GAOTH Dobhair face an early morning departure time before heading off to Antrim to face Aghagallon in the Paddy McLarnon Cup on Sunday at 12.30pm.
Sean Nancy Gallagher’s team will set off five hours before the throw-in to be up there in plenty of time to face the Antrim county champions.
Gaoth Dobhair are happy to have the opportunity to represent Donegal, but Gallagher admits that their preparations have not been ideal.
Cian Mulligan, Michael Carroll, and Kieran Gillespie are all currently part of the Donegal senior and under 21 squads, and have been busy training since December.
The O Baoill cousins – Dáire and Naoise – as well as Gavin McBride, Gary McFadden, and Niall Friel are also involved with Declan Bonner’s under 21 squad, and they too have had a hectic schedule since the new year.
“It has been difficult to prepare because we have eight players involved with the county under 21 squad,” said Gallagher.
“They will definitely be there this Sunday, but they will be playing a game in Mayo on Saturday first.
“We’ll have our fingers crossed that they come though that ok, and then we’ll go up to the Kickhams Creggan club, and try and get into the next round.”
Usually the Donegal Under 21 Championship is not finished until the depths of winter, and it has been known to go into January in the past.
However, this season the competition was wrapped up by the October Bank Holiday Weekend.
For the most part, that was an encouraging development, but the one negative is that almost three months have passed since Gaoth Dobhair played together collectively, and defeated Aodh Ruadh in a cracking Donegal Under 21 final.
A good proportion of the squad have been in some sort of training, but not collectively as a team.
Gallagher explained: “It’s been tough to prepare for it. You had Christmas and then eight of our lads are up training with the county.
“We didn’t want to interrupt them during that, because most of them are training every other day as it is, without adding more onto them.
“Some of the lads had exams last week, and some had exams this week, so we haven’t really been able to meet up as a unit.
“We have five or six lads at home who are still in secondary school or haven’t moved away and they will train together this week.”
Gaoth Dobhair won the Donegal Minor Championship in 2014, but weren’t granted the opportunity to represent their county in the St Paul’s Minor Tournament, as it took too long to finish the competition.
That was disappointing for the Magheragallon outfit, who felt they could have given a good account of themselves against eventual winners, Watty Graham’s from Derry.
This time they will get to pit themselves against the other under 21 champions from the province, and Gallagher says the team is looking forward to testing themselves.
“I think the players would like to gauge themselves against the other teams in Ulster, and see where they are really at.
“They did well at minor, but it’s another level at under 21, and then you have to step up again at seniors.
“They want to see what’s out there in Ulster and see how they measure up.”
The big disappointment for Gallagher this week is that he goes into Sunday’s match without Kieran Gillespie, who is undoubtedly one of the most integral players in his side.
Gillespie played in high-profile matches for the Donegal senior team in Breffni Park, Clones, and Croke Park last season, and that experience would have been invaluable for Gaoth Dobhair.
However, he had to be withdrawn in the first half of last week’s McKenna Cup match with Cavan, and will be out for the best part of the next month.
“Kieran injured his hamstring against Cavan and he’s going to be out for three to four weeks.
“He’s obviously a very important player for us and he is a big player around the middle of the park.
“He won’t make it but it will give a chance for somebody else to stake a claim.
“Naoise O Baoill has also been struggling with an injury over the last month or so, but he played against Cavan last week, so I’d be hoping he’ll be alright.
“Seaghan Ferry is out long-term, and Daniel McLaughlin sprained his ankle when he was up at county minor trials.
“He’s a good strong lad, and he’s eager to get back in. He’ll be on the bench and hopefully he can offer something when he comes in.”
As well as their eight representatives on the under 21 squad, Odhran McFadden-Ferry was also part of the Donegal minor squad in 2016.
However, Gallagher says there is more to his side than just their county men.
“James O Baoill has been knocking about the senior team for a couple of years now and he is solid.
“Conor McCafferty came on as a sub in the final and he made a real difference for us.
“Conor Boyle has been doing well inside for us, so has Eamon Collum, who was a key player for our reserves this season.
“Neasan Mac Giolla Bride had a very good year for our reserves and he has been one of our best players throughout this under 21 campaign.
“So while we do have a lot of county players, our club players have been complimenting them well.
Aghagallon claimed the Antrim title back in December when they got the better of O’Donovan Rossa, with full-forward Ruairi Lenahan scoring 2-1 for the victors.
Gallagher has been doing his homework in the lead up to the game and he will have his charges well tuned in by the time they get to the ground.
“We’ve got a bit of information and we’ll sit the lads down on Friday and go through the analysis we have on them.
“We’ll have to leave Gaoth Dobhair at 7.30 am to be up in time for the game, so it will be a long day for us but hopefully we get the right result.”
THIS Sunday's Paddy McLarnon Cup Final will signal the end of one of Gaoth Dobhair's best ever underage sides.