BY AIDAN O’DONNELL
MINOR manager Stephen Friel welcomes Killybegs midfielder Hugh McFadden into the Donegal fold for the first time this year for the Ulster Shield semi-final against Down in Ballybofey tomorrow, Saturday (throw-in 12 noon).
McFadden, who played onthe Donegal team which won the Ulster Vocational Schools final this year, captained the Finn Harps U19 team to league success last weekend. His inclusion adds some much needed strength to the Donegal squad.
It’s six years since Donegal last claimed an Ulster Minor Championship title and the manager is desperate for a change in attitude towards being selected for the county panel.
“This is a thing I’ve harped on about for many a year now. For too long the aspirations for young players was to get onto the county minor panel and that’s something we’re trying to change.
“We don’t want players getting picked for the county panel and being content to collect the gear and whatever else. We want players to challenge themselves and to measure themselves on success and silverware at the end of a season. In that respect, we’re trying to change the mindset of players.”
Donegal ended their Ulster Minor League campaign on a winning note last weekend following their 1-9 to 2-4 win away to Antrim.
Friel’s side finished third in a five-team group behind Tyrone and Derry, who both advanced to Ulster League semi-finals alongside Monaghan and Cavan, who Donegal meet in their championship opener in a little over four weeks’ time.
“I thought a good few players put their hands up last week with good performances, John Fitzgerald, who had a very good game, being one of them. The focus is very much on the championship opener with Cavan on May 20 and there is still quite a bit of jockeying for places,” said the Donegal boss.
“We’re far from a settled side at this moment in time but that’s what these games are for. The players have a very short window of opportunity to form a strong bond.
“It’s not like the senior panel where players might play together for six or seven years and get to know each other very well. Invariably at minor level, players only get the one year out of it and, at best, two years. So, it’s important that we try and make the most of our time together.”
Donegal now play a Down side who actually managed to defeat their championship opponents Cavan (2-11 to 3-6) in one of the round-robin games in Group A, but still finished bottom of their group.
The Donegal boss, though, knows too well that league results can’t be used as an accurate yardstick to how a side might shape up in the white hot heat of the championship.
He said: “They have a very good minor structure in Down. They groom their players from an early age to be successful and competitive.
“There is very little correlation between the Ulster Minor League and the Ulster Championship. Last year, for instance, Donegal beat Cavan in the semi-finals of the Shield. They actually beat them quite comfortably by double-scores.
“However, Donegal then got beat in the first round of the Ulster Championship and Cavan went on to win it. Performances are more important right now than the results.”
Meanwhile, in the other Shield semi-final, Armagh take on Fermanagh in Madden, with the final set to take place next Saturday at a venue yet to be confirmed.