Donegal champions Glenswilly begin their quest for Ulster glory this Sunday when they face Antrim champions, St. Gall’s, in Ballybofey.
The game is a quarter-final tie in the AIB Ulster Club Senior Championship and is the newly crowned Donegal champions, Glenswilly’s second foray in the championship and a clash with the big boys.
And with the exception of Crossmaglen Rangers, they don’t come much bigger when it comes to the Ulster championship than St Gall’s. They won their seventh Antrim championship in-a-row at the beginning of the month and a 12th in the last 13 years. They have dominated the Antrim championship since 2001, winning every year with the exception of 2006.
In that time, they also claimed two Ulsters, in 2005 and 2006, and one All-Ireland in 2010. They were also All-Ireland runners-up in 2006.
“We are really looking forward to the game and pitting ourselves against one of the leading teams in the province over the last decade,” said Glenswilly boss, Gary McDaid.
“It is something that few in the club and Donegal could have imagined ten years ago. Glenswilly playing St Gall’s of Antrim, in the Ulster Club championship. They have won a couple of Ulsters and were All-Ireland champions just three years ago, and they still have the most of that team playing and will face us on Sunday.”
Seven of the St Gall’s starting 15 that defeated Killmurray Ibrickane from Clare in the 2010 All-Ireland victory started in this season’s 0-12 to 0-11 Antrim final victory over Cargin.
Two more from the 2010 line-up, Sean Burke and Kieran McGourty, were suspended for the Antrim decider while a third Kevin McGourty was used from the bench in the county final.
McGourty missed the final after picking up a red card in the All-Ireland Club Sevens defeat to Corofin from Galway, while Burke was serving a suspension from an earlier game in the championship, but both are back in the frame for this weekend’s trip to Ballybofey.
Former Donegal senior mentor and new U-21 assistant manager, Rory Gallagher and his cousin Ronan Gallagher were also on that 2010 St Gall’s team.
“They are a serious team with quite a few of the Antrim senior team in their line-up. Players like Kevin McNiblock, C J McGourty, Karl Stewart and Michael Pollock, Aoghan Gallagher, Terry O’Neill all have intercounty experience as well as a wealth of experience playing the club.
“Niblock, McGourty, Stewart and Pollock all play in the forwards which gives you an idea of the challenge we are facing. But it is a challenge we are looking forward to.
“The last time we played in Ulster (2011) we beat Cavan Gaels in the preliminary round in Cavan. Michael Murphy scored a late penalty to win it for us. We then played Latton from Monaghan, in the quarter-final in Ballybofey.
“We were terrible that day and it was one of our worst performances that year. We never really going at all that day and still they only beat us by a point. If we played anything like we can do that day God knows what might have happened.”
The Glenswilly boss, who admitted to using all his contacts from his student days in St Mary’s, Belfast, to pick up as much information as possible on Sunday’s opponents, insists that Glenswilly are a more mature and are in a better placed to give the Ulster championship a real good go.
“In 2011 it was all new to us and we were after winning Donegal for the first time and the Ulster championship was way beyond our goal and ambition. But that has changed. We are a couple of years older and wiser and the lads are a good bit more mature too.
“We regrouped last Wednesday night after the county final and had a meeting and recovery session and began to focus on St Galls. We trained on Friday night and had a game on Sunday in the league and were presented with the Division Two League trophy and we are training again tonight (Tuesday) and on Thursday night and the total focus is on MacCumhaill Park on Sunday and St Gall’s.
“They are a big team and big challenge and they will come to Ballybofey with their sights set on bigger fish than Glenswilly. But we will be ready for them and we aim to make up for the disappointment of our performance and the result against Latton, from two years ago.”
Leon Kelly, hamstring, and Ryan Hunter, knee, who both missed the county final win over Killybegs, are still on the treatment table and are unlikely to feature on Sunday.
While a number of others are carrying knocks and one or two are complaining of having the ‘flu with Michael Murphy back from International Rules duty, McDaid expects to have his county final day squad fully fit and available to him.