SETANTA manager Paul Campbell hopes his team will make the most of their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when they face Ardmore today in the All-Ireland Junior Championship semi-final in Navan.
The men from the Cross have been preparing for the contest at Pairc Tailteann (throw-in, 2pm), since they saw off Na Magha in the Ulster Final on November 5.
The team trained hard throughout Christmas, and Campbell says they are well positioned going into the last-four encounter.
“We’ve been training three nights a week since that game, and there has been no let off. We were out on Boxing day and New Year’s Eve.
“We have no injuries at the moment, and we are going down there with a fully fit squad, touch wood.
“We’ll go down to give it a lash and see how we get on. Ardmore are a seriously good team but they do have a few kinks, and we need to try and expose them.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we will give it everything that we have.”
Campbell originally planned to give his team two weeks off after their win over Na Magha before changing his mind.
He decided to follow Slaughtneil’s direction and hopes the move will pay off.
“I was speaking to the Slaughtneil manager (Michael McShane), and he advised me to keep the lads going.
“He said that they had stopped training last year, and then it was twice as hard to get back up-and-going again.
“We decided to go down the same lines as them, and in fairness to the lads, they have given great commitment.”
Most club teams who reach the latter stages of the All-Ireland Club Championships are locked away in their own bubble until its conclusion, and their county players usually only focus on club matters.
However, Campbell has been happy to allow his Donegal panellists to train with Mickey McCann’s panel.
The Setanta manager said: “I’m involved in the county set-up myself this year, and I don’t think it will do any harm.
“We have six or seven fellas involved, and they are training five times a week, and going very well.
“Listen, the more time that you spend with the hurl in your hand, the better you are going to be.
“We actually played the county team in a challenge game there and beat them by a couple of points.
“We also played Sligo IT last Monday night, and we have a lot of lads pushing for places.
“The team still isn’t picked yet – we have about 23 or 24 lads fighting to play, and I’ve been left scratching my head, but that’s a good way to have it too.”
Campbell is under no illusions about the size of the challenge they face this week.
Ardmore were playing senior hurling in Waterford as recently as 2015, and he says they are a quality outfit.
“They won the Waterford Intermediate League this year, so that means that they will be playing in the senior league next year.
“I don’t know how that means they can play in the Junior Championship, but that must be the way it works in Munster.
“They have two former All Stars in Declan and Seamus Prendergast, and three players who are currently on the Waterford senior panel, as well as a couple of Under 21 and minors.”
Ardmore had little bother advancing through the Waterford and Munster championships, and won the provincial decider despite finishing the game with 12 men.
“The nearest that any team got to them before the Munster Final was 21 points.
“They won the Munster Final by six, but they played most of that match with 13 men after having two lads sent off in the first half.
“I was down at their Munster semi-final and then their final where they beat a very good Tipperary side in Ballybacon-Grange, who had Brendan Cummins playing for them.
“Middletown from Armagh – who won the Ulster Intermediate title in 2017 – went down and played them in a challenge game a few weeks ago, and Ardmore won by seven points, so that’s what we’re up against.”
One glimmer of hope for Setanta is that Ardmore goalkeeper Jack Walsh, and midfielder Kenny Murphy received straight red cards in the Munster Final, but Campbell does not know if they have had their suspensions overturned or not.
“I’m trying to find that out for weeks.
“I was at the game and if it was me, I wouldn’t be appealing the goalkeeper’s red card.
“Now I would imagine they will definitely appeal Kenny Murphy’s suspension as that looked very harsh at the time.
“But we don’t know what the story is. We’ve been trying to find out but haven’t got anywhere.”
Campbell says his team will have to play at their best to win, and stopping Seamus Prendergast is their big challenge.
Prendergast was an unsung hero of the Waterford team, who excelled in the noughties.
He’s still going strong, although he’s not the only player that Setanta need to keep an eye on.
Campbell said: “I think Seamus is about 38 now but he is still their top scorer this year, and he scored 2-7 in the Munster Final.
“He plays most of the game in at full-forward, but he will step out to half-forward for ten minutes, and he’s a huge player for them.
“We need to stop him getting the ball, because if he gets it into his hand, it will be going over one way or another.
“Against Ballybacon, he went up for a ball against five defenders, won it, and struck it in the net.
“He’s a serious player as is his brother Declan at full-back. He’s a big brute of a man – 6’4” and about 14 or 15 stone, and there’s no getting past him.
“Wayne Hennessey is a top class player as well, and they have a lot of quality.
“We’re going to need the rub of the green. We need them to miss their goal chances and we need to take ours.
“Listen, we’re big underdogs, and you’re hoping that they’ll look at us as a team from Donegal and underestimate us.
“The pressure is all on them, and you’d never know what could happen over 60 minutes.”