BY CHRIS MCNULTY
JASON Gibson has already guided Swilly Rovers to one Cup this summer – the Knockalla Caravans Cup – and the Ramelton side will enter Saturday’s Donegal News Ulster Senior League Cup final believing they can upset the odds and defeat Cockhill Celtic.
Swilly’s confidence is not without foundation.
They have already beaten Cockhill twice this season – in the group stages of the Donegal News Cup as well as the Knockalla Cup semi-final – and last month a Kyle Black goal handed them the Knockalla Cup final win over old foes Letterkenny Rovers.
Gibson, a former Swilly player who has been four seasons in charge of the Lennonsiders now, and has aided in the restoration of a competitive edge to a blade that had appeared to have rusted.
“We will have belief – we wouldn’t show up if we didn’t have that belief,” Gibson said ahead of the clash with the newly-crowned League champions.
“We’ll give it our all. We’re big underdogs, but we’re looking forward to the game.
“I’d never doubt these boys. Six of them are Ramelton born and bred and that is a great local base to have. There is that extra wee bit of heart there. I always tell those players that they’re in a privileged position of being able to go and play intermediate football with their hometown club.
“Marty ‘Stout’ (Boyce) is our captain and is the perfect example of that. He would put anything on the line for Swilly.”
Indeed, it was a saving tackle by Boyce that denied Georgie Kelly a late equaliser at the end of extra time in the Donegal News Cup semi-final.
Swilly came from two down at half-time with Calvin Mooney and Laurence Toland (penalty) cancelling out goals by Kelly and Ryan Doherty. In extra-time, Toland’s magnificent header fired Swilly into the final.
Gibson reflected: “We didn’t perform in the first half of that game at all. At the same time, Derry were having a cracking first half. They played us off the park. We pressed higher up the pitch and just went for it. We were thrown a lifeline with three minutes to go and we were in the ascendancy for most of the rest of the game.
“It was back-and-forth for a while in extra-time. Derry are a fantastic side.”
Micheál Doherty is cup-tied having played for Finn Harps Reserves in the group stage of the competition, but Gibson is reporting a clean bill of health with Boyce (hip) and James Doherty (hamstring) recovering from recent knocks.
Since the opening of the transfer window in June, and the associated additions of Micheál Doherty, Kyle Black, James Doherty and Darren McGeever, Swilly have been transformed and Gibson would dearly loved to have had his full weapons cache to choose from at the season’s start.
“I’d be a wee bit disappointed with our League position,” the Swilly manager said.
“When it got to a certain stage of the season it was clear that the League was going to be between Cockhill and Derry. You know it’s gone so you turn the eye towards the Cups at that stage. I’d be disappointed with where we are in the League.
“At the same time, there are only three competitons up for grabs in the Ulster Senior League; we’ve won one of them and are in the final of another.
“People would still see Swilly as sort of being on the coat tails of the likes of Cockhill and Derry and our Cup form has shown that.
“You don’t really get the full squad together until June so it does get a wee bit frustrating. After the start of June we won eight games in a row. If you did that at the start of a season you’d be League contenders.”
With a gap between now and the Intermediate Cup, it’s likely to be a patchwork side that enters that competition – and Gibson feels that the continuity enjoyed by the leading two League sides and their respective placings is no coincidence.
He said: “Cockhill and Derry are probably the only two sides who have the full compliment for the start of the season so it’s no surprise that they’re challenging.
“That stability breeds winning and it’s stability that the rest of us can’t seem to find. for example, after the Cup final Gareth Colhoun (Kildrum Tigers), James Doherty (Kilmacrennan Celtic) and Ryan Shields (Kilmacrennan Celtic) will be going to clubs in the Donegal League, Jordan Toland will be at Finn Harps Under-19s and Dylan Hegarty at Derry City Under-19s. Straight away, you’re wondering: ‘Am I getting them back in January?’ That isn’t ideal.”
Swilly have come through a tough group to get here, having actually topped the group that included Cockhill.
The Manor man said: “When you’re drawn in the same group as Cockhill you automatically think that you’re playing for second place.
They’re the benchmark in the League. We came through to top the group and we were delighted to do that.”
In a bygone era, Swilly were regarded as something of the ‘Cup specialists’: A win on Saturday – which isn’t beyond the realms of possibility – and Gibson’s class will be tagged with that ticket.
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