Donohoe and Denn loving their football
These are the days of their lives. With two titles secured in recent months, the Denn footballers are preparing for an All-Ireland quarter-final this weekend. After well-documented tragedies in the parish, the mood of despair has been lifted by the footballers.
Unbeaten in 11 games, at this point in time, anything is possible; they may not say it out loud but in the back of their minds, maybe even Croke Park beckons.
For now, though, they are focusing solely on Manchester side St Brendan’s. The celebrating after the Ulster final is over and there is no looking back; that, says attacker Thomas Edward Donohoe, is something they’ll save for a later date.
“I don’t think it will sink in till maybe a couple of years down the line when we’re looking back at it,” Donohoe told the Anglo-Celt this week.
“It is an unbelievable achievement, I know people might say that it’s just a junior title and it mightn’t mean a lot to a lot of people but it meant a lot to the boys on that team and I think the community as a whole.
“You could see on the field after the game, a lot of boys had teary eyes and it did mean a lot to everybody. I’ve never seen people so emotional after a victory and it was just special to be a part of it.
“Everybody is loving football at the minute, it’s very hard not to love it when you’re winning and I hope we can keep it going.”
Since losing the delayed 2020 county final against an excellent Templeport side on August 18, Denn have seen off all comers, draws against Munterconnaught and Knockbride the only stains on a perfect record.
In ways, that Templeport defeat was the making of them. Coming off the field that evening, though, all this success seemed a long way off. Donohoe doesn’t have to reach far when asked to sum up his emotions after that game.
“Frustration. We knew what we did wrong. If you look back at the game, I think our shot selection in the first half was an absolute killer and that’s probably still been a downfall of ours in games since.
“I think it’s a good thing that we’re creating the chances but we just need to be more clinical, that’s something we have been working on and hopefully it will come to fruition.
“We all took a week off and re-assessed things, we knew what we could improve on and thankfully we did and we never looked back since.
“It might have been a good thing when you look back on it now. I’d say Templeport, if they had another chance, wouldn’t have minded losing the first day and then getting a run in Ulster.
“It might have worked out better for us in that sense but we would have liked to have won it at the first time of asking too.”
The run since has seen the team mature and improve but they have been tested, too.
“We’ve only actually been beaten once in two years of championship football which is very good for a team that a year or two before that weren’t even making the quarter-final.
“In terms of the toughest game, you’d have to say the first day against Knockbride. It was probably a terrible game to watch, you knew that when you were playing it, but it was nip and tuck, there was nothing between us.
“There were frees in that game and you’re just thinking, ‘if you miss this, you could be knocked out here’. The Desertmartin game was very tough as well, they were a very good outfit with very good players.
“We expected a tougher battle in the Ulster final but I think we just played very well. Again, I think we could have won by more if we’d taken our chances but I think it might be a good thing, at least we have something to work on and improve on for the next day.”
In the first half of the Ulster final, with shots skewing wide and dropping short on an almost farcical scale, it appeared as if Denn might kick it away.
“It was frustrating but we were sort of used to it because the same happened against Drung in the final, the same against Templeport so we’re nearly growing accustomed to it (laughs).
“I remember going in at half-time against Drung, the boys still give me abuse about it, I just lost the head because I thought we were going to kick it away that day. We were missing loads of shots.
“In the Ulster final against Downings, I was confident enough because we were creating the chances. I know some of them weren’t going over but a lot of times, the shots were on, it was just bad execution. I’d have been more worried if we weren’t creating the opportunities.
“That is something that we’ve worked on since the Ulster final. I’d like to think that hopefully those shots will be going over the next day more regularly.”
While the forward line generally has been outstanding, as a county panellist and top scorer, ‘Ted’ is the go-to man. As such, he gets plenty of attention from opposition defenders, with the result that at times he has had to sacrifice aspects of his own game to make space for others.
“You do get used to it but I take it as a compliment. If someone puts their best marker on me to try and stop me, I get a bit of confidence out of it. That’s the way I look at it.
“There are things I can improve on to have more of an impact on the game, I’m trying different things in training and hopefully it will help. I like the extra attention, I get a bit of confidence out of it and I nearly try harder to show I can have an effect on the game.”
He may have burst on to the scene as a quicksilver inside forward, bagging two goals as a 16-year-old in the 2015 MacRory Cup final, but Donohoe has played a lot of football out the field of late and it’s something he enjoys.
“I like it, I like going out the field. It’s nice being on the scoresheet as well but I always get a nice sense of satisfaction when you play a good pass in to the forwards and they get a mark out of it or get through for a goal. I think it is important to be able to do that too.”
Off the pitch, Denn have suffered terribly. The parish was left reeling by a succession of unthinkable tragedies. As word would emerge, the players convened. Bound together in grief and disbelief, they learned to support each other and the bonds have grown stronger over time.
“How we reacted was that we all came together. It brought us unbelievably closer. Everybody looks forward to going to training, it’s like a social gathering. Before training, everybody is having the craic and chatting away but as soon as we hit the training field, it’s serious then and everybody gives it everything they have.
“That’s probably the biggest thing that came out of it, everyone became so much closer and is looking after each other.
“It’s unbelievable how close we are after getting after the whole tragedies, if it’s possible to say a positive came out of it, that’s one.”
As for Sunday’s opponents, Denn and Donohoe know what to expect.
“We have seen a few clips of them. Look, they’re probably going to be defensive but that won’t be a surprise to us, that’s what we have been coming up against regularly enough. We’re going to have a plan in place and it’s about executing that plan.
“It’s going to be a very tough battle. The weather we have at the moment makes it a level playing field so whoever works harder and is more committed on the day is going to be the winner so hopefully that will be us.”
Nothing easy. Nothing worth having ever is.