TONY Boyle was growing restless.
The Ulster final was bubbling nicely and Boyle – who had yet to play a competitive minute for Donegal – wanted in on the action.
Donegal, waiting for seven summers by now on a slice of Ulster glory, had beaten Cavan and Derry and had Armagh for company on a summer Sunday in Clones.
Brian McEniff, back for a latest sojourn in the hot seat, had drafted a 19-year-old Boyle into his panel after the Dungloe youngster came back from America in 1989.
His Donegal career – which would eventually span 107 games – almost ended, at his own behest, before it began, but the 1990 Ulster final offered Boyle his first taste.
“I was chomping at the bit,” Boyle, who turned 50 earlier this year, tells Donegal Daily/Donegal Sport Hub, 30 years on.
“I was mad for action.”
McEniff instructed Boyle to warm-up.
He knew Tommy Ryan would be the man to be called as he headed to warm up in front of the hill.
The time ticked and Boyle was losing patience.
“McEniff didn’t seem as if he was going to do anything,” he remembers.
Boyle took matters into his own hands and informed Noreen Doherty, the county secretary, of the impending change.
“At the next break in play, I bolted on without anyone telling me,” Boyle says.
“It was a big step up. I made a small contribution and it was fantastic to be a part of it.”
He helped set up a crucial point for Manus Boyle late in the game, winning a slide-tackle in the corner to help the ball into Barry McGowan, whose pass teed his Killybegs colleague up for the score.
“The bit of soccer helped,” Boyle, also a talented soccer player with Keadue Rovers, says.
“It was a typical (Anthony) Molloy ball to the corner. The full-back was shepherding it out and I managed to get a sliding tackle in.
“As it developed, I became an important part of the style we played.
“I got a sense playing with the boys…Winning Ulster was massive. Getting to Croke Park felt like bonus territory.”
Boyle was working in Galway as 1990 evolved, but was becoming itchy as he waited on his chance.
The week before Donegal opened their account in Ulster, with a win over Cavan, McEniff beckoned him to the Hollyrood Hotel in Bundoran as Boyle was making his way to Galway.
‘If you’re not starting, you’ll be one of the first subs in.’
Boyle was content.
The following Sunday morning, Naul McCole – then the county chairman who was doubling as a selector with McEniff – called to Lower Keadue to collect Boyle, still buzzing from McEniff’s pep talk a week earlier.
McCole relayed to Boyle that he was among the nine subs, but wasn’t in ‘the first six’.
“I was only a mile from the house and I was very, very close to telling Naul to stop the car,” Boyle says now.
“Keadue Rovers were playing a game and I wanted to do was play.
“I didn’t think about the enormity of being part of the senior squad. And I couldn’t figure out how I went from being very close to the thing to being nowhere. I bit my lip and went on.”
The team met up for a pre-match meal in Heeney’s and McEniff told Boyle to be ready. He was more confused than ever.
“To this day, I still don’t know if I was in the first six subs that day,” he says.
He watched on as Donegal got over the Breffni without getting a shout. A ten-point win over Derry might have offered a chance but, again, it never arrived.
He says: “I didn’t get a run and I was thinking, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ That was the day to get a run and get a taste for it.”
THE house phone rang often after the Ulster final.
Boyle was a likely starter for Donegal in the All-Ireland semi-final. A rookie he might have been, but McEniff was to entrust the young forward with going toe-to-toe with Mick Lyons, Meath’s great enforcer.
“Mick had a reputation, but didn’t mean anything to me,” Boyle says.
“I only ever saw the Donegal seniors once in my life – in the centenary match in 1984 in Ballybofey – and a game against Armagh in 1989. I knew who the players were, but there wasn’t much more than that.
“The run up to that Meath game was a baptism for me. I got loads of phone calls coming up to that game about Mick. ‘He’ll do this, he’ll do that.’ People told me not to shake his hand, they said he’d try and crush the hand or he’d spit.
“We were playing into the Hill. All of that was going through my head. I made up my mind that I’d only shake his hand if he offered.
“Mick was just staring out and I didn’t offer.
“He was tough and hard, but there wasn’t one dirty blow and he didn’t open his mouth to me. But, Jesus, when you won the ball, he hit you with everything he had.”
Meath had too much for Donegal, but they had Ulster. It was as much, really, as most expected.
