PREVIEW BY CHRIS MCNULTY
BRENDAN Faherty is set to spearhead the Killybegs attack in today’s Donegal SFC semi-final against Malin.
Faherty has missed the previous rounds of the Championship as he has been based in Chicago, but manager Martin ‘Slua’ Boyle hopes that the 2006 Ulster Minor Championship-winning forward can help fire the Fishermen into their second final in four years.
Faherty was back for the quarter-final against Sean MacCumhaills, but a mix-up with paperwork meant he couldn’t feature in Convoy. Faherty had played Championship with Killybegs against Fanad last year and is in line to feature from the off in Ballybofey on Sunday.
Faherty, a product of a fine underage team in Killybegs, could well be the missing link as the Fintra residents chase what the formbook shows an unlikely final place.
Paul McGinley and Shane Boyle are unavailable having featured for Donegal New York, while Killybegs have also lost Kevin Fallon, Ciaran Connaghan, Conal Molloy and Lewis McNern during the campaign.
“It has just been a constant drip from the tap and I can’t get it stopped,” said manager Boyle this week.
That said, his is a side that is oozing Championship confidence.
The Division 1 League table does not make for kind reading for Killybegs: Played 14, lost 14 and a points difference of -79, Killybegs were relegated a few weeks ago.
And yet here they are, an hour away from a place in the county final.
“I believe that we can do it,” Boyle said.
“Getting to a final would be an unbelievable achievement for us. This is meant to be the script. You don’t lose fourteen games and get to a county final. We’re on a bit of a fairytale run. It’s baffling for people, I suppose. Someone up there is looking down on us – I just hope, whoever it is, keeps looking!
“It has been strange, but it’s been as if we have two different teams. In the League when they play, they look uncomfortable, unassured and down on themselves. Take them into Championship and they’re transformed players. They seem more assured, confident and capable.”
Ronan Boyle left Sunday’s defeat to Naomh Conaill on a stretcher and is ‘very doubtful’ while Shane Molloy and Eoin ‘Ban’ Gallagher are suffering from hamstring injuries. Gallagher took part in Tuesday’s training session and should be ok to start, but Molloy faces a late fitness test.
Malin are appearing in their first-ever Senior Championship semi-final.
The Inishowen side have also made a habit of tearing up the formbook and it is they who have the carcass of St Eunan’s hanging in their den, having beaten the Letterkenny side in the quarter-finals.
Terence Colhoun is not without his worries this week, having watched Daniel Greene hobble off during Sunday’s League game in Ardara with a hamstring injury. Greene is in a real race against the clock, while Matthew Byrne is in Limerick this week with the Irish amateur soccer team and Colhoun is keeping the candles lit for a safe return by the forward.
Malin are at full strength aside from Greene and were last week boosted by the news that wing-forward Stephen McLaughlin was called up to Jim McGuinness’s provisional Donegal panel last week.
“Stephen has done well and really shone against St Eunan’s,” Colhoun said.
“It’ll be a major challenge for Stephen to step up and get his place. That is the challenge that’s before him but, at 22, he has age on his side.”
Colhoun, alongside right-hand man Louis Walsh, trainer Eamon Ryan and selector Noel McLaughlin have seen Malin take Division 1 by storm at times this season.
Now, they’re a game away from a day that seemed a far distant dream only months ago.
“Everyone in the parish is looking forward to Sunday,” Colhoun said.
“We have had 28 players playing Division 1 football this year and at times we’ve used the chance to give fringe players ago and it has been a really good season for getting boys experience.”
Since their win over St Eunan’s in Buncrana, Malin have been the talk of Donegal.
“St Eunan’s was St Eunan’s, but there is no point in us going out on Sunday and thinking about St Eunan’s,” Colhoun said.
“We have had momentum and the games are flowing at us now. We have a grounded bunch of fellas there and they’re all working very hard at their game.”
Malin have plenty of experience, backboned by the likes of All-Ireland winner Declan Walsh, Anthony Kelly at midfield, ex-Donegal player Charlie Byrne at half-back, not to mention Matthew Byrne, Michael Byrne and Stephen McLaughlin in attack.
Malin wear the tag of the favourites, but Killybegs ought not to be discounted. If they can get Matthew Smyth and Enda Murphy on song around the middle, they’ll be able to get a real platform for Faherty, Brendan Boyle and Hugh McFadden (scorer of 2-4 against MacCumhaills) up top and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Killybegs could get over the line.
Verdict: Killybegs care little for odds or for form, so both are best discarded. Questions remain about Malin when it comes to a stage on which they’ve never stood. If they can manage not to appear as tourists in the arena, then they should win, but they ought to bring their ‘A’ game for Killybegs are fired up big time for this.Malin to win, but not before a tense arm wrestle.
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