-back and he was outstanding.”
A handsome eight-point lead for Glenswilly was eroded, but a late score by Michael Doherty won it 1-11 to 2-7.
“Sometimes, it’s just meant to be and you’re not going to lose,” McGrenra says.
“It was about a bit of enjoyment. We got the players before the game and told them to go out and enjoy the football.
“We all had a tough week, but we couldn’t imagine what Mandy and the Kelly family went through.
“We were just so happy for them to win it and put a smile back on some faces again.”
On Saturday, Charlie Kelly – another son of Manus – aided Glenswilly to victory at the Go Games in Buncrana.
A newly-elected County Councillor, who won the Donegal International Rally in each of the previous three years, Manus Kelly was one of Donegal’s favourite sons.
An estimated 30,000 flocked to his home for the wake.
The county seemed to stand still for the funeral.
Murphy, like his clubmates, donned a steward’s bib for the wake.
“He was always at games and was always in with a text before games,” he says.
“The family has always been a big part of the club. Manus was just always there.
“He was just ‘Manus’ to us, but the sheer enormity of last week and the sheer outpouring, you realise that he was more than just ‘Manus’.
“It was difficult to see the sadness of all the characters in the area. They’re still down.”
Glenswilly’s senior squad – including León and Caolan Kelly, two of Manus’s brothers – returned to League action on Saturday night. They lost to Naomh Conaill in a game that felt less about the result and more about a bigger process.
Members of the Kelly family watched from the banking having accepted a generous donation by Naomh Conaill’s players beforehand. At the outset, the two teams – the most fiercest of rivals – linked arms for a poignant minutes’s silence.
Football has already provided some modicum of comfort.
Bernie Kelly watched proudly on Wednesday – and again on Saturday at the Scarvey – as her son walked up to accept the silverware for his team at O’Donnell Park.
“They’ve won a lot this wee team,” McGrenra says.
“They’re a competitive bunch. We rotate the captain’s role, but there was only one man for the job this week.”