An appearance in front of the big house on the Jones’ Road would buckle many on their first start. Boyle, though, was different.
He says: “I loved it. The bigger the crowd, the bigger the match…It’s only when i got older and had the doubts that I got nervous. In the early days, I just loved it.
“I made my debut in a winning Ulster final and made my first start at Croke Park in am All-Ireland semi-final. There aren’t many who could say that.”
THE day Donegal beat Derry in the 1990 Ulster semi-final, another son of Keadue grace the big stage.
Packie Bonner kept a clean sheet as the Republic of Ireland drew 0-0 with Egypt at the World Cup in Italy. Bonner would be the star of the summer, his penalty save from Romania’s Daniel Timofte, which helped send Ireland to the quarter-finals, remains one of Irish sport’s iconic moments.
Boyle grew up immersed in Keadue Rovers, the club from which Bonner signed with Celtic in 1978.
It seems remarkable to think now but Boyle won three Donegal League Premier Division titles with Keadue, in 1989, 1990 and 1992, the latter two during his time on the Donegal panel.
He played against Bonner, who lined out with a Celtic XI at Central Park in the early 90s and, really until the All-Ireland semi-final of 1990, Boyle was first and foremost a ‘soccer man’.
“When I was asked where I was from, I always said Keadue,” Boyle, who was the the Donegal League Young Player of the Year in ’88 and the Player of the Year in ’89, says.
“I was so heavily involved in the club at that time.
“After 1990, I only really played when the Gaelic season was over. I didn’t take a chance and play if there was a match coming up.
“I went through a tough time when I was a minor. I was on a Donegal Schoolboys League team and we had a minor game with Donegal the same day. I’d be in turmoil in the house. I wanted to play both.
“Once i got a taste of Donegal, and I came into a team that was going well and winning, it was easy to make the choice.”
The Boyle family is immersed in the ways of Keadue Rovers.
Brothers Tony, Ben, Danny and James often played on the same Keadue side. While he was turning out for Donegal in front of a packed Croke Park, Tony Boyle also togged out for the Donegal League Oscar Traynor team in the same years.
Boyle won an Under-12 GAA Championship with Rosses Rovers and was a standout in both codes as a teenager.
Naul McCole was a big influence in his Gaelic football development, alongside the likes of Liam Reilly, Sean Ward, Gerard McElwee and Seamus McGarvey.
He says: “I was probably the only ‘Gaelic man’ playing soccer in those days. I’d say Keadue had a complete soccer team. Very few, hardly any, played Gaelic football, and that’s why they were so strong.”
THE protective blue strapping became something of a signature.
The front row of the Donegal team before the 1992 All-Ireland final has three of them side-by-side: the experience of Anthony Molloy, the captain, and Martin Gavigan, were two. The other adorned the left knee of Donegal’s youngest player, Boyle.
‘Dodo’ Winston, Donegal’s minor manager at the time, took Boyle to a knee specialist in Derry in the late 1980s.
“His advice to me was to pack it all in,” Boyle says.
“I took the advice – and chucked it out the window.”
Knee injuries dogged Boyle for much of his career.
The week after an Ulster final defeat to Down in 1991, Boyle lined out for Fanad United in a 1-0 loss to Derry City in the League Cup at Triagh-A-Loch. Three days later, he lined out for Fanad against Finn Harps and came up against a familiar face.
“I was on the right side of midfield for Fanad and the Red fella (Declan Bonner) was left side for Harps,” he says.
“I went to block a cross from Declan, I caught the foot and tore cartilage. I always had trouble with cartilage. I wouldn’t be the most flexible, but I rarely ever had muscle injuries.”
The worries were playing on his mind a week out from his first Donegal start in 1990. While playing snooker with his brother Danny in Dungloe, his knee jared.
With Meath looming, Boyle tossed and turned.
“I felt as sick as a dog and couldn’t sleep,” he says.
“It had eased by the Tuesday. On the way to training, Naul McCole took me to a German physic down by Rathmullan. I couldn’t walk properly into him. I hobbled in. He worked on me for an hour-and-a-half. I trained that night and was picked on the team.
“In Croke Park, I could feel the thing floating around in the knee, but once I got going, I was fine.”
BOYLE watched the 1991 All-Ireland final with a mixture of wonder and envy.
