BY CHRIS MCNULTY
GLENSWILLY and Naomh Conaill have had some blockbusters in the last few years and their paths intersect once more on Sunday in O’Donnell Park, this time in a senior championship semi-final (throw-in 3pm).
It is a repeat of the 2010 semi-final, at the same venue, a game won by Naomh Conaill thanks to a pair of late goals by the Thompson brothers, Leon and Anthony.
County Champions Glenswilly cruised into the semi-finals courtesy of a 14-point win over Termon on Sunday, when Darren McGinley (2) and Leon Kelly netted the goals in a 3-9 to 0-4 win over their neighbours.
Glenswilly could watch on Wednesday night from the terrace as Naomh Conaill had to endure the torture of a quarter-final replay. The Glenties side, Donegal champions in 2005 and 2010, prevailed, but only just, against Ardara.
It was both physically draining and mentally punishing for Naomh Conaill, who’ve not managed to strike high notes in this championship. On Wednesday, they very nearly got caught when they retreated on a six-point lead, 0-8 to 0-2, early in the second half.
The sight of Leon Thompson and Marty Boyle withdrawing from Wednesday’s action injured will be a source of real concern around Davy Brennan Memorial Park. Boyle departed nursing a shoulder injury and Thompson, the fulcrum of their attack, was hamstrung. Recover time is effectively non-existent ahead of Sunday’s showdown with Glenswilly.
The Dr Maguire holders have had their own injury troubles. Gerard McGrenra continues to deputise for Philip O’Donnell in goals, but Oisin Crawford may return to the squad this Sunday and McDaid expects Joe Gibbons to take his place, after the teak-tough defender was forced off during the first half of Sunday’s quarter-final.
“Joe has been fantastic for us,” McDaid said.
“He’s the vice captain of the team this year. Himself and Caolán (Kelly, captain) have led from the front. When we haven’t had Michael or Neil, which has been a lot of the time during the summer, the two boys got the thing by the scruff of the neck.
“They stepped up and were leading the way. It’s important that we develop leaders like that. We also have the likes of ‘Copper’ and James Pat (McDaid) in the squad too and they’re very important for us.”
Although the likes of John McFadden and Colin Kelly aren’t available from the squad that reached last year’s Ulster final, Glenswilly have retained a mean look about them.
Since losing that 2010 semi-final, Glenswilly have shown a particular knack of coming through in tight games.
“This is our fifth semi-final,” McDaid pointed out.
“It’s massive when you look at where we’ve come from. That’s all because of the work we’ve done at underage level, but we’ve never won a Donegal Division 1 title at underage. We’ve made the most of what we have and we’re reaping the rewards.
“We’ve brought in a couple of under-17s this year – Paddy Diver and Caoimhin Marley got in last Sunday and Ciaran Gibbons is there too. We always try to bring the best of the previous year’s under-16 panel into the senior set-up, even just to be in training with us.
“We’ve built a winning mentality here now. Look at Cormac Callaghan who was with us last year. He got game time in the League, but didn’t play in the Championship and he’s now one of our first starters.”
McGinley’s two goals last Sunday had Glenswilly home and dry on a day when Termon offered little resistance. All of a sudden, having been in danger of making an early exit following an opening day reversal against Kilcar, Glenswilly are back in the last four again.
McDaid said: “Goals are massive at this time of the year. Darren has been phenomenal for us. He has played everywhere for us from corner-forward to the defence. You give Darren a job and he’ll do it. It’s horses for courses and we have boys all over who can chip in for scores. Brian Farrelly, too, came in and made a big impact.”
His men are no longer fazed by the big occasion.
He said: “You could tell which was the more relaxed team before the game. We weren’t anxious at all, but you could see a bit of nerves in Termon and that probably did have an effect on them. At the same time, we implemented our own game plan the way we wanted to but, that said, our overall performance won’t be good enough to win a semi-final. We’ll need a much higher intensity.”
Naomh Conaill have chugged along this far, but have rode their luck at times, not least over the last week against Ardara.
A side of their refinement should perhaps be somewhat more adventures in their attack given that they can call upon the Thompsons, Daragh Gallagher, Dermot Molloy, John O’Malley, Leo McLoone and Brendan McDyre. But they’ve been ultra-cautious for the most part.
A turnaround between Wednesday and Sunday, along with the associated bumps and bruises, won’t help the cause and it’s Glenswilly who look the more likely victor here.