GAOTH Dobhair manager Mervyn O’Donnell had just returned home from training when he answered a phone call from the Donegal News on Tuesday night.
It was a wet and cold session, and O’Donnell was looking forward to a cup of tea to warm him up again.
Training in the middle of November is not ideal, and yet every club in Ulster would love to be in O’Donnell and Gaoth Dobhair’s shoes this week.
They take on Crossmaglen Rangers in the Ulster Club Championship semi-final on Sunday at 3.30pm, and are just sixty minutes from a remarkable provincial final appearance.
“Things have been going good,” said O’Donnell.
“We’re actually not as bad as we were with men away from home, but there are always a few knocks and injuries, so we have about 14 or 15 at training during the week.
“It’s mainly about recovery and a bit of shooting during the week.
“We had two good days of training on Saturday and Sunday when everyone was home.
“The lads are all looking forward to the match, and we really want to make it through to the Ulster Final.
“That would be a massive occasion for us if we could make it through. It would be the biggest game in the club’s history, that’s just the fact of it.”
Gaoth Dobhair reached this stage of the championship after a tough battle against Cargin in Corrigan Park.
Despite leading comfortably at half-time, Gaoth Dobhair had to dig deep and they were thrilled to come away with a four-point win.
However, that result came at a cost as they lost county star Kieran Gillespie to a long-term cruciate injury, and he will miss the remainder of their campaign.
O’Donnell said: “It’s a huge blow. I got the text on the Tuesday after the game and I was sick for the day because of it.
“I really felt for him because he was out for so long with a hip injury, and he has more bad luck again now.
“Kieran is a gentleman and he didn’t deserve that. But he is a positive lad, and with the county and everything, he will be well looked after. He’s hoping to back around July or August next year.
“We’re all disappointed that he won’t be playing on Sunday but it’s parked now.
“There’s nothing we can do but move on and make sure we have a positive mindset.”
While allowing Cargin back into the game two weeks ago was not part of the plan for O’Donnell’s outfit, it may stand to them in the long run.
They had to grind out the win, and got a taste for what it’s like when you’re trying to close out a game in the Ulster Club Championship.
Gaoth Dobhair learned a few lessons in that game, and they could be useful, as provincial games are often close and tight, and decided in the closing exchanges.
“Looking back at Cross’ games since the Armagh quarter-final, they have all been tight games and there have only been a couple of points in it.
“They have been able to grind our results, and I suppose our biggest concern is our lack of experience compared with them.
“They have the know-how when it comes to getting results in Ulster.
“Like we got a win against Cargin, but we had a mighty lead in that game and nearly let it slip.
“You need that experience of how to close the game out in Ulster when the pressure is on.
“Sometimes when you concede a goal, you just have to get 15 men behind the ball and make sure they don’t get in again, and kill their momentum.
“The players and the management are still all learning when it comes to these big games.”
Cross have won 44 Armagh Senior titles and are undoubtedly the kings of club football in the Orchard county.
They did lose their grip on the county crown for two seasons, as they went through a phase of transition.
Their minor team of 2015 – who defeated St Eunan’s in the Ulster Final at St Paul’s – have given them fresh impetus, and the talented O’Neill brothers are now leading the charge.
They are two of the most highly-rated players in Ulster, but O’Donnell says they are not the only players who will be tightly marked in Healy Park.
“Oisin and Rian O’Neill have been doing a lot of damage but they are not the only two players we need to watch out for.
“You have Kyle Carragher in there, and Tony Kernan. Aaron Kernan is playing good stuff driving forward and he is a player that we will have to watch too.
“There are a lot of players that we need to pick up, but I think that we do have a lot of good man-markers.
“And the other part of that is that they are going to have to put men on our best players too.
“We’re not just depending on one man to score either – we have six or seven that can score.
“I think they will be just as worried about us as we are about them.”
Cross have been installed as slight favourites to reach the Ulster Final, and it will take a huge effort from Gaoth Dobhair to defeat them.
A display like the one against Cargin will not suffice, but O’Donnell believes if they can get their performance levels to where they were in their county final triumph, then they won’t be too far away.
“I thought we played really well in the county final, and we need to get back to that level again, and probably even move it on a notch or two.
“That’s not easy, especially when you have been on the go as long as we have.
“If you look at the season like a graph, you have to get up for games, and then come back down again, and then get up for another match, and that’s very demanding, and it’s difficult for the players.
“It has been a long year but the lads are seriously focussed on Cross. They’re up for it, and that’s the main thing.
“It’s going to take a huge performance but hopefully we can find it.”