Tom Conaghan to be inducted into Donegal Sports Star Awards Hall of Fame

Anthony Molloy and Tom Conaghan

The Donegal Sports Star Committee has announced that the historic 1982 All-Ireland winning manager Tom Conaghan will be inducted into the Hall of Fame when the Awards take place in the Mount Errigal Hotel on Friday week the 26th of January. The 78-year-old will be the 48th inductee and tenth from the sport of GAA following in the footsteps of Sean Ferriter 2019, Brian McEniff 2017, James McLaughlin 2014, Jim Gallagher 2000, Mick Melly 1991, Hughie Tim Boyle 1990, Columba McDyer 1997, Bernard Coyle 1980 and Tom Farren 1979.

Tom Conaghan said it was a great honour to be joining so many other legends of sport in the Hall of Fame. “It’s unbelievable. I’m delighted to get the Hall of Fame and be among so many other great sports people who have been inducted down the years. I just want to thank the Donegal Sports Star Awards Committee for considering me this time and I’m really looking forward to the presentation on Friday week in the Mount Errigal.”

Tom Conaghan was the man who set the foundations for Donegal’s development into the elite category of inter-county teams. The Donegal Town native managed the County to their first ever All-Ireland adult GAA title in 1982 when the U21s triumphed. It was the second time he had made history that year as had guided Four Masters to their first ever County Senior Football Championship title. He repeated that success with the Donegal Town club in 1984. In 1988 he was in charge of the Donegal senior side that secured promotion to Division 1 of the league for the first time in the county’s history. When he took charge in 1986 the County senior team was in Division 3 of the National Football League. So in the space of three years Conaghan masterminded two promotions to reach the top flight. It was a remarkable achievement that was never done before in the history of Donegal GAA going back to the early 1900s.

There were disappointments like losing the 1989 Ulster Final after a replay. But members of Conaghan’s 1982 team were to form the backbone of the side that won the historic All-Ireland Senior Football Championship title in 1992. That included Matt Gallagher, Donal Reid, Anthony Molloy, Martin McHugh and Joyce McMullin who played in the final win over Dublin while a number of others were in the squad that defeated Dublin.

Tom Conaghan’s historic achievement in 1982 saw him receive an Appreciation Award from the Donegal Sports Star Committee that year. Awards Chairperson Grace Boyle said that there was no one more deserving of the Hall of Fame honour as Tom Conaghan was hugely successful as a manager especially in the 1980s with that historic All-Ireland U21 triumph along with the first ever promotion to Division 1 and guiding Four Masters to two senior club championship titles.

“Tom Conaghan’s name is certainly written very firmly into the history of this County’s GAA as the first man to manage Donegal to an adult All-Ireland title. That milestone day came in October 1982 in Carrick-on-Shannon when Tom managed the Donegal U21s to that famous All-Ireland triumph over Roscommon. As a result of that achievement he was named Ulster Manager of the Year in 1982. That same year Tom also created another piece of history managing the Four Masters side who won the Donegal Senior Football Championship title for the first time in the club’s history. He certainly was a man of firsts with his County. In 1988 Tom was in charge of the first Donegal senior team to be promoted to Division 1 of the National Football League. The following year he came so close to managing Donegal to an Ulster Senior Football Championship title. Tom set high standards that paved the way for the Donegal senior football teams to compete with the best over the past 40 years” Ms Boyle said

After Conaghan’s success with the Donegal U21s he went on to succeed Brian McEniff as senior manager in the mid 1980s. He later managed the Sligo senior team. He had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian in his approach to management and is very upfront about that. “I make no apologies about being strong on discipline to try and make teams successful. I actually got involved in management initially when my first cousin Donal Monaghan asked me if I would take on the Four Masters senior team job. Donal had won Ulster titles with the County but didn’t have a club championship medal.”

The first thing Conaghan did when he took over at Four Masters was to get help and advice. And he didn’t settle for second best on that mission. “I contacted Mick O’Dwyer who had so much success with Kerry. Mick gave me a plan and he said if you stick to that you will achieve. I did that in 1982 with Four Masters winning the Donegal Senior Championship for the first time and the County U21s taking the All-Ireland title for the first time as well. I had gone to meet Mick in Kerry and he came to us a couple of times in Donegal Town.” Conaghan kept a small backroom team when he was in charge that included Donal Monaghan, Michael Lafferty, trainer Eamon Harvey and physio John Cassidy.

Tom Conaghan is a former Mayor of Donegal Town. In later years he became involved in politics and was elected to Donegal County Council as an Independent Cllr in 2014 and retained his seat in 2019. He is currently serving his second term as Mayor of the Donegal Municipal District having previously done so in 2017/18.

Tom Conaghan is a proud Donegal Town man. He is a native of the town where the family had a hackney and undertaking business. When still a small boy his father passed away suddenly at the age of 50. As a result he went to live for a few years with his mother’s sisters and uncles the McGowans in Glenfin.

After secondary school he took up employment as a driver and was a familiar face in the Cahill May Roberts drug wholesaler van travelling around the country. He also had a sports shop in the town. In later years and has farming interests in Glenfin. Married to Celine (nee Timoney) the couple had three children. Sadly Tom and Celine’s only son Kevin lost his life in a car accident in 1984 at the age of 14. They have two daughters Lisa McGing who resides in Killybegs with her husband Gary and their daughter Orla and Lisa Rose who lives in Inver with her husband Darren and their sons Kevin and Sean.

Interestingly 35 years after his reign as County senior boss ended Tom Conaghan will receive the Hall of Fame Award from the current Donegal senior football team manager Jim McGuinness who will be the special guest on Friday week 26th of January in the Mount Errigal Hotel.