Down overcame Meath to begin a period of Ulster glory. That much was unknown in September ’91. It stirred some hearts and minds across Donegal.
Boyle says: “I’ll never forget sitting at home the day of the final and seeing James McCartan – who I played against at minor and under-21 – picking up Sam Maguire.
“I just thought: ‘Jesus Christ, if James McCartan and Down can win an All-Ireland, why can’t we?’
“That definitely changed us. Now, winning Ulster was like a step forward. Until then, it was the goal and everything else was a bonus.
“Down broke the mould for Ulster teams.”
Donegal had a renewed hope in their sails in 1992.
The bar lifted after wins over Cavan (in a replay) and Fermanagh.
Donegal and Derry, two fierce foes, headed for Clones.
Derry were League champions and had a pep in the step. The teams were level after an ugly first half, but Donegal looked in real trouble.
John Cunningham was sent off just before half-time and Boyle had to be withdrawn through a knee injury sustained in a collision with Anthony Tohill.
Boyle can see – and feel – the moment so vividly, even now.
He says: The ball broke, Tohill was pulling on it. I stepped in, got my hands on the ball and … the ball bounced and he thought he could volley it away. The knee took the full brunt of it.”
At half-time, with the scoreline 0-5 apiece, the Donegal dressing room was rather raw.
Cunningham had been harshly dismissed and Boyle seethed at his own misfortune.
In the compact old dressing rooms of St Tiernach’s Park, someone needed to take charge.
Martin McHugh rose to his feet.
Boyle remembers: “I have to give it to ‘The Wee Man’ for that day. Martin did most of the speaking in the dressing room at half-time.
“I’ll always remember his words: ‘We can’t give the ball away’.
“We had changed slightly with me not in the full-forward line. The direct ball wasn’t going to be as popular an outlet for the boys.
“We changed that we wouldn’t play it as direct. ‘We can’t give the ball away’. That’s probably where our short game came out of in a way. Molloy won ball and instead of launching it, he’d sort of spin in a circle to hand it off.”
Boyle was in a lot of discomfort as he watched the second half out the window from a chair placed on top of a table in the dressing room by Cunningham.
“It was the hardest 35 minutes to watch,” he says.
“With a couple of minutes to go, I hobbled down to the pitch.”
CJ McGinley, writing in the Donegal News the following week, said the performance ‘must rank as the best display ever by a Donegal team’.
Even with the benefit of hindsight, Boyle doesn’t disagree with the assessment.
“That second half was probably Donegal’s best display,” he says.
“Tommy Ryan had an absolutely phenomenal second half when he went into full-forward. Derry were a bit naive in how they used the extra man and they dropped Gary Coleman a bit too deep.
“It was a massive performance and we believed from that day that we could do what Down did.
“It was unbelievable to get the win. We said that day that we could go on.
“Absolutely, we thought we could – and would – go all the way.”
AFTER getting over Mayo in the semi-final, Donegal entered uncharted waters.
Donegal had five weeks to get ready for the All-Ireland final.
“The tension was unbearable and it seemed to drag on,” Boyle says.
“The excitement in Donegal was unbelievable and no-one knew what to do. We were training fierce hard.”
He managed to convince McEniff of his fitness for the Mayo game, even if the doubts were circling in his own head from the torn ligament sustained in the Ulster final. It wasn’t until he got out ahead of Peter Forde to collect a pass from McHugh that he could settle.
Three weeks out from the final, places were still up for grabs and John Joe Doherty was pushing hard. It seems unfathomable now but the quarter-finals of the club championship were played during those weeks. In front of the watching McEniff Doherty starred for Naomh Columba in their win over Gaoth Dobhair in Glenties.
The tension made its way to the squad and Boyle remembers one incident from a training session in Donegal Town and a backs-v-forward game.
“Those games were fierce,” Boyle says. “That used to bring us on so much. Myself and Matt (Gallagher) used to kill each other. John Joe was on Manus (Boyle) and (Barry) McGowan was picking up Declan (Bonner).
“It was real high intensity stuff. Declan drifted out, he went to bend for a ball, John Joe came across and nailed him with a shoulder. Bonner was out cold. McEniff nearly had a heart attack.
