BY AIDAN O’DONNELL
DONEGAL Vocational Schools manager Seosamh McKelvey may have to cope without three of his star players for today’s All-Ireland semi-final with Cork in Portarlington, Laois (throw-in 12noon).
Conor Greene is a definite absentee having limped off in the early stages of last week’s Ulster final win over Cavan, while cousins Ryan (broken finger) and Eoin McHugh (shoulder) are both rated very doubtful to line-out against the side Donegal defeated in last year’s controversial All-Ireland decider.
“Conor Greene is definitely out, which is a huge blow,” the Donegal boss confirmed this week. “He’s such an important player for us. He always makes a huge contribution and he’s one of the guys you’d look to when things aren’t going your way.
“He came up with the goods when we were up against it in St. Pats, Maghera. He’d be as big a loss as Patrick McBrearty if we had to do without him, which thankfully we don’t.”
A broken finger sustained whilst playing for the Kilcar U21’s is likely to restrict Ryan’s involvement, while Eoin – one of three goal-scorer’s against Cavan – aggravated a shoulder injury which he sustained earlier in the campaign.
McKelvey said: “We’re still waiting to see with Ryan. He thought he was okay to play the last day against Cavan but it was too sore. We’ll probably not know until Friday or Saturday if he is okay.
“I’m also very worried about Eoin. He hurt his shoulder in training on Tuesday, which is worrying because he was out for three to four weeks with a shoulder injury after the game with St. Pats.
“It would be a big blow to have to cope without all three but if that is the case then we’ll just have to get on with it. They have each been man of the match in three games we’ve played this year, which highlights their importance.”
The game had been initially scheduled as a curtain-raiser for the All-Ireland Senior Club Championship semi-final between Crossmaglen Rangers and Dr. Crokes, which takes place in Portlaoise.
However, it has since been switched to Portarlington, a decision that has angered the Donegal manager, who departed with his side yesterday afternoon for an overnight stay in Laois.
“I think its very unfair that the game is in Portarlington,” said McKelvey. “It was supposed to be in Portlaoise, before the Crossmaglen-Dr. Crokes game and I suppose we wouldn’t have minded that because it would’ve been part of a big spectacle.
“So, it’s annoying that it has been switched to Portarlington. It’s about a five and a half hour trip for us, whereas there is a direct train link from Cork to Portarlington that lasts roughly over an hour. That hardly seems fair. You’d think they didn’t know how to look at a map.”
The last-four clash is a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final, which Donegal had to play not once but twice following a refereeing error which denied them the win the first time the sides met.
Only Patrick McBrearty and Ryan McHugh remain from that side lifted the title in Galway’s Pearse Stadium, while it has been rumoured that Cork only have one survivor in their current panel.
McKelvey admits they know very little of their opponents, who steam-rolled past Kerry in the Munster decider.
He said: “We know nothing about them in terms of their danger men. That’s unfortunate because knowing the strengths of Cavan helped us no end. Like most Cork teams I’m sure they’ll be physically very big and strong.
“The boys are in good spirits, though and are looking forward to the game now. There is a wee bit of pressure on us in that we’re the defending All-Ireland champions. However, it’s more or less a completely different team this year and it was good for us to be able to win the Ulster title.”
The Donegal boss, meanwhile, paid tribute to the impact Killybegs’ Hughie McFadden had on last week’s Ulster final.
McFadden, who has been a cornerstone of the Finn Harps U19 side that is currently flying high in the U19 League, slotted in seamlessly in the middle of the park alongside captain Raymond McNamee and McKelvey envisages a bright future for the Killybegs lad should he decide to continue playing Gaelic Football.
He said: “The addition of Hugh McFadden has been a big help around the middle. We’re delighted to have him. He’s a very talented footballer. For a big man, he’s strong and very comfortable on the ball. If he does decide to throw his lot in with the GAA, he’ll have some future with Donegal.
“If you look at his role in our first goal the last day, the way he measured the ball into Patrick McBrearty was quality. Others were finding the route to Paddy difficult but Hugh just took that extra wee solo to allow Patrick to get out in front. He has that intelligence and footballing brain – that’s very hard to coach.”