Ryan Ferry breaks down all 39 teams in Donegal club football, and sees where they rank ahead of the 2019 season.
1) Gaoth Dobhair
IT’S been a fantastic 2018 for Gaoth Dobhair as they landed the Donegal and Ulster Championship crowns. They will have their eyes set on an even bigger prize in the All-Ireland Series at the start of the New Year, and you would be foolish to write them off. It has been a long campaign and that possibly will have some impact on their 2019 season. The Magheragallon club will have talented youngsters breaking through into the senior ranks in the next year or two, but they will be hopeful that their more experienced players stay on. Gaoth Dobhair boast a huge amount of talent and if they can keep the group together, they will undoubtedly be favourites to land the Dr Maguire Cup again next year.
Kilcar will feel that they didn’t really get a fair go at their defence of the Donegal Championship this year, as they were forced to play without their two best players in Patrick McBrearty and Ryan McHugh. Every county team in the Ireland would miss that duo, never mind club teams, so their hand will be considerably stronger in 2019 if they can get those men back on the field. They don’t have a huge amount of talent coming through so will be largely depending on the players of the last couple of years, including Michael Hegarty and Conor McShane who are expected to stay on, while Barry Doherty will continue as bainisteoir. Kilcar will have been looking on enviously at Gaoth Dobhair’s success this year, and will feel that they can their hands back on the Doctor in 2019.
3) Naomh Conaill
Next season will be a big one for Naomh Conaill, as they have to come up with something extra to get back into the winners’ enclosure on county final day. They have lost both of the last two deciders and haven’t done themselves justice on either day, and that is sure to nag at them. Glenties do have a formidable panel but some of their older brigade are pushing on in age. There might not be that many chances left, so they will put in a huge push this season. Leo Dunphy and Nathan Byrne will both be eligible to play seniors in 2019, while Paul McGuinness and Odhran Doherty were very strong players at reserve level. Naomh Conaill will be in the mix again next year, but can they take it a step further?
4) St Eunan’s
St Eunan’s have failed to make it into the semi-finals of the Donegal Senior Football Championship in each of the last three seasons, and for a club of their magnitude that is just not good enough. The Letterkenny men didn’t even make it out of the group this year, although they may take some comfort in that Gaoth Dobhair only beat them by a point, and that was a game they should have got something from. St Eunan’s have won three of the last four minor titles so there is an abundance of talent coming through, and there are definitely some players that could add freshness to the senior team. Getting a more consistent side out in the league would probably do no harm, but as always, it will be all about delivering in the championship for St Eunan’s in 2019.
People have been writing the Glenswilly obituary for a couple of seasons now, but they still came close to reaching the county final this year. It is evident that they aren’t really fussed about the league, and as long as they can just about stay up and possibly unearth a player who can do a job in September, then they are happy enough. Their focus will be on the championship, but one wonders if there is another kick in them in that competition? Many of their important players have been on the go for a long, long time and have a lot of mileage built up. The fact that they have Michael Murphy will always give them a chance, and if they avoid a group of death, they should make it to the knock-out stages. However, it’s difficult to envisage them landing the top prize once again.
6) Sean MacCumhaill’s
2018 was a brilliant year for Sean MacCumhaill’s as they won promotion to Division 1 and reached the semi-finals of the Senior Championship, and they will be determined to show that it was no one-hit wonder. Stepping up to the top flight will be a challenge, but they do have a strong squad, while Aaron Gilhooley will add a tight-marking defender to their set-up next year. The Twin Towns side should have the strength-in-depth to retain their Division 1 status. Much will depend on the development of exciting young attacker Oisin Gallen, but MacCumhaill’s do have a good selection of forwards, and no club will want to be paired with them in the group stages of the SFC.
7) St Michael’s
St Michael’s will look back in disappointment at the 2018 campaign, as they were dumped out of the quarter-finals by Sean MacCumhaill’s and they will have expected to have done better than that. They could point to the fact that Colm McFadden didn’t play in that match, and keeping the 2012 All-Star on board will be vital for next season’s campaign, as he is still one of the best finishers in the country. Michael Langan is now their main man, while Donegal Under 20 player Colin McFadden gives them something extra in the forward line. However, it is in defence where they need to tighten up, and that will be the big test for whoever takes on the team next year.