“We knew he wasn’t too bad and it was just a bang. The attitude in the group of the time was, ‘get him off, this is brilliant, keep it going’.
“McEniff was nearly dragging him off and I shouted: ‘That reminds me of you getting dragged out of McCreadie’s!’
“John Joe didn’t bat an eyelid. He just went back to the corner for the next ball.”
The weeks were ticking and McEniff had his men in Letterkenny one weekend to stay overnight at the Mount Errigal Hotel.
A light training session was planned for the Sunday. In a bid to ease the mood, McEniff allowed the players to have a drink, but it came with the condition.
“He’d never say we could have a pint, but he let us have four half pints,” Boyle says.
“We were making for the rooms when someone opened a door that was leading to the disco. Sure we went in for a nosey and had another four half pints!”
After a rendezvous with a hen party, some of the panel ended up at a house party in Letterkenny.
“You’d never get away with that now. Can you imagine that now with Twitter and everything,” Boyle says with a shake of the head.
“There was just a bit of singing and a few drinks – but we had the All-Ireland final in a couple of weeks!
“We got back to the Mount Errigal at seven o’clock in the morning, got in the window of the room and managed to shake ourselves down for breakfast and the training.
“It was a release of tension. Those weeks were just so intense.”
THE time was engrained in Tony Boyle’s mind: Five-to-five was the magical moment.
It was one of Brian McEniff’s lines that stood out. The All-Ireland final would end sometime between ten-to and five-to-five.
Donegal were quite content to let Dublin don the mantle of the raging-hot favourites. Donegal were seen as being in bonus territory. McEniff and his crew let the talk grow.
The night before the game, the Donegal players went to watch the greyhound racing at Shelbourne Park.
The big day came with a bombshell as Martin Shovlin was ruled out with an injury. John Joe Doherty’s inclusion took no-one in the squad by surprise as they headed for Mass in Lucan, said by Bishop Seamus Hegarty, the Kilcar native who postponed a trip to Rome to be at the game.
“There was a quiet confidence in us,” Boyle says.
“We didn’t play well against Mayo, but we knew that it was just about getting over the line. Dublin were so confident. We were happy enough to let the talk about Dublin go mad.
“I was happy myself that I had another few weeks training on the knee. We knew we were in a good position.”
Charlie Redmond missed a first-half penalty and Donegal’s confidence grew as the game wore on. Roared on by what seemed and felt like an entire county in Croke Park, Donegal – led by Manus Boyle’s nine points – were headed for the Promised Land.
Declan Bonner arched over the game’s final point: 0-18 to 0-14.
Boyle smiles: “If Bonner had squared one to me, I’d have got a goal – and he wouldn’t have had that image of the last point!
“In the last couple of minutes, Dublin had the pressure on….Jesus, would you ever get to five-to-five. I knew we were nearly there. I just kept looking at the clock wanting for five-to-five.”
The memory of Tommy Sugrue’s final whistle still makes the hairs stand.
Boyle says: “The Donegal colours on the street was just unreal. It was all a bit surreal. It was mind-blowing for me, who was just on the panel a bit over two years.
“It was January 1990 when I joined the squad first and it nearly never got off the ground at all. I was so lucky to be involved and to have won the All-Ireland.”
BOYLE missed the defence of Sam Maguire due to another injury.
In a challenge game in Rosscommon, Boyle was left in ‘severe pain’ after taking a rap on his right shoulder.
“I was still going to functions and couldn’t shake hands properly,” he says. “I had to hold my right arm with my left to shake hands.”
Daily chores like brushing teeth and shaving became a chore.
“A virus got into the nerve and killed it,” he says. “It came to a stage where I wondered if I’d ever get the power back.
“It was worrying at the time. All I wanted to do was to play. The big disappointment for me was not getting a chance to defend the All-Ireland. I was at all the games and trained away without doing the contact.
“I just wanted to stay fit in case I woke up some morning and it was gone as quick as it had come on me. “
Boyle visited specialists in Dublin and London and for four months he went to Alan Kelly, on McHugh’s recommendation. McHugh has also aided the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Padraig Harrington and neared the moniker ‘the great AK’ through his work as a physical therapist.
“I went to him every wednesday,” Boyle says. “He was a really uplifting character. Sometimes, I would just move a tin of beans left to right and he had a Chinese doctor doing acupuncture on me at the time too.
