After winning the Ulster Minor League, the expectations that this year’s Donegal minors can bring championship success has increased.
Declan Bonner takes his minor side to Celtic Park on Sunday and all of Donegal will be hoping that they can get the day off to a good start (throw-in 12.15 p.m.)
The early start is not that helpful, but with the Donegal v Derry senior game at 2.00 p.m. for TV purposes, the minors have to put up with the inconvenience.
It has been a very good year so far for the minor panel, going through the Ulster Minor League undefeated, which included two wins over Tyrone including the final. That form was franked on Sunday last when Tyrone proved much too strong for Down in the first game of the Ulster Minor championship.
They were scheduled to have met Sunday’s opponents, Derry, in the Ulster Minor League but the Derry side conceded the game as they were without their St. Pat’s, Maghera, contingent, at the time.
It was felt that Derry didn’t want Donegal to get the chance to have a game in Celtic Park prior to this Sunday’s encounter may have also been a factor.
Indeed, it is learned that Donegal were also due to have had a run out on Celtic Park on Tuesday of this week, but were again denied the chance due to works being carried out at the pitch ahead of Sunday’s encounter.
No doubt those factors will be stored up for Sunday’s game, but given the form line on games played, Derry did not give much away during the Minor League, finishing rock bottom. Apart from not fielding against Donegal, they lost to Tyrone, Antrim and Fermanagh, but Declan Bonner and most of Donegal know that this is not a true reflection of the Derry minor situation.
The return of the St. Pat’s, Maghera, contingent will make them formidable opposition. Remember the Maghera boys went all the way to the Hogan Cup final, losing narrow to Kerry side Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne, Dingle by 1-8 to 1-6.
From that side, Conor Glass, Peter Hagan and Danny Tallon will backbone the Derry challenge on Sunday.
Donegal, under Declan Bonner, have worked extremely hard at being ready for this game.
There is not back door in the Minor Championship until you reach the provincial decider, and that makes most managers nervous, as they know they have to get their side to perform on the day.
No disrespect to Antrim or Fermanagh, but Donegal and Derry would see Sunday’s game as a very good opportunity to reach an Ulster final. That’s why it is so important.
Donegal have carried a big panel of 34 for the Minor League and they will hope to get their best side on the field for Sunday’s game. They will be without Kilcar forward Conor Doherty, who had cartilage surgery a couple of weeks ago and this game will come too early for him.
It may also be early for another Kilcar starlet, Stephen McBrearty, younger brother of Patrick, who has just returned to action in the last week or so from a cruciate injury. McBrearty played in two recent challenge games against Leitrim and Galway and has played in two senior league games for Kilcar, but may be held in reserve on the bench on Sunday.
The Donegal management have a couple of injury worries this week with Eoghan Ban Gallagher nursing a hamstring injury while Jamie Brennan has a groin strain but those injuries usually heal quickly when an Ulster championship game is in the offing.
The Donegal team will not be selected until after training tomorrow night (Friday) but there are many who should be pretty sure of a starting place. The goalkeeping position is between Danny Rodgers and Padraig Byrne with Rodgers in pole position; in defence Kieran Gillespie of Gaoth Dobhair and Tony McClenaghan of Moville have been ever present in the pivotal full-back and centre half-back positions; Eoghan Ban Gallagher and the talented Cian Mulligan are normally the first choice wing backs, while Danny Monagle, Colm Kelly and Conor Morrison are the main contenders for the corner back posts.
Niall Harley of Aodh Ruadh and Buncrana’s Caolan McGonigle have been the preferred midfield partnership in most games with Michael Carroll another contender.
Carroll is likely to be in the half-forward line while Jamie Brennan, big John Campbell and Lorcan Connor are probably first choice front men. Big Gavin McBride of Gaoth Dobhair, who scored a goal for his side in the league game in Towney on Sunday against Kilcar, could feature on the edge of the square while utility man Niall Friel could complete the line-up, although the likes of Ethan O’Donnell, Christian Bonner and Andrew McClean could also be contention. McClean has been showing great form of late and impressed in challenge games and could be a contender for defence or attack.
Whatever the team selected, Declan Bonner has plenty of talent available, but like most minor campaigns, it is all about getting a performance on the day. Last year in Ballybofey, Donegal minors just could not hit the target against a Tyrone side that went al the way to the All-Ireland minor final. It can be that frustrating.
Let’s hope things go well for them on Sunday and on all known form, they should be good enough to advance to the Ulster semi-final.