BY CHRIS MCNULTY
ARDARA manager Matthew Whyte has lost the services of ELEVEN players in recent weeks, leaving his squad decimated ahead of their Junior B final against Naomh Padraig, Lifford this evening (MacCumhaill Park, 6pm).
With players like former Donegal star Damian Diver, Don Early, Stephen Gildea, Stephen McCahill and Ryan Sweeney are among those who can’t play in this weekend’s final having appeared for the club’s senior reserve team in their championship outings against Four Masters.
It’s proved to be a hammer blow to Whyte and his assistant manager Daniel Sweeney ahead of the big game, as Ardara chase an upset against a fancied Naomh Padraig team.
Gildea, Diver and Early were key players for the Ardara side, who have already played six games in the Championship, having been forced to a third game by Convoy in the first round and then taken to a replay by rivals Naomh Conaill in a quarter-final. McCahill and Gildea netted the goals in a 2-7 to 1-8 replay win over the Glenties side, but they’re among the unavailables this time around, so it will be a vastly-changed squad that makes its way from Pearse Park for the final.
“We have lost some big players alright, but we’ll go to Ballybofey and give it our best shot,” said manager Whyte this week.
Ardara will now look to the likes of their captain Darren McNelis, Eamon Doherty, Martin Bennett and Martin Sweeney, as they chase an upset to the formbook.
The Pearse Park boys have had a disappointing League campaign, with seven defeats from seven in Division 5.
By contract, Naomh Padraig, Lifford have had an almost perfect season in Division 4 Reserve. Donal Grant’s team opened the season with a high-scoring 4-07 to 2-13 draw away to Naomh Ultan – but they haven’t looked back since that stalemate in March. Indeed, the border side swept the boards and won the League title with nine points to spare from nearest challengers Naomh Ultan.
Naomh Padraig are 16 games without defeat heading into the final. After recording two comfortable wins in the opening round legs against Letterkenny Gaels, they were pushed all the way by Red Hughs, with the Lifford boys winning 2-13 to 3-09.
In the semi-final, they had a titanic battle against a Noel Hegarty-inspired Naomh Columba, but Daniel Friel swung over the match-winner from 40 metres to seal a win after a memorable comeback.
At one stage, Naomh Padraig trailed by eight points, but Shane Gallagher got a goal and four points from sub Paul Given helped swung the power their way.
Naomh Padraig have a good spine to their side and look well capable of taking the win here. In John Lafferty, they have a strong full-back, while Steve Devine gives them a sound platform at centrefield, with Given, Paul Carberry, Shane Gallagher and Alan Gethins key cogs in what is a lively attack.
ARDARA PANEL: Hugh Shovlin, Patrick Gallagher, Darren McNelis (captain), Joseph Doherty, Eamon Breslin, Sean McGuinness, Dermot Curristan, Martin McShane, Dessie O’Brien, Kevin Gallagher, Christopher McGinley, Gerard McCabe, Martin Bennett, Aaron Bennett, Michael Doherty, Ciaran Gallagher, Francis Herron, Martin Sweeney, Conor Breslin, Pauric McGill, Eamon Doherty, Owen Breslin, Harry Hennigan, Jonathan Boyle, Kyle Gallagher, Ted Breslin, Marty Herron.
NAOMH PADRAIG, LIFFORD PANEL: Shane Brennan, Jordan Nelson, Marty McHugh, John Lafferty, Damien Tourish, Gary VamBeck, Paurig Brennan, Gary Quinn, Paul McNulty, James McNulty, Damien Gamble, Michael Ferry, Matthew Carlin, Steve Devine, Paul Carbery, Paul Given, David Friel, Jamie Devine, Gary McCullagh, Shane Gallagher, Colin Carlin, Alan Gethins, Daniel McNulty, Adrian Tourish, John McDermott, Jeff Crawford, Paul Carlin, Kellan Nesbitt, Peter McDermott, Ciaran Kelly, Declan Lafferty, Donal Grant.
VERDICT: Naomh Padraig, Lifford
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