DONEGAL Schoolboys Under 14 team are putting the final touches to their preparations for the Kennedy Cup, before the prestigious tournament gets underway tomorrow (Monday).
Gerry Crossan is at the helm of the Donegal select this season, and he has been busy readying his lads for the competition which takes place in Limerick.
They enjoyed a three-day training camp in Dunlewey last weekend, and Crossan is hopeful that his team will enjoy the experience and play to their potential.
“It’s a massive tournament for these lads, but the point I’m trying to get across to them is that it won’t define their footballing careers,” said Crossan, who doubles up as Swilly Rovers senior manager.
“We don’t want them to get nervous. We want them to enjoy it.
“It’s a big tournament, and the lads will be getting advice from everybody they’re talking to this week.
“That’s great and they’re all genuine well wishes, but we don’t want the boys to get apprehensive about it and lose 30% of their ability.
“But I’ve had these young lads for two years now and I’d be confident that they will handle it ok.”
Donegal impressed last season reaching the Under 13 National Cup Final, and they showed that they were able to compete with the country’s elite.
“We lost in the National Cup Final to DDSL last year, and we also lost the Galway Cup Final to Sligo/Leitrim.
“We got to seven finals in total, and won four of them. We had a very good year last season, but it’s been a bit more challenging this time around.”
There is no National Cup during the Kennedy Cup season, and Crossan has lamented a lack of a focal point to their season.
He has been arranging friendlies, and one-day blitzes, as well as playing in various tournaments, yet he feels the spaced-out nature of the National Cup has been badly missed this term.
“We had a brilliant first year, but our form has dropped off a bit since then.
“We’ve lost a few players and then others aren’t quite playing as well as they were.
“We’ve also been trying different things in games and experimenting a bit.
“But I’m happy and content with where we are going into the Kennedy Cup.
“The boys have faced challenges this year and that will have toughened them up.”
Donegal will set off today at 11am and make the long trip down the west of Ireland.
They will relax in the evening, before preparing themselves for the tournament opener against Mayo on Monday.
Every team has two games on Tuesday, with Crossan’s charges coming up against Longford and Cork.
Those group games will dictate which competition Donegal are then entered in.
They’ll be in the Kennedy Cup proper if they top the group, the Bowl if they come second; the Plate if they finish third, while the sides that finish bottom of their groups enter the Shield.
Donegal have faced Cork and Mayo before, but Crossan doesn’t think those matches will count for much next week.
“We’ve never played Longford, but we would have come up against Cork and Mayo.
“Those games were over a year ago at this stage so we can’t take much from it.
“There has been a big change in personnel in our team alone, and I can only imagine that they will have changes as well.”
With three games in just over 24 hours, and matches right up until the following Saturday, Crossan says the sides with the strongest squads will fare the best.
He has tweaked his panel this year, but is happy with the 20 players he will bring to Limerick.
“The squad is crucial. You have twenty players and everybody will be needed.
“Some people are guilty of going with their best 1-11 for every game, but you’ll run out of steam like that.
“All our lads will be used over the week, and it will be up to them to do their bit.”
The Kennedy Cup has been running since 1976, and the Donegal Schoolboys have never won the tournament, which has been dominated by the Dublin and District Schoolboys League.
Donegal sides have impressed in the past, but over the last couple of seasons, they haven’t been in the reckoning.
Crossan said: “Historically Donegal would have done fairly well in the Kennedy Cup. We would have punched above our weight when you consider the population that we are working with. But over the last three years, it’s been tough for us.
“It’s like the FA Cup in the sense that if you screw up once, you’re more or less out of the equation.
“I think over the last three years, we’ve finished 18th, 13th, and 16th.
“That means that we’re ranked as the 16th team this year and are second seeds. Traditionally, Donegal would always have been a top tier county.
“It will be tough going. The top eight teams play in the Cup, and that’s where we want to be but it only takes one bad game to rule you out.
“There’s not as much between the teams this year either. Last year, we were beating sides well, but there’s nobody rolling over now. Everyone’s constantly snapping at your heels.
“It will be a testing week but one that we are looking forward to.”
Donegal Kennedy Cup squad: Kyle Burns (Swilly Rovers), Fionnan Coyle (Gweedore United), Shane Black (Milford United), Connor McDaid (Letterkenny Rovers), Ultan O’Grady (Donegal Town), Joel Gorman (Letterkenny Rovers), Blake McGarvey (Glenea United), Jamie Murray (Cappry Rovers), Ryan Coyle (Convoy Arsenal), Brandon Ndlovu (Letterkenny Rovers), Daniel Gildea (Fintown Harps), Tyler Durning (Swilly Rovers), Rory Pyper (Letterkenny Rovers), Corey Brolly (Raphoe Town), Caolan McClintock (Castlefin Celtic), Sean Pascual (Letterkenny Rovers), Jack Dwyer (Letterkenny Rovers), Nathan Plumb (Letterkenny Rovers), Leon Doherty (Letterkenny Rovers), Oisin McCallig (Drumbar United).