“It was unbelievable how uplifting he was.”
At one stage, Boyle even enlisted the help of a faith healer. He would do anything and everything to get back into the green and gold.
’93, though, saw Donegal relinquish their All-Ireland and Ulster crowns with a provincial final loss to Derry on a sodden Sunday when many questioned if conditions were safe enough for a game.
The plates were changing and PJ McGowan succeeded McEniff in 1994. McHugh went for the job and, after being overlooked, would take up station in Cavan.
“At one side, we weren’t far away, but another side we were a million miles away,” Boyle says.
“When ‘The Wee Man’ went for the job in 1994, I was selfish thinking he should have played on. I had a savage link with Martin and made me a better player.
“Now, though, I think Martin would have got enough out of the older boys. He wouldn’t have went for the job unless he felt he could have won something.”
Boyle and Donegal were back in the Ulster final in 1998, when a 32-year-old Declan Bonner was now the manager. Joe Brolly’s late goal snatched the prize from under Donegal’s nostrils.
“That was the hardest one to take,” Boyle says.
“Declan gave the whole thing a great lift and we got a bounce out of that in ’98.
“Declan put in savage work that year. He was still one of us. Myself and Declan were very close, we’d be very tight. Declan left no stone unturned, but we were poor in that final.
“Brian Roper hurt his hamstring and was ruled out. He was a huge player for us, but we still should have won.
“We were poor and that was a sickener. I feel there was an All-Ireland to be won in ’98. That squad should have won another All-Ireland.”
BOYLE was still only 31 when he played for the 107th and last time for Donegal in a 2001 qualifier loss to Kildare.
Mickey Moran had axed him from the panel earlier that year when he didn’t travel to Kerry for a League game.
He says: “I felt an eight-hour bus journey was no good for a man with a bad hamstring who couldn’t play and I was dropped from the squad.”
Noel Hegarty had his mind made up that he was calling it a day. Hegarty flung the gear bag over his shoulder and made for the door with the immortal: ‘’Halle-fucking-lulah!’
“I felt that I still had something to offer,” Boyle says. “The call never came.
“Brian did say that he’d have liked me back in for 2003 when he came back as manager.
“He did say he’d like to have had me and Hegarty on the bench, but the ship had sailed at that stage for us.
“Brian was a brilliant organiser, a brilliant man-manager. Brian would give it all up for Donegal to win. We used to look and wonder how he did what he did.”
WHEN John Joe Doherty was appointed as Donegal manager for the 2009 season, he enlisted the aid of two fellow 1992 All-Ireland winners, Boyle and Tommy Ryan.
Their sojourn at the helm ended at Crossmaglen, ten years ago this month, when Armagh ran riot in a qualifier. That was a year after losing heavily in an All-Ireland quarter-final against Cork, three months after Antrim upset the odds in Ballybofey.
“Mentally, the group was on the back foot,” he says. “But, I have to say I enjoyed the experience.
“To work with the best players in the county is an honour. We came from a bit of an old school. When I joined it was sink or swim and you had to fight the corner and take some criticism.
“ That group of boys had come off a lot of bad games and bad headlines. JJ went back to the pride in the jersey. Some boys bought into it and others didn’t.
They were a good group that was just mentally battered. The game was changing and boys really wanted a defined role by then.
“We blooded players like Paddy McGrath, Mark McHugh, Leo McLoone…They were always going to be top players.”
BOYLE is immersed now in the development of the Dungloe club. He had two spells as senior manager and is now chairman of the minor board at Rosses Park.
Boyle drove a recent major fundraiser to aid with the development of their facilities.
In a house of daughters, Boyle’s coaching career is now centred on Dungloe’s ladies teams.
They’ve won back-to-back under-13 ‘A’ titles – ‘my coaching highlight’, he says.
Ardars beat them by 12 points at one stage but, by the time the county final in Glenswilly came around, Dugloe turned the tide to take the prize.
The Dungloe Under-14 boys had a Garda escort and a cavalcade for a Championship victory. Boyle’s girls wanted a similar homecoming.
“I was never as proud,” Boyle says.
“We haven’t won too many county titles in Dungloe. I was as happy that evening as that day in 1992 leaving Croke Park.
“It gave me everything. We won against all the odds and got the cup.”Tags: