DONEGAL starlet Oisin Gallen believes the county’s new state-of-the-art training base in Convoy can propel the side on to even greater success.
The flame-haired attacker is one of Declan Bonner’s real up-and-coming operators. There is a palpable excitement within the county centring on the MacCumhaills man and the levels he can reach.
Despite interest from a number of AFL clubs in recent times Gallen, like Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty before him, has decided to stick around.
Having sampled the standard and the professionalism Down Under last year, he admits that seeing the Donegal Training Centre finally take its full shape fills him with excitement.
There is an eagerness to get in there and experience all it has to offer. And it has so much to offer.
That chance will hopefully come next month when county sides are scheduled to get back down to business, collectively, on the training field.
“From what we’ve seen of it, it’s state-of-the-art and it’s a credit to everyone involved that has helped get it over the line,” said Gallen. “So much hard work and fund-raising has been done.
“I was going there at 13-years-of-age with development squads. It was known originally as the Centre of Excellence but it was far from excellent back then. But to finally see it up and running, it’s going to be so beneficial.
“It won’t only serve the senior side, it will look after countless other teams and underage players, which is brilliant.”
As soon as he hit his teenage years Gallen was touring the length and breadth of the province with various development squads. And more often than not those host counties had their own bases. The grandness and scale of those facilities often left him in awe.
“Going to places like Garvaghey and even Derry, you were looking around and wondering why there wasn’t something like this in Donegal. Again, I’m talking about when I was a young lad with visiting development squads.
“To now have sides visiting Convoy, us showing them what we have, it’s a massive stepping stone. Young lads are being set a certain standard right away. It looks amazing.
“The gym, the conference room, there are Donegal crests everywhere and you feel proud. It is a place that will inspire and also help bring people to a different level.
“That’s across the board. Video work, catering, strength and conditioning, everything that you need is right there in the one place. It’s somewhere we can finally call home.
“We’ve never experienced that. We’ve been here, there and everywhere. It could be MacCumhaill Park, Coláiste Ailigh, Letterkenny IT, who knows. It’s just going to be nice and settled now. It’s almost up and running and it’s going to be our base, at every level, from here on in.”
Having put a winter’s work of rehabbing a shoulder injury behind him, he says that some of that toil can be a lonely and isolated process. The gym in Convoy is not only grand, but it overlooks the main training pitch at the venue.
Again, getting that crucial work done there, with the end goal of getting back to action playing out right in front of you; Gallen believes the positives will be as much psychological as they will be physical.
“It’s going to make it easier. Lads rehabbing, they won’t be on their own. You’ll have company and you’ll have the best of facilities. I’ve seen the videos and photographs and it’s exciting.
“It’s been talked about forever. We’ve been in on the pitches for a long time now but we’ve never had the full benefit or we’ve been waiting for it to reach it’s full or intended potential.”
The unsightly and scattered portacabins at the base have now served their purpose. And will be moved on. Gallen laughs at some of the shenanigans that used to go on there on the coldest of winter nights.
“I don’t think any of us will miss the portacabins where we were running from one to the other, on cold winter nights, just to get a shower! It’s such a small thing but that is where we were at.
“It was what it was and we got on with it. The morale was always good. We’ve managed to taste success at the same time. The hope now is that this extra level of professionalism can see us make another small improvement.
“We’ve had the pitches and the floodlights. Now, to see the finishing touches being put on the building, it’s a big occasion for Donegal GAA.”
The geography of the base means it’s central to all the more lonelier outposts of what is a massive county. Gallen though, is closer than most.
“We’re just around the corner here (Ballybofey). It’s central for the county but yeah, it’s pretty close for me. I’m not too far away at all. Some lads put up big mileage there. Wee things like that make life a little easier.
“For me, going forward, it’ll be great to have full access to it. You see the boxes that have been ticked, it can only bring you game on, on and off the pitch. Being only 10 minutes up the road, whether it’s gym work or even physio, it’s great to know that is now so close by.”
A competitive intercounty return is pencilled in for late October. And Donegal have the small matter of Tyrone on their immediate horizon. It’s supposed to be a home draw for Bonner’s men but Donegal still don’t know if – due to Covid restrictions – the game might yet be moved to a different location.
Gallen isn’t concerned with any of that just yet though. Having put so much work into that aforementioned shoulder complaint, he’s just content to be back playing.
“There was a lot of hard work put in. Before and after lockdown, it was just all channelled towards getting back. I’m just really looking forward to what is coming up.
