BY AIDAN O’DONNELL
AFTER a three-week wait, derby rivals Gweedore Celtic and Glenea United will finally settle their differences when they lock horns in the highly-anticipated play-off for the Donegal League Premier Division title at Diamond Park, Ballyare this Sunday (kick-off 3pm).
A dramatic final day of the season ended with the two teams finishing level on points at the top of the standings and they will now meet for the third time this season to decide who takes home the coveted silverware.
At one stage in the campaign, Gweedore seemed destined to be crowned champions for the second season running but a 2-1 win for Glenea in Glasserchoo in February blew the title race wide open.
The win ended Gweedore’s 54-week unbeaten run in the league and is the only time the Derrybeg outfit have tasted defeat this season. Glenea only have the one blemish on their record too – a 2-1 defeat away to Eany Celtic way back in October.
Glenea manager Tom Coll admits that victory against their arch rivals instilled his players with a great deal of self-belief but doesn’t feel it will have too much of an impact on how his side approach this Sunday’s showpiece decider.
He said: “It will be a big occasion with it being two teams from the northwest and who know each other very well. There hasn’t been much between the sides all year – one draw and a win for us at Park Joe. That win is a plus going into the play-off, knowing we have beat them earlier in the season, but, at the same time, we can’t draw too much from it.
“This is a completely different game now and whatever else happened before goes out the window for what is essentially a cup final.”
Glenea have prided themselves on their watertight defence and their ability to grind out narrow wins. Of their fourteen victories, eight of them came by a margin of just one goal.
What’s more impressive is that it is just the first year in charge for their manager, who is delighted with the way his side have gelled over the course of the campaign.
Coll added: “Gweedore are the more experienced side. They won the league last year and will be going all out to win it again now on Sunday. They’re a good side and have plenty of talent all over the park.
“But our boys have done really well this year and if you’d have said at the start of the year we’d be contesting a play-off for the title at the end of the season we’d have taken that in a flash. It’s the first year together for a lot of them and hopefully now they can go out and give it their all on the day.”
Meanwhile, Gweedore manager Hughie ‘Rua’ Gallagher believes the three-week build-up has helped generate a huge interest in the game and is expecting a colourful atmosphere at Donegal League HQ on Sunday afternoon.
“The two areas are beside one another and there has been a great interest from talking to people. I would say between ourselves and Glenea we could quite possibly bring one of the biggest crowds Ballyare has ever seen, weather permitting of course. It will be a great occasion for the two clubs, the supporters and the Donegal League,” said the Gweedore boss.
Both sides have identical defensive records but Gweedore’s attack has a far superior return of goals. In contrast to Glenea winning eight games by one-goal margins, Gweedore have won the same amount of games by three goals or more.
But, in the head-to-head match-ups, Glenea have the upper hand, taking four points from a possible six from their confrontations this season.
“It will be a very tight game; there is very little between the two sides. We’ll just try and concentrate on ourselves and just do what we’ve done all year which is to try and play attacking football,” said Gallagher, who isn’t reading too much into their sole loss of the season.
He added: “That day we didn’t play to our true potential, but we’ve only lost the one game all year – the same as last year – and Glenea have managed the same. Maybe they’ll get a psychological boost from having beaten us but I don’t think it will have too much of a bearing on Sunday.
“This it now, it’s a final. Your whole season will be judged on one game and whoever wins on Sunday will be seen as the best team in the league. Nothing else really matters come the final whistle.
“We’ll treat Glenea with a lot of respect. Tom has them working extremely hard, never giving up until the end of games, but we just have to counter that.
“If conditions are good I don’t see any reason why it won’t be a good game. Both sets of players are well capable of playing good football, but maybe nerves will play a factor too. As far as we’re concerned, we feel we’re as prepared as we can be so roll on Sunday now.”
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