Bundoran make the top eight by virtue of the fact that they have qualified for the Donegal SFC quarter-finals in each of the last two seasons. The Star of the Sea men were unfortunate to run into the eventual county champions on both occasions, and they were well off the mark. However, they will still fancy their chances against the lesser teams in the championship, and the fact that they have two home games in the group stages in 2019, will give them a good chance of making it to the last eight once again. Bundoran will also be back in Division 1, but they will do well to stay in the top flight if they have to play a lot of their games without Jamie and Paul Brennan.
This may look like a lofty position for the Fishermen considering they had difficulty in winning promotion to Division 3 this year, but they are a coming team and they will believe they can win a spot in the championship quarter-finals next term. In Hugh McFadden, they boast one of the most effective club players in the county, while Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher is also a class act, and Under 20 forward Ryan Cunningham is a good score-taker. Killybegs will also be able to call upon Corey Byrne, Cillian Gildea, Seamus Óg Byrne, Charlie Breslin, and Ross Conneely, who were all involved with the Donegal minors in 2018, and that influx of youth will make their panel much stronger.
Termon will be happy to file the 2018 season under the ‘do no revisit’ category, and they will be hoping for better next year. Paddy McDaid and Francie Friel have taken over their senior team, and they will have them well prepared and are likely to target a return to Division 1. Caolan Gallagher should step up to the senior ranks in 2019, but strength-in-depth is Termon’s big issue, while uncertainty over Michael Boyle’s availability doesn’t help either. However, when the Burn Road men do have everyone available and working together, they are a strong team and have shown in recent seasons that they can get results in the championship. If they get the right draw, they will definitely fancy their chances of reaching the quarter-finals.
It was a strange season for Ardara as they were mid-table in Division 2, and failed to make it out of the group stages of the championship, and yet they finished the campaign enthused about the future. They picked up two championship victories against Glenswilly and Burt, and were seconds away from a third against Bundoran before they received a sucker-punch late goal. In other groups, two wins would have put them through. Adrian Brennan is staying on for a third year as manager, and he will look to build on some of the momentum they created at the end of the year, while keeping Conor Classon and Brendan Boyle fit and keen will be crucial. The Pearse Memorial Park men will push for a return to Division 1 in the league, and while they will have only one home game in the Championship, they could still do well in that competition.
Milford have made a lot of progress in recent years, and have stayed up in Division 1 in both of the previous two seasons. However, they got a very rude awakening in their first year in the Senior Championship, and lost four games, before eventually scrapping past Burt. With Tony McNamee said to be on Finn Harps’ radar, they could lose a very important player. However, they have been boosted by the news that Danny O’Donnell will stay on for a fourth season in charge, while their Under 21 team won the ‘B’ Championship in November. Rory O’Donnell and Conor Coll will also bolster their squad now that they are of the required age. Retaining their Division 1 status will be an aim, but making an impression in the Donegal SFC is likely to be a bigger target in 2019.
Glenfin finished 2018 on a high and they will be looking to carry the momentum from that forward. Liam Breen has stepped away as manager, but the An Gaeltacht Lár men should be able to continue their progress. They reached the Under 21 ‘A’ Championship Final earlier this year, and that will offer plenty of encouragement. Young lads like Aaron McGlynn, David Carr, and Odhran McGlynn really impressed for that team and could be a real help to the seniors in 2019. With their talisman Frank McGlynn expected to line out for Donegal again in the forthcoming campaign, Glenfin may struggle in the league. However, they are a tough team, and most clubs will want to avoid them in the championship.
14) Four Masters
2018 was largely a struggle for Four Masters, but they somehow managed to stay up in Division 2 and reach the quarter-finals of the Donegal SFC. There was a considerable chunk of luck attached to both achievements, but they did manage to grind out wins. Their minor team did well in the league towards the end of the year so there may be a couple of players that can help the team in 2019. Kevin Lyons used 57 players at senior level last season which is a remarkable stat, and if they are to have any chance of doing better next season, they will need a more consistent team. The Donegal Town men will have two home games in the championship next year, but they will need the right draw if they are to make it through to the quarter-finals.
15) Aodh Ruadh
After a couple of years of progress, 2018 didn’t go to plan for Aodh Ruadh. They struggled to pick up points in Division 1 and were relegated, while the Ballyshannon men were beaten in the Intermediate Final. They had been scoring freely on their way to the decider, but couldn’t produce the goods when it really mattered and were well beaten by Glenfin. There is no doubt that they have some excellent players, and Shane Gillespe and Eoin Doherty could feature after playing for the county minors this year. James O’Donnell has stepped down, with Barry Ward and Philip O’Reilly now in place as joint-managers. Their aim will be to win promotion again and secure the Intermediate Championship.
