IT IS never easy for footballers to bounce straight back from a defeat, but the return to club championship action last weekend, just six or seven days after the All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry must have been particularly hard for Donegal’s footballers.
The stomachs will still have been churning at the thought of the loss to Kerry and they’d have spent the best part of the week replaying the game in their minds, wondering away how Sam Maguire was allowed to slip away from their grasp. To have all that going on in your mind means that it’s nigh on impossible to prepare properly for a club championship game so soon.
Some deal with these things better than others and it was understandable that a number of players were off-colour last weekend.
There will have been very little preparation done with their teams last week or indeed over the last number of weeks when their full focus was with the Donegal set-up.
The great thing about the round robin format is that you have a second chance. This weekend, we’ll see a spring in the steps of the county men again.
There were no real surprises last weekend on the first weekend of action, but what we saw were the likes of St Eunan’s, Kilcar and, I feel, St Michael’s outline that they are real contenders.
Malin isn’t an easy place to go, but St Eunan’s went with a ruthless look about them. They conceded two early goals, lost goalkeeper John Paul Clarke to an injury and had John Haran black carded, but they still won well. Malin were in a semi-final last year after catching St Eunan’s on the hop, but St Eunan’s – led by veterans Rory Kavanagh and Conall Dunne – were excellent in the second half and they won’t be pushed over lightly. Keep an eye on Eunan’s. They’ve gone about their League programme quietly but effectively and I expect them to turn on the style over the coming weeks.
The big game of the weekend was in Glenswilly, where two big guns in Glenswilly and Kilcar fought it out. Kilcar are still the favourites to win Dr Maguire and they have been the most consistent team all year. Kilcar are very strong all over, with great running power and they have serious players in every line of the field. Glenswilly, too, can’t be discounted and that group 4 is a real minefield. With Michael Murphy and Neil Gallagher behind them, Glenswilly will run anyone close.
What of St Michael’s? They’re a club who have underachieved in recent years. I actually met them a couple of years ago about the job when there was a vacancy there. I felt there was real unfulfilled potential at St Michael’s – and there still is. I believe they can still make a shape of things this year, but they do have a very difficult task in an away game at Kilcar on Sunday.
That one will tell us a lot about St Michael’s worth this year.
But look at the team. They have the obvious men in Christy Toye, Colm McFadden and Martin McElhinney who are so valuable to them, but they also have Antoin McFadden and Peter Witherow who were on the Donegal panel before and Daniel McLaughlin, another man with an All-Ireland medal in his hip pocket, has come back in the last few weeks.
I still expect Kilcar to win on Sunday, which would leave a cracking shoot-out next weekend between Glenswilly and St Michael’s, a repeat of the 2011 final.
For St Michael’s, these are the games, over the next two weekends, they have to show something in. To win Championships these are the weekends to lay down the markers.
Time is running out for a number of their main players. They got off to a solid start with a win over Bundoran, but now they have to back it up.
Naomh Conaill struggled against Naomh Muire, but eventually got over the line. With the squad they have they also should be challenging regularly and probably should have won more Championships. As well as Anthony Thompson, Leo McLoone and Dermot Molloy, they have Johnny Bonner who is as good a full-back as in the county, Eoin Waide and Marty Boyle have plenty of experience, but look at their attack: Molloy, Daragh Gallagher, John O’Malley and Leon Thompson. Throw in Brendan McDyre and Johnny McLoone and they really should have designs on the Championship.
It won’t be long before Gaoth Dobhair are back challenging again. What a game they have this week as they host Dungloe in Magheragallon. Dungloe have had a great year under Tony Boyle and are looking forward to returning to Division 1 again next year. They are reliant on the ever-green Adrian Sweeney for the scores and he rolled back the years with eight points against Termon last weekend, while Raymond Sweeney is still playing well for them in the middle of the park. Gaoth Dobhair should have too much with Neil McGee and Odhrán MacNiallais expected back in their line-up.
Gaoth Dobhair have lacked a scoring forward of late, but from midfield back to goalkeeper they’re as good as any team. When your team includes the three McGee brothers, MacNiallais and Kevin Cassidy you should certainly be looking at winning big prizes. Their six county minors have really helped the progress of the team too. I fancy them to win and get out of the group. Who knows after that?
Killybegs were in the final last year and got a good draw against Gaoth Dobhair last Saturday. They will fancy themselves to get out of the group again. They’re a very good Championship side and they always seem to find a shine when it comes around. This group will be very tight, but I expect Division 1 sides Four Masters and Ardara to have too much for MacCumhaills and Glenfin and they should be able to get through. To me there is a massive gulf between the two Divisions of the League and I think we’ll see that proved in the coming weeks.
Walsh and Cooper return
THEY’RE still celebrating the capture of Sam Maguire in Kerry and now they’ve announced to us that Tommy Walsh will be back to terrorise opponents next year again. Tommy will be returning to the Kerry set-up after confirming that he is quitting his time in the Australian Rules with Sydney Swans. Walsh was a big player for the Kingdom before he left and he’ll be a significant addition to Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s panel. What a player that is to be coming back into the set-up of the All-Ireland champions.
With Tommy Walsh coming back and Colm Cooper returning from injury, Kerry look like they’ll be sticking around. Isn’t it amazing that they were being written off just a few short months ago.
MICHAEL Murphy, Neil McGee and Patrick McBrearty have declared their availability for the International Rules series, which is being held in Australia this year. This series is on its last legs and there is huge pressure on the Australians to come out with some sort of a strong team this time. Otherwise, the series is dead in the water.
I’m not the biggest fan of the International Rules, but it’s a great stage for Gaelic footballers to gain international recognition and represent their country.
Good luck Harps
ON a final note, I want to wish one of my own former teams – Finn Harps – all the best in their FAI Cup semi-final on Sunday. Harps face a big challenge against St Patrick’s Athletic, but I think the support of all the sporting community in Donegal should go towards Harps this weekend. We have a lot of sports people at the top of their fields lately in a wide array of events and it would be great to see Harps reach the final. Good luck to Ollie Horgan and his team.