Gavin Mulreaney had to make one of the most difficult decisions of his sporting career this season.
Ahead of St Naul’s county final against Cloughaneely, Mulreaney was supposed to be preparing for a trip to China with the Irish Army Soccer team. An opportunity that few people will ever get.
But at the same time he was preparing to play in the Donegal Intermediate county semi-final.
There was a chance that the club were going to get to the county final, which was set for a day before the trip to Asia.
Mulreaney knew that he may not be able to do both, and had to make a decision.
He sat down with his soccer coach and they concluded that if he got injured playing Gaelic then he couldn’t go to China, and it would be too short notice to get visas for someone to take his place.
“I went and spoke with the manager about it. They didn’t want me to play (GAA) in case I got injured. I had to respect his wishes. If I had been injured in the county final or the semi-final then it wouldn’t have been enough time to get a visa for someone else to go. We talked about it and he said that he was happy to let me play with the club.”
The chat that they had was before the county semi-final against Naomh Brid, a tricky game for St Naul’s.
“We were nine points down at one stage in that game. I thought that I had made the wrong decision.”
St Naul’s would turn that game around and go on to win by a point.
Then came the county final, which they emerged victorious from, beating Cloughaneely 1-10 to 0-10.
Mulreaney enjoyed the celebrations afterwards, and didn’t mind when his Army team mates sent through pictures of their time in Asia.
“I’ve seen the pictures from them out there. It looks amazing. But I made the right decision. I don’t regret it now. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
It was the right decision because St Naul’s won the Intermediate Championship title, and are now enjoying a run in the Ulster Club Intermediate Championship, which began with a win over St James’s Aldergrove.
“We are lucky. Not many people get to play football at this time of year
“It means more when you are winning with your club. Gaelic is my number one. It is what everyone wants to play.”
And St Naul’s are doubly successful as the club’s u-21s won their B Championship semi-final, in which Mulreaney scored 3-8 at full forward.
“It’s been an incredible year.
“We were underdogs throughout the championship. It is a great experience just to get this far (in Ulster).”
St Naul’s have been to Ulster before. They won the 2011 title, ending a disastrous run in which they had lost six finals during two decades.
Mulreaney was a teenager at the time and doesn’t remember much about the win over Naomh Columba.
But he knows that the Ulster club is a big deal.
“Donegal teams never really do well. Glenfin were unlucky last year.
“But we are enjoying it. It is a different competition and you are playing the best teams in Ulster.
“When you are in Donegal you can do your homework. You play teams throughout the year and you know them. You look at a team and you know if you have your tactics right then you have a good chance.”
St Naul’s qualified for the semi-final after they beat St James Aldergrove from Antrim by 2-10 to 1-10.
Peadar Mogan’s goal gave St Naul’s a four point lead at half time.
Then early in the second half, Daniel Brennan found the net, and that was enough of a lead for them to go on and win the game.
“We had a poor start to the game. The Red card (for Daniel Brennan) didn’t help. We had to feel our way into the game. We played well in the second half. That game was a new experience for us. There were a lot of nerves at the start. We have the first game over us. Hopefully the next day the boys will be more comfortable on the ball.”
St Naul’s next test is against the Tyrone champions Galbally.
“We don’t feel any pressure at this stage,” Mulreaney said.
“It is a new experience for a lot of the team. We are going to enjoy it.
“Stephen Griffin (the captain) has been telling the young players that it is their time to step up, and they have been doing it.”
Players such as Ian Campbell, and Michael Coughlan have settled in well to the senior team.
“They have lifted it,” Mulreaney said. “When the senior players see the younger players playing well it drives them on.”