GAA – ULSTER JUNIOR HURLING CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
JAMESIE DONNELLY has devoted almost two decades of his life to the Sean MacCumhaill’s senior hurling team and he is hoping to collect his first Ulster medal with the club this week.
The 33-year-old has been to the fore as the Twin Towns outfit have climbed up the ranks and he says the club have progressed considerably in recent times.
This Sunday they will take on Lamh Dearg in the Ulster Junior Championship Final, and Donnelly says it would be a ‘dream come true’ if they could come out on top.
“This is my 18th year playing for the seniors – it’s a brave length of time to be involved.
“Things have changed a lot since back then when we were only a junior club.
“Everything is superior now from the quality of our players, to the underage set-up, our management and tactics.
“Back then it was only two nights a week and a game at the weekend. There’s a lot more to it now.
“Everyone has really put the shoulder to the wheel this year, and it would be a dream come true if we won on Saturday.”
Donnelly and his teammates have put in a big push this year, and they have earned their spot in the final.
“It’s a massive commitment and we put in as much as any of the top football teams do in Donegal.
“For example, we trained last Sunday morning at 9am and we have been doing that most weekends since May.
“You could be out three nights on top of that. There’s a lot involved, but if you want the rewards, you’ve got to put in the effort. You get nothing if you’re just turning up.”
A provincial decider wasn’t on the agenda last January for Donnelly when he suffered a horrific workplace injury, when a chainsaw ripped between his legs and into his lower abdomen.
He spent three weeks in a hospital bed and received over 100 stitches.
However, he has made a good recovery and is not dwelling on the past.
“It’s been well documented that I had an incident and it was a tough six or seven months.
“But I’ve moved on now and I’m not looking back. I’m in good health again and I’m back out on the pitch doing what I love best.”
Donnelly was to the fore back in 2010 when MacCumhaill’s won the Donegal Hurling Championship crown for the first time.
However, they didn’t build on that victory, and Burt came back to win the next five titles.
Last year was particularly hard to stomach as MacCumhaill’s lost out by a single point in the final.
However, it made them more determined to come back stronger in 2016, and after getting over the line this year, they have carried their good form into Ulster.
“We wanted to try and get back to the final, and make up for last season,” Donnelly explained.
“We were building towards that second weekend in September, and thankfully we were in good shape.
“But it was tough to get there, because we had to beat Setanta twice – once in the qualifying and also in the semi-final – and they are a tough team to play against.
“We knew we would get the same against Burt and we did. We maybe got a bit of the rub of the green this year, whereas they might have had the luck in previous years.
“It was only when we got over the Derry team did we start to think that we might be on to something and maybe we could get a provincial medal.
“We’re only sixty minutes away from that now, and it would be huge for everyone involved with the club, the players, management and our families if we could win this week.”
One big change for Donnelly this season is that he has left the half-back line to man the house.
It wasn’t an intentional switch, but when regular full-back Justin McGhee was struck down with a long-term injury, somebody had to fill the void, and Donnelly stepped up.
“Unfortunately Justin did his cruciate in the Nicky Rackard semi-final and that was a big blow to us.
“I knew something was up, because he’s a tough boy and he doesn’t go down for no reason.
“He went for a scan, and the word came back that it was a cruciate and he would be out long-term.
“I suppose it was a bit of a no-brainer then that I would go back and try and fill the hole.”
Players changing positions has been a regular occurance for MacCumhaill’s this season and the team have embraced life under Eamon McAuley, and Donnelly hopes the manager will led them to Ulster glory this week.
“The management came in and were up front about things and said that they were going to make mistakes and we were going to make mistakes, but that we would give it a go.
“Obviously what we were doing for the last four or five years wasn’t good enough, and we were willing to change it up a bit.
“The way it has turned out, there has been a lot of positional changes, but it has worked out well.
“Paddy Hannigan would have been an inside forward for most of his career, but he’s in the form of his life out around the middle no2.
“Lee Henderson has also moved out and he’s flying too. I suppose myself moving back has tightened things up a little too, and there’s a very good understanding between the six defenders.
“In saying that we know we’re really going to be tested this week. Lamh Dearg are a big physical team and they are going to throw everything they have at us.”