THERE’S no question about which one of the quarter-finals is the marquee fixture, as all eyes will be on MacCumhaill Park tonight at 5pm as heavyweights Naomh Conaill and St Eunan’s clash in a repeat of last year’s county final.
One of the real contenders for the Dr Maguire will fall this weekend, and Naomh Conaill joint-manager Martin Doherty believes that both teams would have preferred to have avoided each other in the last eight.
“I think truth be told, it’s probably a game that both of us would liked to have avoided,” said Doherty, who manages Naomh Conaill, alongside Martin Regan.
“But you get on with the hand that you’re dealt and both teams are going to be up for the match.
“I would expect a close game, and I’d say it will stand to whichever team makes it through.”
Fourteen-man Naomh Conaill edged out St Eunan’s by 0-11 to 0-10 in last year’s final, and the smart money is on another close encounter this Sunday.
“There’s never much in it. If you go back to 2012, they beat us by a point, and then we won by a point last year,” Doherty explained.
“It will probably be in the melting pot again this week, and we need everyone to perform.
“If one or two men aren’t quite at the level you need, that could be the difference on the day.”
Naomh Conaill defeated St Eunan’s by seven points five weeks ago in the league but that is unlikely to have a big bearing today.
Doherty has been impressed with how St Eunan’s have performed this year and he says they are hard to plan for.
“There’s definitely a different feel to them and David (McGinley) likes to mix it up.
“He doesn’t stick to one formula as such, so we don’t really know what we will encounter this week.
“You have to give credit to them for getting out of that group. Their backs were to the wall against Kilcar, but they still got a draw and that was the result that got them through to the quarter-finals really.
“We will give them the respect they deserve, and you have to because they have so many quality players.
“It will be close and it may be a cliché, but it will probably just come down to whichever side plays better on the day.”
St Eunan’s manager David McGinley is full of praise for Naomh Conaill, and he feels that their rivalry has pushed each other on.
“Glenties are a phenomenal side. They have developed really well as a team and a club, and I don’t think they’ve ever been stronger.
“It’s not just their seniors either; you look at their reserves and juniors, and every team they put out are competitive.
“Their senior team have really grown and matured together over the last 10 to 12 years, and I think they have the best panel of players in the county.
“They have footballers in every position on the field, and I like the way their management carry and conduct themselves.
“We have probably made each other stronger over the last couple of years.”
Much has been made of how ‘Eunan’s haven’t had a settled team this season, but McGinley has been happy with how his team have performed in the championship so far, and he feels they are improving with every passing week.
“I am very happy with the boys and the group dynamic that we have.
“We have grown together over the season and each one of them has put in huge effort and commitment this year. It’s exciting to be working with them.
“We have a huge challenge this week, but it is one that we are not afraid of.
Kevin Rafferty has not played in St Eunan’s last two championship matches, but McGinley has his fingers crossed that he will be back this week, and while Rory Carr and Conor O’Donnell miss out, he says he will be picking from a strong panel.
“We still have a few long-term injuries, but we should be as strong as we have been in a long time this weekend.
“Our preparation has gone well and I’m looking forward to the game. I wouldn’t be looking forward to it if I felt we hadn’t prepared properly.”