THE Donegal Masters team has been a resounding success in recent years, and there is such interest this year that the management team have decided to run a regional competition to help pick a panel.
Donegal re-entered a Masters team in 2016 and won the Shield competition in their first year.
They continued to make strides after that and were beaten by Dublin in a semi-final replay two years later.
However, they exacted revenge on the Dubs in 2019 when they defeated them by two points in the All-Ireland Final.
There was no competition last year due to Covid, but the championship is taking place again this season.
Donegal had hoped to enter two teams this year but that was not permitted by the authorities.
That isn’t ideal given their big numbers and team manager Liam Breen says they will run a novel tournament at the Donegal Training Centre in Convoy to try and select their best panel.
“We have had great interest this year with over 100 players showing an interest in playing,” said Glenfin clubman, Breen.
“That’s great going but unfortunately we can only play one team in the competition.
“We were hoping to be able to include two teams but we have not been allowed to.
“That’s a real pity because we are going to have to cut down 100 players into one squad and that won’t be easy.
“So we are looking at running a regional competition to try and select a panel.
“It should be good craic and I’m sure all the boys will enjoy playing against each other like they did for many years.
“But there is a serious side to it as well because we are the defending champions and we would like to put in a big push for the All-Ireland.”
There will be four different teams, and they will all play each other twice.
There are games pencilled in for Friday nights on July 9, 16, and 23, before a short break takes place.
They will then return on Wednesdays, with matches set to be played on August 4, 11, and 18, with a finals night set for August 25.
There should be plenty of good football played and Breen says new players are most welcome.
“We are splitting the county into four areas.
“You have South Donegal which will be Bundoran to Donegal Town including St Naul’s and they will be managed by Val and Aidan Murray.
“Then you have the South West Donegal team which takes you from Kilcar over to the Crolly Bridge, and the McShane brothers – David and Michael will call the shots there.
“There’s a North West team from Gaoth Dobhair down to Fanad, and including Letterkenny, Glenswilly and Glenfin. Sean McIntyre and Johnny McGinty will manage that team.
“The North East team takes in Inishowen and Convoy, Red Hugh’s and MacCumhaill’s. Malachy McCann will take charge of that side.
“The two games will be going on side-by-side and myself and Michael O’Connor will be standing in the middle watching.
“So we will have nine men keeping a good eye and by the end of the seven weeks, I’d hope to have a clear idea of our best squad.
“If anyone thinks they would enjoy the craic or would like to get a run out, get in touch with myself or anyone involved with the masters.
“The more numbers we have the better because boys have different commitments between family and work and club sides.”
By the end of August, Breen hopes that his men will be fit and match-sharp for what will be another highly competitive Masters Championship.
“The Championship will be starting in September. There is due to be a zoom meeting this week and we should get more details then.
“There will be 19 counties included this year which is great and it’s steadily growing all the time.
“The standard is very good and there will be a lot of teams who will fancy their chances of doing well this year.”
The likes of Barry Monaghan, Johnny McCafferty, Charlie Bonner, Brian McLaughlin and Sean McDaid, who were so pivotal two years ago are all back on board again.
There has also been plenty of interest from players who turned 40 this year and last.
Breen said: “I think everyone who was involved two years ago has shown an interest in playing again this year.
“Packie McGrath was our joint-captain back then and he put up a message after the final with Dublin thanking the boys for a great season and he said that was him done.
“He didn’t sign up at the start of this year, but then I rang him and he says he’s mad to go again.
“You have Charlie Doherty from Naomh Muire who I think is 53 but he’s still going as strong as ever.
“These boys love playing football and they should keep doing it for as long as they can.
“We have a few new lads who are eligible this year and they will be pushing hard for places as well.”
It can cost over €10,000 to run a Masters team if they go all the way to the All-Ireland Final, and Breen said he can be contacted on 0877518068 if anyone can support them in any way.
“It is expensive to run the team, and it is even more costly if you go on a good run.
“The players have to pay €50 themselves to cover their own insurance.
“We have been very lucky down through the years to get great sponsorship from the Warehouse.
“If anyone is in a position to help us it would be great for the team. Even if it is just giving us a few footballs. Everything is appreciated.”