By Frank Craig
Amy Boyle-Carr says a revamped group stage All-Ireland SFC doesn’t disguise the fact that Donegal’s entire season rests on how their fare first day out against Dublin.
The Dubs are aiming for a fourth title in a row. It’s the most difficult start imaginable for Maxi Curran’s girls. The provincial titles have been binned because of the Covid-19 pandemic and a streamlined All-Ireland in now in place.
The competition is split into four groups of three with the top side in each section advancing to the semi-finals. So it’s very much a group setting in name only.
Because as Boyle-Carr explains, if Donegal don’t upset Dublin in Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday, October 31, their remaining outing against Waterford will be a dead rubber.
“Exactly,” the Naomh Conaill club woman agreed. “It’s a huge task against Dublin but there is huge incentive and huge reward up for grabs as well.
“It’s pretty much knock out football. We understand what’s on the line in Cavan. We need to win all our games. It’s a group, but it’s a group of three. We simply can’t afford any slip ups. Dublin, they are the champions. We know what they’re about.
“We haven’t had any competitive games in the lead in. We have to be at it right away. But if we could get over that the line the possibilities would be huge.
“The momentum you’d take would be massive. That’s the aim and that’s what we’re doing our best to prepare for.”
Boyle-Carr at just 19, will no doubt be one of the focal points of the Donegal ladies side for at least the next decade. But she’s acutely aware that an influential crop of the team’s real big hitters are nearing the end of the line.
The talent within their group is unquestionable. It has been for quite a while now. But the window to make that ultimate breakthrough, for so many in the Tir Chonaill set-up, continues to narrow.
“I look around and I see so much ability and so much effort going in. To land an All-Ireland title is the goal. It would be massive. In 2018 we had set our stall out. We had such a strong team.
“It just came unstuck in the semi-final (against Cork). I feel the squad we have this year is stronger. We’ve had a lot of the girls come back in. We are in a position to be competitive and give it a real rattle.”
One of the reasons that Boyle-Carr feels the depth of options available to Donegal is greater is because they had to soldier on last term and for the beginning of this one without so many regulars.
But the stars have aligned once again for Maxi Curran and all his so-called trump cards are back on home soil.
She explained: “Girls were thrown in at the deep end last year and even this year in the league so valuable experience that they might not have got is there now. That’s a negative that turned into a positive. Our squad is a lot different now to what we started out the league with.
“We had a very encouraging result against Cork in our last league game in Ballyshannon back in March. Things were really positive and we felt we were on the right path.
“But it was just disappointing that everything stopped when it did as we were moving in the right direction. It seems like a lifetime ago now, from then to where we are now.
“But listen, all that still guarantees nothing. We have to go out and prove our worth. Every side is going to need that wee bit of luck. It’s not a long season. Injuries and avoiding them will play a part.”
Boyle-Carr is a third year Health Science and Physiology student at Sligo IT. She’s been involved in Republic of Ireland International squads in the past. And she says what Donegal currently have in place, on the sideline and behind the scenes, rivals any of what she’s previously experienced with the national soccer side.
“Definitely – I doubt there are many ladies teams in the country treated as well as we are. I have only been involved since Maxi came in. But speaking to the other girls, the amount he’s changed since he’s come in regarding the gym and the small details, it’s come on leaps and bounds.”
The Glenties girl continues to attempt to juggle her studies and her busy sporting schedule. It’s hectic, but it always has been and for as long as she can remember.
But she admits that she is grateful for the continued distraction as we all attempt to fend off the threat of the Covid pandemic.
“Of course. If I didn’t have sport to get stuck into at the moment besides college work there wouldn’t be that much to look forward to.
“It makes such a difference. All the way through lockdown it was about staying fit and keeping up to speed. I was grateful for it and, at the same time, hoping there was an end goal or reason.
“We just weren’t sure. The way things have maybe slipped in recent weeks we’re still not sure. But it seems like both the GAA and LGFA are doing everything they can to make sure their seasons go ahead.
“As a player, you just have to get on with it and again, it’s great for us as we can continue to get stuck in.”