The credits roll on Donegal’s Toye story

In January 2017 Creeslough’s own Christy Toye announced his retirement from inter-county football. It was a career that spanned 16 years having made his debut against Louth in the national league way back in the winter of 2001.

He had now shook his magic dust from the green and gold jersey and folded it away for the last time.In what was a remarkable roller coaster journey between first game and last, Christy has seen and done it all. A real fans favourite over the years, he was one of those players who created excitement when he got on the ball and you got the feeling that he was going to make something happen. A player with outstanding natural ability he had skill, pace, power and unbelievable balance when he was at full tilt. Nothing would faze Christy who had a cool temperament to go with his talent.

Christy and Colm Mc Fadden line out for Donegal U-12s

Christy Toye was a football star in the making from as soon as he could kick a ball. His obvious ability was given an early platform at St Michael’s when a group of forward thinking coaches made a big push with a promising under 12 team in the early 90’s.  This hard work soon paid off as St Michael’s went on to win an U-12 ‘B’ county title in 1994 followed by an U-12 ‘A’ title in 95. The two undoubted stars on these teams were Christy and Colm McFadden. When a Donegal under 12 team was assembled in 1995 to meet Down prior to a Donegal championship match in Clones, both of them were selected to play. It was to be their first taste of inter county football and their careers would run side by side from that day on. It would have been unusual in any football conversation locally to have one of their names mentioned in it without the other.

Christy was one of the stars as the Donegal U-16’s won the Tedd Webb cup in 1999. He provided 3-27 of their scores throughout the competition. Later that summer the Donegal minor team under the management of the great Anthony Molloy reached the Ulster final against Down. Colm had broken into the team in the earlier rounds and for the final Anthony called Christy into the panel as well. They would both still be eligible for the minors for another 2 years. With Down leading by a point in the closing stages, he threw Christy into the action. With a full house in Clones, Christy was the coolest head in the place. As the ball hopped near him in the inside left channel, he flicked it up into his hands before turning and driving it over the bar with his right boot to take the game to a replay. Down may have gone on to win the replay but Christy had announced himself to the Donegal footballing public.

Christy in action against Meath

Christy played on the Donegal minor team for another two seasons without the team having any great championship success. One standout victory at home to Fermanagh saw Christy running from deep to score two breath taking goals in a towering display. The newspaper headline read ‘Christy Toyes with Fermanagh’! When Mickey Moran was appointed as Donegal senior manager in 2001 he soon became aware of Christy’s ability. He called him into the panel at the end of the year where he made his senior debut in the national league.

He showed enough to be given his championship bow the following summer. He came on as a replacement for Brian Roper in Donegal’s preliminary round victory over Cavan in Breffni Park. He would get his first championship start in the Ulster semi-final against Derry on a day where most Irish sporting eyes were on Ireland’s World Cup match with Spain in Suwon which was taking place at the same time. This was no distraction for Christy as he had a rip roaring game posting 2 points in a match that Donegal won by the same amount.

Next up was his first taste of Clones on Ulster final day as Donegal faced Armagh. The day would end however with a four point defeat to the Orchard county men. Christy again chipped in with 2 points in a match that saw his future manager Jim McGuinness score Donegal’s only goal. Christy got his first taste of playing in Croke Park in the qualifier against Meath and once again he treated it as just another game. He had a huge impact in the match, scoring a famous goal and a point as Donegal won by two to set up an All-Ireland quarter final meeting with Dublin. This would end up being two meetings as the teams were dead locked the first day which brought the tie to a replay. The Donegal supporters travelled in numbers for both games and there was a brilliant atmosphere. Dublin put a damper on things though and were much the better team second time round. Christy started both games at right half forward where he had a ding dong battle with Dublin’s Barry Cahill.

Christy celebrates after his stunning goal against Armagh in 2003

All-Ireland winning manager Brian McEniff sat back into the Donegal hot seat in 2003 but his team went down tamely to Fermanagh in the Ulster championship. They turned their fortunes around in the qualifiers however with four wins in a row to come through the back door with a head of steam. Christy hit a goal and a point in the round 4 victory over Down. Unbelievably Donegal were back in the All-Ireland quarter-final. They played Galway in Croke Park in a very tight game that ended in a draw. Another replay was required which was fixed for McHale park in Castlebar. This is one of my standout days as a Donegal supporter. It was a scorcher of a Sunday in the west and there was a huge Donegal presence in Castlebar town from early on. The songs flowed and it was a carnival atmosphere. The game followed suit as Donegal won by 14 points to 11. Christy was majestic, running at the Galway defence and scoring 2 points in a man of the match display.

