by Tom Comack
St. Eunan’s return to domestic action this Sunday when they play Naomh Conaill in the All-County Football League Division 1A final in Sean MacCumhaill Park. (Throw in 2 pm)
And having written their own piece of club history last month when they won back-to-back championship crowns for the first time, the team of 2008 are also chasing a league and championship double for the second year in-a-row.
Standing between them and a club record are a young and in-form Naomh Conaill side. Naomh Conaill are a side that seem to be hitting the high notes just at the right time after what can only be described as a slow start to the year and a disastrous championship run that saw them lose heavily to Four Masters in the quarter final.
“It took us a while to settle at the start of the year. We had a lot of injuries and were forced to play a number of young lads. I think we won something like one in our first seven games,”said Hughie Molloy, the Naomh Conaill manager.
“Things did not get much better for the championship either. We beat Cloughaneely after a play-off and lost Leo McLoone to injury before going down to Donegal Town. We played poorly in that game and lost. We were very disappointed with our performance and that defeat really hurt.
“I suppose looking back, our season turned around after going out of the championship and have been on a bit of a run ever since and we have shown good form and played well in recent games. We played well against Ardara in the first play-off game two weeks ago against Ardara, and followed that with good displays against Four Masters and Dungloe in the last two weeks.
“We showed good character and dug deep against both Four Masters and Dungloe after they came back at us and I am very happy with our form going into Sunday’s game.
“We know we are up against it. St. Eunan’s are a very good side. Sunday’s is a big test for us and one thing’s for sure when it is over we are going to find out how much we have improved and where we are at. All we are hoping for is that we perform and to beat St. Eunan’s would be a big bonus.”
The sides have met twice so far this campaign with St. Eunan's winning on both occasions. Eamonn O’Boyle’s charges won their first encounter very comfortably in O’Donnell Park, 3-12 to 0-6, but were happy to escape with a two point - 0-13 to 1-8 - margin a number of weeks later in Davy Brennan Memorial Park.
While Naomh Conaill have been clocking up the points and the winning formula in recent weeks on home soil defending champions St. Eunan’s were on Ulster club duty.
And following last Sunday week’s last four defeat by Crossmaglen, they had a week away from training before they returned on Tuesday night, and set their sights on a clean sweep for the second year in-a-row.
“We are definitely out to complete the double and besides I feel after losing to Crossmaglen it would be important from a psychological point of view to finish the season on a winning note,” Eamonn O’Boyle said.
“But we are taking nothing for granted. Naomh Conaill have been going well and are on something of run. They have a lot of good young players and we are expecting a very stiff challenge,” insisted O’Boyle.
The Eunan’s boss has every right not to take Sunday’s opponents for granted. Naomh Conaill have a very good record against Eunan’s in county finals. When they won their first ever senior trophy they defeated Eunan’s in the decider. That was the 2002 league final.
And again when the Dr. Maguire Cup was captured for the first time by Naomh Conaill – in 2005 – St. Eunan’s were the vanquished.
Hugh Molloy will have John McKenna, Johnny Bonner, John Timoney, Eoin Waide, Anthony Thompson, Brendan McDyre, Leon Thompson, Marty Boyle, Johnny McLoone, Martin Regan and Leo McLoone – all who featured in 2005 available to him on Sunday.
St. Eunan’s, too, have a good few survivors from three years ago – Eddie Brennan, Kieran Ryan, Kevin Rafferty, John Haran, Brian McDermott, Conall Dunne, Rory Kavanagh, Damian McClafferty, Kevin Winston, Ciaran Sharkey, Ciaran Greene all played at some stage in that championship campaign.
The champions are definitely without top forwards Brendan Devenney and David McGinley. Skipper Devenney is still recovering from the rib injury picked up against Clonoe in the first round of the Ulster championship, while McGinley is at college in Wales and is not returning home for the game.
Naomh Conaill have their injury troubles, too, with Thomas Donoghue and Dominic Bonner, who missed last week’s semi-final against Dungloe, are struggling to be ready in time for this weekend.
Bonner injured his ankle in training on Wednesday night week last with Donoghue struggling to shake off a long term back injury.
The champions will, no doubt, enter the game as favourities and deservedly so to take an eleventh league crown, but Naomh Conaill have been showing enough form in recent weeks to suggest they will make a right good go at it. This and their good record against St. Eunan's could lead to an interesting and close battle in MacCumhaill Park.
Verdict: St. Eunan's.