Naomh Muire and St Naul’s are on the trail of the Cathal McLaughlin Cup this Sunday when they lock horns in O’Donnell Park.
The Cathal McLaughlin Cup, is the trophy for the winners of the Donegal Intermediate Football Championship. The game was originally fixed for two weeks ago, but was postponed due to the tragic death of Naomh Muire minor footballer Conor Boyle.
For Naomh Muire, they are chasing a third Intermediate crown having won in 1994 and again in 1998. Ironically, that first success in ‘94 was against Sunday’s opponents St. Naul’s.
St Naul’s have savoured Intermediate success just once. That was two years ago, in 2011, and came after six failed final attempts.
Manager Brian McCabe, who was also calling the shots in 2011, is once again at the helm and has the bulk of that day’s winning side available to him again for Sunday’s showdown.
“Like most clubs we have lost players and we have lost a number of big players but we still have the bulk of the 2011 team still available. We lost Danny McDyre and Conal McGinley to emigration and Gavin Maguire to a broken leg, three big players for us. But other than those lads all the rest are still in the squad,” explained the St Naul’s boss.
“But we also have got a number of players back that missed out two years ago through injury. Paul McGroarty and Andrew Gallagher are back and fully fit again and Enda Lynch, from Dublin, has joined us.
“Barry Griffin and John Rose, who were only minors three years ago, have really matured and are having a very good season. Barry Griffin is playing the football of his life and the good thing about Barry is that he is so versatile that he can play in a number of positions.
St Naul’s recovered from an opening day fright when they were held to a draw at home by Carndonagh, in the preliminary round to make it all the way to Sunday’s decider.
They went to Carndonagh and won the second leg by the minimum. But since that it has been plain enough sailing for McCabe’s men. They had 12 and 16 points wins over Naomh Padraig, of Lifford, in the first round proper and had eight points to spare at the end of their semi-final meeting with Naomh Columba in Towney.
An eight point home defeat to Fanad Gaels, the newly crowned All-Ireland Junior Gaeltacht champions without Paddy McConigley wasn’t the start that Danny O’Donnell and Naomh Muire were hoping for either.
“We had a right good look at ourselves after that game; management and players. We really took stock after that first day against Fanad and we asked some serious questions of ourselves. At that meeting on the Tuesday night after the game, we made a commitment that we were going to turn things around and thankfully we did the second day down in Fanad and then we won the play-off,”said Danny O’Donnell.
“After the play-off win we knew we were back on track and we overcame a good Aodh Ruadh side, last year’s beaten finalists, in the semi-final.
“We are in the final and it was always our goal at the start of the year to give the championship a right good go. For the last few seasons our main concentration was on maintaining our position in Division Two, and we took our eye off the ball when it came to the championship.”
While it is 15 years since Naomh Muire last won the Intermediate championship, they did enjoy Junior Championship success in 2007.
Owenie McGarvey, who is bidding for a third Intermediate medal on Sunday, Brian Gillespie, Sean ‘Point’ Gallagher and Ciaran McGinley are the only survivors from 2007. The rest are a crop of young players that have come up through underage in recent years.
McGarvey, Gallagher, Gillespie and McGinley are all key members of the current side, but new kids on the block Aidy O’Gara, Paul ‘the Yank’ Boyle, Owen Grant, Harry Harden, Hugh ‘the Yank’ Boyle and Sean ‘the Yank’ Boyle now man the key positions for the Lower Rosses outfit.
Both sides warmed up for Sunday’s final with impressive league wins last weekend. St Naul’s proved way too hot for Fanad Gaels, to clinch the Division Three League title and promotion to Division Two.
Naomh Muire put last year’s Intermediate champions Termon to the sword with five points to spare in their Division Two League meeting at the Burn Road.
Naomh Muire won that game without their regular midfield pairing of Owenie McGarvey and Paul ’the Yank’ Boyle, both injured and both reported to be in a race against the clock to be fit for Sunday.
“Owenie and Paul are doubtful and we won’t know until later in the week if they will be fit to play. Paul is recovering from a hamstring injury suffered the week after the semi-final and Owenie suffered a knee injury in training last Thursday night.
“They are two important players in our set-up and we are hoping they will be fit but the way it is we won’t know until the weekend. We are going to give them every chance before we make a final decision,”insisted Danny O’Donnell speaking on Tuesday evening.
St. Naul’s have no injury worries and Brian McCabe has reported a clean bill of health. In what is a Division Two versus Division Three clash Naomh Muire, by virtue of their higher league standing, enter the tie as favourites.
But St. Naul’s, who are looking forward to Division Two football next season, will be no pushover. And with Stephen Griffin, their marquee forward, playing as good as ever and running up big tallies every day he goes out, St Naul’s are in with a great chance of claiming that second Intermediate title. It could be so close that it may even take a second day to separate what are two pretty evenly matched sides.
Verdict: Naomh Muire