Donegal now found themselves in the All-Ireland semi-final for the first time since 1992. They were up against Armagh who were the reigning All-Ireland champions and the most formidable of opponents. In the first half Christy drifted inside the Armagh defence where he took a pass from Stephen McDermott before rifling the ball to the bottom corner for a brilliant goal. It was the only goal Armagh would concede in the entire championship that year. Christy also arrowed over a fantastic long range point with his left foot as an improbable victory looked on. It wasn’t to be though as Armagh finished strongly to edge Donegal out.

Donegal reached another Ulster final in 2004 after taking out the All-Ireland champions Tyrone in the semi-final. Christy and Colm really linked up well that day to tear Tyrone apart. Armagh however once again blocked off the bridge to the Anglo Celt cup in the final which was played in Croke Park for the first time and they handed Donegal a comprehensive beating.

Brian McIvor took over the Donegal reigns in 2006 and he swiftly appointed Christy as his captain for the year. It was a proud moment for Creeslough to see him skipper the Donegal team. He led Donegal to a division 2 league final where they lost out to Louth and also to another Ulster final where Armagh were still not rolling over easily and defeated Donegal by 1-09 to 0-09. They went on to be beaten in the All-Ireland quarter-final by Cork by just a single point with Christy again coming up with a goal on the big stage.

He finally got his hands on some silverware in a Donegal jersey in 2007 when he was part of the team to lift the counties first ever National League division 1 title. They beat Mayo in Croke Park in the final in a very welcome victory. This was to be as good as it got for Donegal over the next few years however as they went from one disappointment to another. 2009 was to bring a very dark day in Christy’s Donegal career. After going out of Ulster, Donegal defeated Carlow in the qualifiers and then met Clare in Ballybofey in round 2.

Christy who was playing well and had scored 2 points went down badly in the second half and had to be carried off. He would discover later that he had snapped his achilles tendon which would be a huge set back to his career. His picture had featured on the front cover of the match program that day against Clare but it would sadly be a full 25 months before his name would appear on another Donegal team sheet. A combination of the achilles injury as well as ankle, knee and shoulder complaints saw him miss all of 2010 and the biggest part of 2011.

By now the Donegal football landscape had really changed with the arrival of Jim McGuinness as manager and the boundless possibilities that he brought with him. As Jim went about putting his master plan into action most felt that Christy’s days as a county player may have run their course. Jim knew enough of his qualities though and kept him in the loop as he fought his way back from injury. He worked like a Trojan to get back and was almost there as Donegal romped to a first Ulster title for 19 years.

They now faced Kildare under Saturday night lights in Croke Park in the All-Ireland quarter with Christy itching to put an end to more than 2 years of torment. The game ebbed and flowed and was tied at 7 points each with 15 minutes to go. Jim turned to the bench and said “let’s go Christy” Even the foresight of McGuinness wouldn’t have expected such an impact. Christy was on the field for 25 seconds when Frank McGlynn drove a fist pass towards him near the Kildare posts. With pure instinct, Christy gathered, turned and fired a shot low and hard. Goal! Croke Park erupted. The same Kieran McGeeney who was centre back for Armagh when Christy hit his cracker in ’03 now stood on the line as Kildare manager witnessing a very similar play unfold before him. Christy was back! He hit a late long range point to take the game to extra-time in which Donegal clinched victory. He went on to start the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin. The blanket defence that a lot of teams now use is often lamented. That day though, the audacity and sure-mindedness of Jim to lock his team down as he did was something else. It was fascinating to watch it all unfold and Donegal went so close to pulling off a major coup.

Christy was now chomping at the bit heading into the 2012 season but unfortunately another injury in the league in March curtailed his involvement. He came on at half-time in the Ulster final where his physical power helped Donegal to steamroll Down and brought his second Ulster medal.  He was again sprung from the bench against Kerry in the quarter-final and immediately swept over a point. A Donegal victory brought them to just their third All-Ireland semi-final since ’92 where they faced Cork. It was to be third time lucky as they edged to victory with Christy entering as a late substitute.

