BY CHRIS MCNULTY
THEIR Championship was in threat of being over before it begun when Kilcar came to O’Donnell Park and took a prized first leg scalp.
Wounded St Eunan’s were hurt and they had to hit back with a vengence.
Searching questions were posed after that first round, first leg defeat. The squad, along with their management team Eamon O’Boyle, Michael McGeehin and Brendan Devenney, held a meeting that last over an hour. Answers came and change followed: they won in Towney and last Thursday night Ross Wherity cracked home a dramatic late goal in Convoy to seal a passage to the semi-finals.
“Any time you lose a game you can learn so much from it and it can give you a focus,” said O’Boyle.
“We wanted to achieve more so we had a look at things after Kilcar beat us.
“We sat down and we had a chat for more than an hour and as a group we re-focussed, we re-assessed and we took a long, hard look at a few bits and pieces.
“But it’s all for nothing if we don’t win on Saturday night. All the effort since February will be for nothing if we don’t go out and do the business this weekend.”
Eunan’s emerged as the new Championship favourites last Sunday evening when goals from Rory Kavanagh and Caolan Ward saw them demolish Killybegs 2-15 to 0-7.
“That is in the past now,” insisted O’Boyle.
“The most important thing now is trying to produce that form again. We will need to be another ten or fifteen per cent better this weekend.
“Dungloe are here on merit: They have just beaten the county champions; and they gave us a tight game the last time we played them in the League too; Dungloe will be in Ballybofey with all guns blazing on Saturday.”
Eunan’s have a full hand from which to chose, aside from Darragh Mulgrew, who is sidelined with an ankle injury sustained in the third game against Kilcar and who hasn’t trained since. O’Boyle hasn’t completely ruled out Mulgrew, but he is in a race against time to prove his fitness.
Conall Dunne, Rory Kavanagh, Mark McGowan, Conor Gibbons, John Haran and Kevin Rafferty have all upped the ante of late and the St Eunan’s team is a formidable opponent.
Last Thursday night, Ross Wherity’s late goal epitomised the confidence and belief that oozes through their veins. The game was in injury time and the teams level when he raced in on goal. Instead of electing to point, Wherity slammed the ball to the back of the Kilcar net.
“Ross is always capable of producing something like that,” O’Boyle said.
“He produces the goods for us time and time again. He went for the goal when many thought a point would do. He knew better and had a cool head. Remember, Kilcar got a ‘45 after that which Paddy McBrearty would have pointed had they been only a point down.
“We put a lot of trust in players and Ross’s goal showed why we do that.”
O’Boyle was in sole charge of St Eunan’s when they last won the Championship in 2009. They haven’t been back in a final since – too long, say some observers, for a club of their standing.
“Eunan’s is no different to any other club in the Championship – everyone wants to get there and it is very hard to sustain when you’re blooding new players all the time,” O’Boyle mentioned.
“It is longer since others have been there, so there are a lot of teams with a lot of hunger.
“We are just taking one game at a time here and looking at whatever opposition we’re facing. The games are coming thick and fast and we have to use the players as best we can.”
Dungloe welcome back Adrian Hanlon to their side after suspension, but the absence of the injured Raymond Sweeney and suspended Martin Redmond are serious blows to Declan Bonner’s charges – who toppled the champions Glenswilly off their perch last Saturday with a dogged 2-7 to 0-8 win.
“We have to play with the hand we’ve been dealt, but there’s no doubt the two lads are going to be massive losses,” Bonner said.
“We’re really looking forward to the challenge. I watched St Eunan’s on Sunday and they looked very impressive. They are the bookie’s favourites now – and rightly so.
“But look, we’re not going to Ballybofey to merely make up numbers – we’re going there to give this a real rattle.”
Without Sweeney and Redmond, Bonner has some shuffling to do. Hanlon will go back into the starting line-up to add a new dimension, and likely a few scores too, while it is expected that Basil Malone – an Offaly SFC winner with Edenderry in his time – will also return to the starting XV.
Bonner has a few positional calls, with the big one being selecting a partner for Noel McBride at centrefield, where Sweeney’s absence due to a broken collarbone sustained just 14 minutes into last weekend’s quarter-final leaves a huge void. Paul McGarvey – who did well in a marking job on Michael Murphy last weekend – Shaun Sharkey and Malone are all viable options here, while Conor Greene is also in the shake-up for a start having netted twice after his introduction against Glenswilly.
“You could see an extra stride in the boys’ steps this week,” said Bonner. “Their confidence has really lifted and last Saturday we played very well in the last 20 minutes. It didn’t look good for us, but we did well.
“It’s a big lift to bring Adrian Hanlon back. I wouldn’t expect a free-flowing, high-scoring game, but Adrian is always capable of landing a few scores.
“We’ll need to improve because what we did for 40 minutes against Glenswilly won’t be good enough against St Eunan’s.
“We showed great character last weekend and we came through. We need one hell of a performance against the best team in the Championship, but hopefully we’re ready for it.”
VERDICT: Dungloe can turn this one into a real dogfight, but St Eunan’s look to have too much all round – and the Letterkenny men should have enough to get into their first final in three years. Dungloe’s best chance is to hang in there, like they did in the quarter-final, but St Eunan’s are likely to advance with a few to spare.