BY CHRIS MCNULTY
DONEGAL are back in another Ulster Vocational Schools final – and this time they meet Cavan again in tonight’s final at Brewster Park, Enniskillen (throw-in, 7pm).
Donegal are managed by Glenties native Seosamh Mac Ceallabhuí, who hopes to have Buncrana ace Darach O’Connor available. O’Connor was recently called up to the Donegal senior panel and put on a programme by Jim McGuinness. The exciting O’Connor is a man in demand at the moment – but Mac Ceallabhuí hasn’t given up the hope that he could call upon the livewire forward.
“I don’t know what the story is with him,” Mac Ceallabhuí admitted.
“We haven’t had much contact but the poor lad is being dragged from pillar to post.
“He has bigger fish to fry, but we’d still hope that he’d be available for the game. He contacted us before the last game (the semi-final win over Tyrone) to say that he’d like to be available.
“Ach, listen, he’d be pivotal if we had him. It’s nice for young fellows to play at the highest level they can, but at the same time it’s important to play with your peers at your age group. He’s on the Donegal panel and in the month of November everyone is looking for a piece of him. There’s his club’s minor team, the school team, the Coláiste Inis Eoghain team, the Donegal seniors, the Donegal Under 21s and then there’s me.
“That’s six managers he’s trying to please and it can’t be easy.”
At this stage, it seems more improbable than probable that Mac Ceallabhuí will be able to call upon O’Connor, but he still has a fine array of talent to call upon.
In their semi-final, Donegal annihilated Tyrone 4-12 to 1-5 in Convoy.
Jamie Brennan hit 2-4 in that demolition. The Bundoran dual star couldn’t be stopped by the Red Hands as he wrecked havoc with Conor Doherty also terrorising, the young Carrick pupil helping himself to 1-4. Donegal’s other goal was netted by David McCarron early on.
Donegal are not short on quality with the likes of John McDyre, Christian Bonner and Caolan McGonagle among their other key players while the team captain is Dylan Ward from Donegal town.
Ethan O’Donnell made a big impression as a sub against Tyrone, having been left out of the starting fifteen after just recovering from concussion sustained in an under 16 game with his club. O’Donnell is pushing hard for inclusion from the off this week.
“We’re going for another title and this is a competition that has been very good to Donegal over the years,” said the manager, who is involved with this team for the fourth year running.
“Ourselves and Cavan have reached the final in a similar way, with relatively easy wins. A lot of people have us down as the favourites, but this Cavan team is based around a Virginia team that is expected to win the All-Ireland Vocational Schools title.
“They’re a huge team and, remember, they expected to beat us in the last two finals but we got the better of them.”
Cian Mulligan is a slight doubt with a hamstring injury, but Mac Ceallabhuí hopes to have the Gaoth Dobhair man ‘for a little while’. Otherwise, there are no injury concerns for the Donegal boss.
He said: “It’s great to be back in the final and we’re really looking forward to it.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but this is a very important competition. If you look at the 1992 Donegal team, a lot of those played Vocational Schools football and it was the same with the Donegal team that won the All-Ireland in 2012.
“They had talked of scrapping this competition, but then we got together and managed to get other counties to agree to keeping it alive.
“We have men playing from all corners of Donegal. The Vocational Schools competition is what the GAA is all about. We haven’t tried to re-invent the wheel and we’re just trying to enjoy it. That’s what all levels of the GAA should be doing.
“You wonder sometimes with the level of commitment, is there any fun left in it anymore. We’re always talking about elite squads and elite players – but we’re here ultimately to have some fun and provide a bit of entertainment.”
Cavan defeated Monaghan in the second semi-final on Friday at Clones. Cavan’s precision was key in a 5-12 to 0-9 win. Evan Doughty hit 2-2 and Sean McDermott scored a brace of goals, with Cathal Maguire on the mark with another.
Cavan will enter the game as favourites, but Mac Ceallabhuí and company are eager to bring the cup back to Donegal for the 14th time.
He said: “A lot of people talk about this competition being dead and gone, but I feel that there is a real attachment from people in Donegal to it – hopefully we’ll do that justice.”
DONEGAL PANEL: Paddy Byrne (Coláiste na Carraige), Dylan Kennedy (Abbey VS), Kevin McGettigan (Glenties Comprehensive), John McDyre (Glenties Comprehensive), Lee O’Brien (PS Cloic Cheann Fhaola), Tony McClenaghan (Moville CC), Christian Bonner (Glenties Comprehensive), Dylan Ward (Abbey VS), Caolan McGonagle (Scoil Mhuire, Buncrana), Conor Doherty (Coláiste na Carraige), John Campbell (Scoil Mhuire, Buncrana), David McCarron (Rosses Community School), Jamie Brennan (Cólaiste Mhaigh Éne), Niall Friel (PS Ghaoth Dobhair), Ethan O’Donnell (Glenties Comprehensive), Cian Mulligan (PS Ghaoth Dobhair), Gavin McFadden (Loreto, Milford), Darren Curran (Rosses Community School), Nathan Gavigan (St Columba’s, Stranorlar), Gavin McBride (PS Ghaoth Dobhair), Ryan Gillespie (Coláiste na Carraige), Fintan O’Flynn (Coláiste Ailigh), Ciaran Gillespie (PS Ghaoth Dobhair), Kevin Whyte (Glenties Comprehensive), Darach O’Connor (Scoil Mhuire, Buncrana), Caolan Loughrey (Abbey VS), Patrick Cribben (PS Cloic Cheann Fhaola), Michael Ayton (Deele College), Cormack Muldoon (St Columba’s, Stranorlar), Paul Cunningham (St Catherine’s, Killybegs), Jamie J McGinley (Coláiste na Carraige).