NIALL Friel admitted that thoughts of Gaoth Dobhair’s defeat to Naomh Conaill in the Donegal SFC semi-final came flooding back to him on Sunday, as his Under 21 team threatened to throw away a six-point lead against Donaghmoyne.
That was also the advantage that Gaoth Dobhair held at half-time against Naomh Conaill in late September, but ended up losing by a point.
Friel thought history might have been repeating itself, but the Gaoth Dobhair captain was pleased to see his side fight back on this occasion and seal a semi-final berth.
“We got off to a good start and were six points up, but we knew they were going to come back at us,” Friel explained.
“For the lads that played for our seniors last year, we had the Glenties game in the back of our heads.
“They threw everything at us and we kind of had to weather the storm.
“Lucky enough, we got a few scores on the break and then we got a goal, and we’re through now to the semi-final.”
Gaoth Dobhair started slowly in their Preliminary Round game against Rossa last week, and while they rectified that problem against Donaghmoyne, they still didn’t perform for the full hour.
Friel said: “We were very slow to start up here last week, and we nailed that down this week and started well.
“But the other side of that is in the second half, we didn’t start that well.
“We have plenty to work on, but hopefully everything will come together nicely for the semi-final.”
There is a sense among the Gaoth Dobhair camp that they left the Paddy McLarnon Cup behind them last year, when they were very unlucky to lose to Watty Graham’s in the semi-final with a depleted panel.
They are now back at the same stage 12 months on, and have been paired against Carryduff in the last four.
Friel feels that if they are at full strength, then they can book a spot in the decider.
“The Donegal championship is hard to win, but we did have our eyes on Ulster.
“We had four or five fellas that were involved with Donegal Under 21s last year and they were nearly all injured for the game with Watty Graham’s, and then Dáire (Ó Baoill) got a black card and Odhrán (McFadden-Ferry) got a red.
“Everything went wrong that day. We’re back there this year, but we know not to take anything for granted.
“So far, Declan (Bonner) has let the boys play, and we are very thankful for that.
“We’d be hoping that Cian (Mulligan) will be back for the semi-final, and that the three lads will be released again.
“If we have them, we will be very confident going into the next game.”
Gaoth Dobhair didn’t lose anybody from last year, so they are now a year older and wiser.
They also have a stronger squad, with some younger players making their mark, including Ethan Harkin, who scored 1-1.
“Ethan was only Under 16 last year, and he couldn’t even play for us.
“Tom (Gillespie) was training the minors this year, so he knew the underage talent coming up.
“We’re all a year older this year, and then the likes of young Harkin is playing, Mikey Boyle is with us, Mark McFadden, Micheal Roarty, and Daniel McLaughlin are all in the panel.
“Tom knows all those young lads, and of course he has had our group the whole way through.
“The squad is gathering nicely, and Tom’s main aim is to get us all through to senior.”
Gaoth Dobhair didn’t make the Donegal SFC final in 2017, but they did make it past the group stages for the first time in five years, and made steady progress.
Friel hopes they can push on again this term, but he says that won’t be easy.
“I won’t say too much but I think we did have that monkey on our backs for the last few years.
“There was a lot of talk about this underage team coming up that had won a few championships.
“We managed to get out of the group stages last year, but we can’t look past that this year, because we know how hard it is.
“We know we can compete with the top teams in Donegal, but there are five or six teams that can win it every year.
“We’ll just put down the hard work again this summer, and when the county boys come back, hopefully things will gel together for us.”
THIS Sunday's Paddy McLarnon Cup Final will signal the end of one of Gaoth Dobhair's best ever underage sides.