It was now festival time in the county as the people got ready for an All-Ireland final against Mayo. Christy timed his comeback just right and he was primed for action. He entered the game after 57 minutes and got on a load of ball, driving at the Mayo defence to help Donegal sweep past Mayo and take Sam Maguire to the hills for the first time in 20 years. This day was a reward for Christy’s tenacity in staying at it through all of his injuries and was the least that his talent deserved.

St Michael’s team mates lifting Sam

His resolve would be tested even further in late 2012 when he was struck down with the rare nerve condition trigeminal neuralgia. Excruciating pain in his cheek, akin to toothache made day to day life a complete struggle at times and put football way down the list of priorities. He missed out on Donegal’s entire 2013 season and wondered if he’d lace up the boots again at all. Something still burned inside him though and as he gained control of the condition, he made his way back into Jims plans.

He appeared in all of Donegal’s games in the championship in 2014 which saw him win a third Ulster medal from midfield against Monaghan. A victory over Armagh followed in the All-Ireland series which brought a showdown in the All-Ireland semi-final with the all-conquering Dubs. They had cruised to this stage without anyone laying a glove on them and were the team that could not be beaten. Jim and Donegal had other ideas. Many marked Christy’s introduction off the bench in the first half as a turning point in the game as Donegal game from behind to surge to a quite spectacular win.

Unbelievably Christy found himself facing into another All-Ireland final, with only the mighty Kerry now standing between Donegal and Sam Maguire. The biggest stage in football seemed like another planet in recent times for Christy but now here he was again. A sluggish start to the game from Donegal allowed Kerry to push into an early lead and saw Christy called from the bench in the first half. The Munster Leader would report “Toye brought a huge injection of energy to Donegal’s play when he was introduced after 28 minutes and he helped Donegal draw level at half-time.” Kerry though found enough of the answers in the second half as Donegal narrowly missed out on a second All-Ireland title in three years.

Christy in action against Mayo players Sep 2012

This brought an end to Jim’s reign as manager and saw his understudy Rory Gallagher take the helm.  Christy was on board again and he made another Ulster Final appearance where Monaghan pipped Donegal by a point.  In the round 4 qualifier victory over Galway, Christy was set up by Colm McFadden to score yet another Croke Park goal in the green and gold. This was a record breaking strike. He is the only Donegal player in history to score 5 championship goals at GAA headquarters.

2016, his final season in a county jersey saw him make a 7th Ulster final appearance. He kicked a point as Donegal lost out by 2 to Tyrone in Clones in a very close game. Donegal’s season and Christy’s Donegal career ended with defeat at the hands of Dublin in what was Christy’s 10th All-Ireland quarter-final appearance when you count replays.

Dublin are the benchmark of modern day gaelic football and it was fitting that Christy would bring down the curtain on his career against them. Since the first meeting between the sides back in the 1992 All-Ireland final, Donegal have played Dublin another 5 times in the championship. Christy is the only Donegal player to appear in all 5 of these games. He has played in a total of 163 games for Donegal and has made 65 championship appearances. His championship record is equalled only by Karl Lacey who retired recently. When you think that Donegal played 13 championship games during Christy’s time out with injury he really could have set quite a mark.  Christy and his clubmate Colm McFadden are the only 2 players to appear in Donegal’s first and last Ulster finals of this millennium to date!

Colm and Christy waiting on the final whistle in the 2014 Ulster final having both come off late in the game

Alongside his county career Christy has put in many outstanding performances in the red and white of his club St Michael’s. He played in the intermediate championship final defeat to Termon back in 2000, before winning an Intermediate title against Carndonagh in 2003. This was followed by an Ulster intermediate title in 2004. He has won all-county league medals at Division 3, Division 2 and Division 1 in 2015 when he was captain of the team. He continues to soldier in his club colours and still has a lot to offer if he stays injury free.

In colleges football he is one of the few players to have won the Sigerson cup 3 times. He was part of Sligo IT’s winning teams of 2002, 2004 and 2005. Christy was the captain of the team in ’05 when they also won the All-Ireland league. He is held in very high regard in footballing circles in Sligo. He has also represented Ulster in the inter-provincial series a number of times and has Railway cup medals from 2003 and 2007.

He was the ordinary young boy with a football dream who pulled on his first Donegal jersey as an under 12. Donegal supporters will always remember Christy Toye, who had a far from ordinary career in the colours of his county.

By John McClafferty

 

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