Cloughaneely must wonder where it all went wrong this year.. They made an impressive start to the league in Division 1 and managed to draw with Naomh Conaill, before staying up comfortably. They should have been in the mix for the Intermediate Championship, but fell well short and failed to even make it out of the group stages which was a really poor return given the talent they possess. The Falcarragh club will have two home games in the Championship next season, and that should help them at least get through to the knock-out stages of the Intermediate. On paper, they will be one of the favourites to win the Cathal McLaughlin Cup, but they will have to peak at the right time in 2019 if they are to collect the silverware.
Malin will operate in Division 3 in 2019 and that is a blow to the Inishowen men who have made a lot of progress over the last decade. They played in two Championship semi-finals in the last five years, but realistically it’s hard to see them reaching that level again anytime soon. However, they will have two home games in the group stages, and will fancy their chances of making the last eight, as long as they don’t get a horror draw. Robert Farren has taken over from Terence Colhoun, and he will want to get his side out of the third tier as quickly as possible. Josh Conlon was a regular for the Donegal minor team in the forward line last year and he will be a welcome addition in 2019.
It’s hard to know where Dungloe are at presently. They were relegated without much of a fight in Division 1 of the league, and then were unfortunate to land a spot in the group of death in the championship. The Rosses men should be more competitive in Division 2 this season, but the loss of Ryan Greene to Australia does rob them of a potent attacker. The good news is that Adam Neely has returned to fitness, and they are sure to try and persuade Cory Gallagher to commit in 2019. Dungloe will do well to consolidate their senior status next season, but they could have more joy in the league if they can hit the ground running.
19) St Naul’s
St Naul’s made a great start to Division 2 in 2018, but couldn’t keep pace with the leaders once the summer hit. They have gone close in the Intermediate Championship in each of the last two seasons, but lost to Milford in the 2017 final, and then to Glenfin in the semi this year. The Mountcharles men had a good Under 21 team this season, and there will be players from that team who could step up, while Peadar Mogan and Brendan McCole are highly-rated players. They are a side that could push for promotion to Division 1, while the experience picked up during the last two years should help them push for the Intermediate title once again.
20) Naomh Columba
It was a bit of a mixed bag for Naomh Columba in 2018. They showed that they could compete with the big teams in the Gaeltacht, were well off the pace for promotion in Division 2, and then lost an Intermediate Championship semi-final to Aodh Ruadh when they gave away four poor goals. Glen won the 2017 Minor League title so they have young lads looking to break through. However, much will depend this season on how much Aaron Doherty plays. The talented youngster was asked up to the Donegal senior panel but declined in favour of linking up with Finn Harps’ Under 19 team. Naomh Columba could be a force in the Intermediate if he plays in the big matches, but they will struggle if he doesn’t.
Buncrana will start 2019 in Division 2 of the All-County League, and yet they will also play in the Junior Championship. Their relegation from Intermediate level was a crushing blow and their main target of the season will surely be to win the Junior crown, and move up again. They will start as clear favourites to do so, but couldn’t beat two Division 4 sides in the Intermediate Championship this season, so it’s far from a sure thing. Matthew Mulholland will be eligible to play and he has something that Buncrana needs, and that is pace as they have a lack of it in their team. 2019 could be a season that galvanises the whole Scarvey club, but they need to get tougher and produce the goods when it matters.
22) Naomh Brid
The Trummon men were devastated not to win promotion this year, and they were very, very unlucky. They made significant strides forward in 2018 and they will have to try and replicate that again this season. However, they will do so without Dougie Corbett who will not be manager next year. Injuries curtailed their hopes this season, and they will be hoping for better luck in that regard in 2019. In particular, getting Shane Walsh fit and back on the pitch again will be a necessity if they are to have success. There will be plenty of competition in Division 3 again in the next campaign, but Naomh Brid are very strong on home turf, and they should be in the mix for promotion once again.
23) Red Hugh’s
2018 will be a year that will live long in the memories of all those connected with the Red Hugh’s club and they finally landed a Donegal Championship for the first time in 37 years. They have since added an Ulster crown, and will go in search of a place in the All-Ireland Final in January. The men from the Cross have a few elder statesmen who may be tempted to hang up the boots when this run comes to a conclusion, but they can continue to make progress if they keep the side together, and Seosamh Mac Ceallbhuí stays on as manager. They weren’t a million miles away from winning promotion to Division 2 this year, and should be more than comfortable at Intermediate level in 2019, which is also their centenary year.
