Every so often you get a result that surprises everyone. Last Saturday night very few outside of Malin would have given them any chance of putting St. Eunan’s out of the championship.
In fact if Malin took any notice of the odds the bookies were giving or what the so-called experts were predicting you could have forgiven the Malin players for going into the game with some sort of inferior complex.
Was it such a big surprise? It’s only after a few days when you have time to reflect on any game and take stock of what improvement have been made by Malin in the last few years, that you get a true picture. They have cemented their position in Division One this year; could have counted themselves unlucky to go out of the senior championship last year against a very good Kilcar team and in this year’s group stage were too good for Glenties, many people’s favourites to win this year’s championship, so it would be fair to say they were showing a bit of form. They have been steady in the league and when I saw them play Killybegs a number of months ago in Fintra, they looked extremely fit and very well tuned in to how they wanted to play the game.
They have always had a number of players that could have played for Donegal but they never quite made the breakthrough. We all know about Declan Walsh, who has been excellent any time that Jim McGuinness needed to call on him but the likes of Charlie Byrne, Anthony Kelly and Matthew Byrne would not be out of place in any team.
If they had maybe scraped over the line against Eunan’s people might have said it was a bit lucky or they got the breaks on the day but their win was comprehensive and there was no luck involved. They did their homework on the reigning county champions; were physically strong enough to stand up to them; got their tactics spot on and when the chances came they took them.
I have no doubt that this will give all in Malin a huge lift but they will no longer go into games where there will be no expectation on them to win. Along with Glenswilly they will now be one of the favourites for the Dr. Maguire.
There’s a bit of irony in the fact that both Malin and Glenswilly went into their respective quarter-finals as underdogs but are now joint favourites to win the championship. Like Malin, Glenswilly were not expected to have enough for Kilcar who have been excellent in Division One this year, in fact second only to St. Eunan’s. But any team that boosts the likes of Michael Murphy, Neil Gallagher , Colin Kelly, Ciaran Bonner , Gary McFadden and won their first championship in 2011 could not become a bad team overnight.
They have strolled through Division Two this year like a team on a mission determined to get back to the top tier. They have played many of those games without their three county players which has probably been to their advantage as many of the young lads that they introduced have come on with those games.
It would have to be said that last Sunday’s game was played in terrible conditions which would have counted for the low scoring. You could have expected the match to be dominated by the county players but it was Colin Kelly and Ciaran Bonner that gave Glenswilly that extra push when they needed it most,.
Kilcar did a great job in keeping Murphy very quiet in the same way the Glenswilly defence kept Patrick McBrearty scoreless from play. If Glenswilly can keep their feet on the ground, for me they are the team to beat. They have the experience of a couple of years ago that will help them cope with the pressure of being in the semi-finals where they will take on Ardara, who against all the odds overcame a much fancied Gweedore side who many believed might have been the dark horses this year. Ardara have had their fair share of injuries this year and their form in the league has been a real Jekyll and Hyde sort of story but they always have that belief that when it comes to the championship they always have a chance.
Ardara, without Paddy McGrath, looked to the younger lads to come good and while the game was in the melting pot until the last five minutes they were able to bring on both Stephen McHugh and Brendan Boyle who were able to guide them over the line. They will relish the chance of playing Glenswilly; they will go in with nothing to lose and if they can get the likes of Brendan Boyle close to full fitness they will run the Glenswilly men very close.
Killybegs make up the last of the semi-finalists. They overcame a well drilled MacCumhaill’s side who didn’t give up until Martin Coll blew the final whistle. Killybegs have struggled badly in the league this year but when the championship has come around they have always been able to show the spirit required to make that difference.
The introduction of Hugh McFadden in the last few games has made a huge difference and on the edge of the square last Saturday night Mac Cumhaill’s had no answer. To be fair to MacCumhaill’s they never gave up and not until Eoin Gallagher, who was excellent, put Killybegs ahead by four could you say it was over. Killybegs will have to raise their game another notch or two if they are to make the last two but with the likes of Brendan Boyle, Jason Noctor, Davy Conwell and McFadden, Malin would be wise not to take them for granted.