Commitment and captaincy drive on O'Donoghue

All Ireland U20 Football Championship Final

On the turn: The Belmullet ace turns for goal against Derry in the All Ireland semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile.

On the turn: The Belmullet ace turns for goal against Derry in the All Ireland semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile.

What lengths will you go to chasing a dream? For generations of footballers from the barony of Erris the trek up and down the road to Castlebar and other venues around the county for training has been a grueling one they have traversed many times for the honour of wearing the green and red.

Those long journeys Mayo u20 captain Ryan O'Donoghue has logged many times over the years with underage teams in recent years and the University of Limerick student, explaining the time it takes to travel up and down from home for training told the Mayo Advertiser in the build up to the final: "I came here (the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence in Bekan ) for a u21 game for Belmullet against Castlebar. It was exam week down in UL, and it was quicker to come from Limerick than it was to go to Belmullet from here."

Those long journeys are something he grew accustomed to in years gone past as, not just a Gaelic footballer, but a very talented soccer player - When asked is does this show the extra level of commitment and work required throught recovery that players from his area must invest in order to chase their dream he replied: " Conor Finn (Mayo's strength and conditioning coach ) does think I'm doing some mental stretches at home, but I've been coming up and down that Castlebar road since I was very young with the soccer so Mum and Dad and myself are well used to it at this stage. Other people, if they are traveling an hour for training they might have hamstring trouble or groins, but I'm used to it."

There was a choice for O'Donoghoue to have a go at playing soccer at League of Ireland level or to keep pushing on with Gaelic football and while on paper there was a decision to be made - there was only ever really going to be one answer to that question he says: "It was a decision made between myself and my parents, there was a lot of ups and downs and back and forth over should I go and play soccer with Sligo Rovers - but at the end of the day it I wanted to go to University and that changed it and as I've said before, I would much rather have a Mayo crest on my heart than a Sligo one and thats what it was at the end of the day."

Being the leader of the team is a great honour and one that O'Donoghue is relishing - but the team is full of leaders and it will not just be him leading by example on the field. "Mike Solan told me at training a couple of weeks before the championship to that I was going to be captain, it is a great privilege and I couldn't believe it really. But there are a lot of leaders on that team it is not just me, right from Paddy O'Malley in goal to number 34."

Even if he wasn't the captain of the team he would still act the same way on the field and doesn't feel it adds any extra pressure, he says: "If I was the captain or I wasn't, I would still be showing the same leadership, telling people things - left, right and centre, helping them out. Back when we were minors it was the exact same thing, as I said there are leaders right around the pitch on the field and on the bench, so it's not just me and that helps me as the captain I guess, because I'm not going to be telling the full back line what to do, because I know Paddy O'Malley will or whoever is number six will."

That leadership from everyone involved came to the fore in their All Ireland semi-final win over Derry and recalling the final few minutes of that dramatic encounter O'Donoghue told us: " I can remember thinking and looking at Nathan Moran saying we are in a fight here, this is it.

"We obviously got off to a great start, I got into the right place at the right time (to score a goal inside the opening few minutes ) but not that long after that they got two goals and we knew going in at half time this was going to be nothing like we had faced before, we were in a dog fight right to the end.

"At the final whistle it was relief, but also pride that we had done it and shown that we could - with the likes of Leitrim and Roscommon we blew them away in the end, Derry were just that bit much better and when they have a lad like Callum Browne a big lad the likes of which we hadn't faced before we stood up and showed that we could match them physically - the two boys in midfield Jordan and Evan showed that day they could match up with anyone.

Sunday's All Ireland final is the pay-off for all the hard work most of the squad have put in over the past few years with various under age set ups in the county and O'Donoghue is looking forward to it. "That's the way we have to look at it, you are going to get rewarded for it all, we were saying it when we were minors and we lost to Galway we didn't get the reward for all our hard work, where as now we have been rewarded so far and hopefully on Sunday we will be rewarded for all that hard work this year."

As for having a few words ready to say if the chips fall their way on Sunday - he'll have a few thoughts put together: "I haven't thought about that yet, I might have something prepared by then, my speech in Roscommon was very brief and I don't don't want to tempt fate, but I will have something a bit better prepared this time around."

Everyone from Belmullet to Ballinrobe will be looking forward to hearing that speech on Sunday afternoon.


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