24) Gaeil Fhánada
Gaeil Fhánada made some real progress in 2017 when they reached the Intermediate semi-final, but they fell backwards last season and were well off the pace in both the league and the championship. The shining light of Fanad’s 2018 year was the success of their minor team who completed a ‘league and championship’ double. Some players from that team have already dipped their toes into senior football, while Darren McElwaine and Jonathan Gallagher could step up next year. That might give them some fresh impetus, while they will also hope to get more from Seami ‘Nanny’ Friel and Brian McVeigh, who were out for long periods with injury last year. If that duo can regain their best form, Fanad should challenge for promotion to Division 2.
Downings had a 2018 to remember as they hosted the Comortás Peile na Gaeltachta and won the All-Ireland Junior title on home turf. They also managed to win promotion to Division 3 and stay in the Intermediate Championship, so it was a good season all round. However, the problem they have is that in recent times, every time they have had a good season, it has generally been followed by a terrible one. They need to be more consistent and with firepower like Lorcan Connor and Keelan McGroddy, they could do well in the third tier in 2019. Downings will get an influx of promising young players coming through in the next few years, so they will be keen to stop yo-yoing up and down between Division 3 and Division 4.
26) Naomh Colmcille
Ryan McKinley’s departure as Naomh Colmcille manager is a blow, as the club made huge progress during his reign in charge. However, he has left them in a good place as they have returned to their Division 3 status and are back in the Intermediate Championship. They had to play a large chunk of last year without Daniel Clarke and Michael Lynch who travelled to America during the summer. That influential duo were a big loss, and they will be hoping that they stay around this year, while they will also need Ryan McErlean firing on all cylinders. Naomh Colmcille do have some useful young lads waiting in the wings, and it will be interesting to see if they can provide them with an extra dimension next season.
27) Naomh Muire
Things didn’t go to plan for Naomh Muire in 2018 and they were relegated from Division 2 without picking up a single victory. The Lower Rosses men fared better in the group stages of the Intermediate Championship, and were within touching distance of reaching the semi-finals, and that showed what they can do when they get their best players out on the field. They performed well in 2017 when they were in Division 3 and won promotion, but that is going to be a tougher task in 2019. If everyone is pushing in the one direction, then they should be in the mix for promotion, while they will only have one home fixture in the group stages of the Intermediate Championship which will also test them.
28) Naomh Ultan
Naomh Ultan’s 2018 season offered a lot but in the end, injuries eventually took their toll. Key forward Alan Lyons in particular was a huge loss when he ruptured his cruciate, while Daniel Gallagher recently dislocated his shoulder. The Dunkineely men caused a stir by going so close to winning promotion, after struggling towards the lower echelons of the third tier in previous seasons. With Lyons facing a long spell on the sidelines, Naomh Ultan will need the likes of Cian Kennedy and Dara Murrin to step up, but it’s difficult to see them having the firepower to go close in the league. In saying that, no team will get anything easy in Dunkineely where they are notoriously so difficult to beat.
29) St Mary’s Convoy
Convoy made some strides forward this year, as they retained their Division 3 status, and were unlucky not to qualify for the Junior Championship Final when they were left to rue the concession of a couple of soft goals. Paddy Dolan is currently involved with the Donegal senior set-up and he is going to be an important player for St Mary’s going forward. They had a good Under 16 team this year, so there is talent coming though in the next few years, and they will want to make sure they stay in the third tier. After reaching the semi-final of the championship in the last two years, they may also feel that they can make a push for the Junior title in 2019.
After a couple of brilliant seasons, Burt’s fortunes took a considerable dip in 2018. They weren’t helped by the loss of Paul McHugh and Mark Coyle, while key players such as Conor Harkin and Christopher McDermott were living away. The Hibernian Park side just about did enough to stay in Division 3, but they were out of their depth in the Senior Championship, and it was no great surprise when they were relegated. Manus Mac Gabhann has stepped away as manager, and while they were huge underdogs when they won the Intermediate title in 2016, it’s difficult to see a repeat of that in 2019.
Urris didn’t win promotion or claim championship glory this year, but they did lay solid foundations for next season. They put in a strong showing in Division 4 to finish third, and were probably unlucky that there were two very strong teams in that league in 2018. It shouldn’t be as competitive next year, so Urris will be in with a good chance of going up, as long as there are no lingering scars from their county final capitulation to Red Hugh’s back in October. The Straid side certainly didn’t do themselves justice on that occasion, and they will be carrying a lot of hurt into the 2019 Junior Championship.