“I’ve played a lot of games for the club already. I just couldn’t wait to get going there. It’ll be the same come October or November with Donegal.
“Again, with this facility now available to us, there’ll be a little more comfort.
“The aim is to get a good club championship under the belt. The competition there is fierce.
“That’s what you need to push on and to win things. I’ve enjoyed it so much up until now and I want to push on.”
PADDY McGrath sees the pristine new Training Centre building and the glow of the Convoy floodlights.
But it’s the contrast in what went before, right at the beginning of his Donegal odyssey, that makes him chuckle.
He explains: “Some of the places we were dragged to… down through the years we’ve been to so many places. Thankfully, so many clubs and venues were so accommodating to us.
“It was the chopping and changing (that was the hardest). Back in the day, 2011 and ’12, we would have trained in Castlefin. We’d be down there in the winter and as things moved into the spring or summer you’d be in Ballybofey or Letterkenny.
“It was grand. We knew no different I suppose. But this facility now in Convoy, more than anything, gives us a permanent base.”
It’s amazing to think now, to comprehend, that Donegal have been so successful in the last decade despite not having the same luxuries other counties have, for a long time now, probably taken for granted.
An All-Ireland crown was claimed, Ulster has been dominated and, as Jim McGuinness explained in his book, the downfall of Dublin in 2014 was plotted in the primitive surroundings of those portocabins that are now being torn down.
“Yeah, and that’s the point that needs to be made,” said McGrath. “The hard work will still have to go in. That won’t change. If you came through a pre-season in those surroundings then summer was there to be attacked.
“We were a happy bunch. We’d so many laughs and craic was had. The new facility is class. But it’s not going to hand us success or winning teams. It didn’t matter where we trained at that time.
“The players and the management all wanted the same thing. We were starved and so hungry to push on. I’ve no doubt we’ll retain that as we move forward.
“But looking at the building, it’s amazing. It can only push the thing on. It really is top class.”
As a young lad breaking into the Tir Chonaill ranks at minor and U21, the Ardara man admits that his own grasp on the vastness of his home county was tested. And often, as long as his phone signal didn’t let him down, he had to lean on google maps to steer him to his desired destination.
“It’s funny looking back. There were times back then, I probably wasn’t long on the road, and they might have fixed training for a place or ground you’d never even been at.
“I’d have google out seeing how I was going to get there. I don’t like being late. I like to get in and get settled. I have my own routine. So I’d be giving myself even extra time to make sure I got there.
“But you’d more often than not hit some sort of bother, be it traffic lights or just going down the wrong road! It was funny at times.
“Now, no one will ever be getting lost again! We have our base in Convoy and that’s already such a familiar trek. For the underage teams as well, it’ll inspire them.
“Again, I think back to my underage days, it wasn’t a good experience for me. I was touring around everywhere on buses. I wasn’t a great traveller at the time and I’d be in bits by the time I got there – sick as a dog!
“It will help us as a county and it’ll have so many benefits to it.”
McGrath, an engineer by trade, knows the process and the slog that it takes to see such a project through to fruition.
Donegal’s new €6.5m training base is finally almost complete.
It’s taken time, but McGrath appreciates the work that’s gone in at the 26-acre site since it was first purchased back in 2008.
“The work that has gone in is unbelievable. It’s a credit to everyone that has helped get it to where it now is. It’s now up to the teams and managements throughout the grades to embrace it and push on.
“The thing I like, the gym, it’s right on top of the field. For lads injured, the rehab work is so important. They can still now be part of the group, feel that energy, even if the road to recovery is mostly still in front of them.
“Back in the day, if you were injured, you were out. Out of sight, out of mind in a way.
“You didn’t even go to training. There was often no shelter! So the inclusion element of this, across the board, is something that will be so beneficial.
“You’ll now be able to sit in on team meetings, maybe eat together after. It has great potential to strengthen the group element of things even more.
“Even the likes of our medical people, they are so professional. They’ve had to operate or make do in limited surroundings.
“I can imagine now, for them, they will have the chance, the room to do so much more. Everyone is going to benefit from this.”
He added: “I’m just happy that it’s come in my time with Donegal. The road ahead for some of us is a lot shorter than the one behind us. So many lads I’ve played with aren’t involved anymore.
“They’ll get a look around no doubt in the weeks ahead. And they’ll probably laugh and shake their heads at some of the craic that was had. Going forward, it’s going to be much different and it will be great to finally be looking forward to some warmth when we do get back with Donegal!”