By Harry Walsh
FAI Senior Cup football makes a welcome return to Ramelton on Sunday when Swilly Rovers play hosts to UCC, kick off 11am.
Jason Gibson’s team have had an inconsistent start to the new Ulster Senior League campaign but he’s hoping that a win this weekend can signal the start of better times around Swilly Park.
“We played very well away to an excellent Derry City side and then we had a good result in Letterkenny before losing heavily at home to Cockhill Celtic last weekend. That’s two league defeats already at home and given the strength of the league we’re probably already out of the title race,” he said.
“At the start of the year we set out to win the league – that’s always our priority – but some other clubs in the league have more resources than us and there’s nothing we can do about it,” he sighed.
With that in mind, Swilly have take a conscious effort to put more time and resources into promoting the club’s underage structure.
“I would play an all local team if I could but it’s not feasible at the moment and, as a result, we’ve brought in a few lads like Gareth (Wade) and Calvin (Mooney) to strengthen things up a bit. Gareth, alongside Gavin Cullen, is the best ‘keeper in the county while Calvin has been excellent in attack where he has linked up well with Michael McHugh,” he said.
Michael McHugh’s name has been synonymous with Swilly for more than 25 years now. A prodigious underage talent he joined Bradford City, playing a number of games with the Bantams before returning home to Ramelton where he linked up with his home town club.
“Michael’s forty-three and he’s a credit. He’s away to the beach in Rathmullan this morning for a run. His attitude is first class and if a few more boys took a leaf out of his book there would be some footballers in Donegal,” he said.
Another long time servant of Swilly Rovers, Marty Boyce, is club captain while former League of Ireland player Kieran Harte (28) has been forced to retire.
At the other end of the age scale Dylan Hegarty (17) has been playing consistently well at centre half this season while Jordan Toland, David Fisher and Laurence Toland are other young players doing well for Swilly.
“There’s been a lot of unsavoury stuff written and said about the club’s youth teams in recent weeks but I have to say that we’ve got fantastic coaches and players at all grades who are a credit to the club. The U16s train with us all the time and there’s some excellent young players coming through the ranks,” he said.
Looking ahead to Sunday’s game, Gibson is hopeful to have a full panel available for selection.
“Ryan Shields is away to Dublin today to look about his groin injury. He’s been playing with it for the last two months or so and has been forced to come off after sixty or seventy minutes in each game. The only other injury concern we have is Jordan Toland,” he said.
The students from UCC come to Donegal riding high at the top of the Munster Senior League and they go into the tie as favourites to progress. The match kicks off early to allow them to make the long journey back to Cork in daylight hours.
“They initially wanted the game on the Saturday so we tried to accommodate them as best we could. They’re favourites, and rightly so, but anything can happen in a cup game and we’ll be hoping that home advantage and a big local support can swing things in our favour,” he said.
“A win on Sunday puts us through to the next round of the cup where we will be joined by all the big teams. A home draw against one of the big League of Ireland clubs would be nice but we can’t afford to look beyond UCC,” he said.
The next round of the cup isn’t scheduled to take place until early June by which point Gibson expects to have strengthened his squad.
“We need to add more depth to the squad as I’ve a few players playing through injury which isn’t ideal. We have a few boys lined up already,” he said.
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