32) Letterkenny Gaels
Letterkenny Gaels could point to a number of injuries during the league last season, but still, to only finish fourth in Division 4 was a poor return for their talent. They did fare better in the championship, but will be kicking themselves that they didn’t kill off Red Hugh’s in the semi-final when they were on the ropes. The Pairc na nGael side have been in the mix for the Junior Championship, and have lost to the eventual champions in the semi-final in each of the last three seasons. The Gaels need to push on, and they will be encouraged by the performances of their minor team this year, with the likes of Ronan Frain and Ciaran Kilfeather capable of stepping up to the senior team in 2019. The Letterkenny men really should be targeting league and championship success next year.
Moville were relegated to Division 4 relatively tamely in 2018, and they struggled when they were forced to play games without Donegal panellist Tony McClenaghan. It could be even tougher next season with Ciaran Diver on the county squad, and they haven’t got the numbers to add strength-in-depth. The Carrick Field outfit were only beaten by two points in the Junior quarter-final by Red Hugh’s, so they aren’t that far away, and have been knocking on the door for a few seasons now. They do have quality players, and if they can get everyone to commit, they should be in the reckoning for the Junior crown in 2019.
34) Naomh Pádraig, Muff
Naomh Pádraig, Muff were beaten by a point by Downings in the 2016 Junior Final, but have dropped back since then. This year was particularly underwhelming as they finished second bottom in Division 4 with only three wins, while they also lost to Pettigo by four points which was a shocking result for the Ture club. They did manage to make it out of their group in the Junior Championship, before losing to Urris at the quarter-final stage. It’s not all doom and gloom as they are doing a lot of good work and are dominating underage football in Inishowen, while their minor team reached the Division 1 county final this season. Jonny Toye will be a big help to their chances in 2019, but it will probably be a couple of seasons before they really push on.
Given the size of their town, Carndonagh really should be doing better than they have done in recent times. They have lost some key players due to a variety of reasons, and they finished in fifth position in Division 4 in 2018, while also failing to make it out of their group in the Junior ‘A’ Championship. Their great white hope is the highly-rated Connor O’Donnell, who has starred for the Donegal minor and Under 20 teams in recent years. However, he has only just turned 19 and he can’t do it all himself. Anthony ‘Bushman’ Doherty played for the county minors last year as well, and he should make his mark in 2019, but it’s unlikely that Carn will be pushing for promotion to Division 3.
36) Na Rossa
It’s very worrying times for Na Rossa and they are currently holding meetings to see if their club will survive for another season. They are really struggling for numbers and their senior team failed to field in a number of games in Division 3 last season, when they were severely out of their depth. It is hoped that their seniors can continue as they do have some excellent young players like John McDyre, Odhran Molloy, Christian Bonner and Aidan McHugh, and they showed what they could do when they get a strong side out when they beat Urris in the Championship earlier this season. Na Rossa would certainly be more competitive in the fourth tier. However, just getting 15 players out in their white and black strip is a task in itself at the moment.
37) Robert Emmets
After a very disappointing 2017 campaign, Robert Emmets did show some signs of improvement this season. They trained hard from the start of the year and managed to pick up four victories and a draw in Division 4. Unfortunately, they were well out of their depth in the Junior ‘A’ Championship and shipped some heavy defeats. Castlefin Celtic’s success on the soccer field in recent years has probably had a knock-on effect for GAA in the town, but they have been working hard at underage level, and will be hoping to see the fruits of that labour in the coming seasons. Rory Dalton was part of the Donegal minor panel in 2018, and he should be a big help to the senior team next season as they aim to make more progress.
Pettigo had a memorable 2018 as they picked up their first championship title in 65 years when they got the better of Red Hugh’s in the Junior ‘B’ Final. They also made some solid progress in Division 4 as they picked up a win and two draws during the season. It’s not easy to keep gaelic games going in areas like Pettigo, but they put in a big push this season and had no great difficulty in getting players out. They did have a realistic goal of winning a championship, so it will be possibly tougher next season now that that ambition has been scored off the list.
39) Naomh Pádraig, Lifford.
Naomh Pádraig, Lifford contested the Donegal Junior Championship Final in 2011, but their stock has fallen considerably since that. After a couple of years struggling in the fourth tier, they took the unprecedented step of dropping to Division 5 in 2018. Things didn’t get much better there as they only picked up one draw from a total of nine games, and shipped a few heavy defeats against third teams from some of the bigger clubs. That is a remarkable drop in standard in the space of seven years, and there surely has to be more quality in Lifford than what they are currently producing. It’s a long way back, but they will need to try and make some positive strides forward in 2019.