It’s last four time in the Donegal Senior Championship and Ardara and Glenswilly are first into action on Saturday night.
They go head to head in Sean MacCumhaill Park (7.30) in what is a novel enough championship pairing. The clubs have only met twice before in the senior championship.
That was in 2009, in the first round and Ardara won both the home and away leg. It may have been only four seasons ago, but back then Ardara were the team with the better championship pedigree.
However, the Donegal football landscape has changed in the last few seasons. Glenswilly have since contested a semi-final (2010, they lost to Naomh Conaill) and also won the championship, for the one and only time in the club’s short history, one year later in 2011.
Of the two, Glenswilly have had the most arduous journey to the last four. First of all they emerged from a very competitive Group Four which contained other championship favourites Kilcar and St. Michael’s. Bundoran made up the other team in the group.
And then they followed that up with a narrow quarter-final win over Kilcar, who had beaten them in Towney in the first round of group games.
“It has been a strange championship. At the start of the year we were one of the outsiders and not many people gave us much hope of coming out of the group, never mind reaching the semi-final,” said Glenswilly manager, Gary McDaid
But given their route to the semi-final and given that big guns St. Eunan’s have also bitten the dust, Glenswilly are now not only facing into a semi-final as favourites, they are the hotly fancied for the championship.
But McDaid, who was joint manager with John McGinley in 2011, is taking little notice of the favourites’ tag. And he also insists it is something that it is not bothering his players either.
“Our only focus this week is on getting our game plan right for Ardara and making sure we implement it to the best of our ability on Saturday night. Talk about favourites and all that chat is for others; our only concern is about getting everything right for 7.30 on Saturday night and getting everybody fit and well ready for the game.”
All-Star midfielder Neil Gallagher, Colin Kelly and Leon Kelly missed last Sunday’s 1-13 each draw with Glenfin, through injury.
And to add to McDaid’s woes Ciaran Bonner, Ryan Hunter and James Pat McDaid all picked up knocks in Sunday’s game and have joined their teammates on the treatment table this week.
While the decision to rest Neil Gallagher, Colin and Leon Kelly against Glenfin was precautionary, Ciaran Bonner (dead leg) and James Pat McDaid (knee) are genuine concerns.
Ardara, as they were for their quarter-final win over Gaoth Dobhair, are without their county ace Paddy McGrath. McGrath underwent groin surgery three weeks ago and is out for the rest of the season.
Matthew Maher, another experienced player, is also a non-runner on Saturday night; also sidelined with a long term groin injury.
But on the good news front, Ardara manager Adrian Brennan has reported a fully fit Brendan Boyle. Boyle was sprung from the bench to clinch the deal in the 0-10 to 0-5 win over Gaoth Dobhair last time out.
“Brendan is going well. He played the full game against Malin on Sunday and came through with flying colours and is fully fit to start,” Brennan told the Democrat.
“A fit Brendan, especially with Paddy McGrath missing, is a big bonus for us. He has worked really hard to get back to fitness and he relishes games like Saturday night and playing in the championship.”
However, Stephen ‘Red’ McHugh, who was also introduced late on against Gaoth Dobhair, is still struggling with a back injury. McHugh will more than likely be restricted to a late walk on part once again this weekend.
Saturday night’s semi-final is Ardara’s first in seven years, which means the bulk of the team are playing in the last four of the championship for the very first time.
Declan Gallagher, Kenneth Doherty and Gareth Concarr, from the team that started the last day, along with Brendan Boyle, Stephen Red and Kevin Byrne, who were introduced in that game, are the only Ardara survivors from 2006 semi-final.
“Saturday night is going to be a whole new experience for nine or ten of the boys, which I suppose illustrates the transition we have undergone over the last few years.
“But all of the lads have a good bit of championship experience at underage level and they are looking forward to the challenge of Glenswilly, who were champions just two years ago.
“We are the underdogs. But if you aspire to win a championship as we do, you’ve got to believe that you are capable of winning. We are going to Ballybofey believing we can beat Glenswilly and we are going up to give it one right good bash.”
Ardara are the Division One team and Glenswilly are operating in Division Two all year, though they look odds on to return to the top flight once again for next year.
Despite being in the lower tier Glenswilly with All-Stars Michael Murphy and Neil Gallagher along with Ciaran Bonner, Gary McFadden and Colin Kelly backboning their challenge, carry the favourites’ mantle into Saturday night’s showdown.
And while Ardara’s running game, if they get it going, could trouble Glenswilly, the 2011 champions look to have a better balance to their formation.