Declan Bonner claims player burn-out could scupper any chances his talented minor panel have of adding to their recent successes.
Bonner’s Donegal continue their Ulster Minor League quest with a semi-final against Down at Sean MacCumhaill Park on Saturday, throw-in 1pm.
The Na Rossa clubman fielded an experimental starting XV on Saturday in Ballyshannon as Donegal made it four wins from four with a 1-6 to 1-3 success over Antrim in their last outing of Group B.
A number of his panel were then in action for their clubs in the All-County Football League.
Then, with minor club league fixtures taking place this week on Monday, Wednesday and last night (Thursday), the Donegal manager might need a head-count before Saturday.
“All we hear is player welfare and at the minute, we just get together at training and are working with injured players,” Bonner said.
“Our physiotherapist Paul Coyle is working overtime and the situation we find ourselves is far from ideal.”
Bonner admits that Caolan McDaid from Termon is a doubt for the Ulster MFC preliminary round tie with Tyrone on May 17.
“Coalan tore ligaments in his ankle on Sunday in an All-County League game against MacCumhaill’s and it’ll be four weeks before he is back training so it could rule him out against Tyrone,” Bonner said.
There are a number of other concerns. Niall O’Donnell of St Eunan’s sustained a knock in his club’s 1-15 to 2-5 Northern Minor Board Division 1 League semi-final win over Glenswilly on Monday night at Coláiste Ailigh in Letterkenny.
Gaoth Dobhair duo Gary McFadden and Naoise O’Baoill have respective ankle and groin complaints. The pair were also in semi-final action as they overcame Malin 3-10 to 1-2 in Glenswilly on Monday.
The issue was looking like it would be exacerbated when its considered that the final of the Division 1 League between St Eunan’s and Gaoth Dobhair was to be played in Dunfanaghy on Wednesday night.
However, the match was postponed “due to unforeseen circumstances” late on Wednesday afternoon by the Northern Minor Board. Meanwhile, Milford defeated Buncrana in the Division 2 final on Thursday night.
Kilcar’s Conor Doherty has also picked up a knock having played a lot of football of late as part of the Coláiste na Carraige team who won the Markey Cup on their way to the Drummond Cup Senior B All-Ireland semi-final.
“We have players who have been playing or training on seven out of the last eight nights,” Bonner added yesterday.
“We have 20 players involved in divisional finals this week and then, win, lose or draw they will be involved come the county semi-finals and finals. In terms of the county, we cannot push to the next level. We’re told we will have two weeks free before the Tyrone match but at this stage we should have all the hard work done.”
Before Saturday’s win over Antrim, Bonner saw his side produce some electrifying form to post three impressive victories.
Donegal defeated Tyrone 1-16 to 0-7 at Sigerson Park in Strabane having easily disposed of Fermanagh at Enniskillen’s Brewster Park, 5-23 to 1-4, first time out.
On Easter Saturday at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey, Derry were put to the sword in Ballybofey on a 4-18 to 3-7 scoreline,
Twelve months ago the spadework laid down in spring, when the Ulster Minor League was claimed, was vital.
It acted as a firm foundation as Donegal went on to win the Ulster MFC and then reached a first ever All-Ireland MFC final, where Jack O’Connor’s Kerry ran out 0-17 to 1-10 winners.
In 2012, Bonner took charge of a talented crop of Donegal U-16s, winning the Buncrana Cup before McGuigan Cup success at U-17 a year later.
In last year’s Ulster Minor League semi-final, Donegal found it hard to make any progress for the first 25 minutes against an Armagh side who packed their defence and were happy to let Bonner’s team have the ball until they reached the 45-metre line.
However, Donegal thought their way to the final on a 1-9 to 0-5 scoreline.
“That was a very good learning experience for us,” Bonner added. “It was an eye-opener and took us a while to get the better of what was put in front of us.”
There, Donegal overcame Tyrone 1-15 to 2-7 at Brewster Park in Enniskillen.
In fact, victory on Saturday for Donegal will seal a place in a third successive Ulster Minor League final after the 2013 vintage, who were managed by Stephen Friel, lost out to Monaghan, 1-10 to 0-10, also in Enniskillen.
The Monaghan variety of 2013, like Donegal a year afterwards, used the capturing of the Ulster Minor League as a launchpad for provincial success.
It was the same when Sean Clerkin’s Donegal side of 2006 - which included Michael Murphy and Martin McElhinney - as plotted their year and won the Ulster Minor League before defeating Antrim in the Ulster MFC final at Croke Park.
Down, for their part, came through Group A in second place behind Armagh.
An opening 0-6 to 0-4 win over Monaghan in Downpatrick was followed with a 1-7 to 0-8 victory away to Cavan.
Down then rounded off their series with a narrow 0-12 to 0-10 loss against Armagh at Mayobridge.
“Down are a team that like to defend in numbers and hit teams on the break,” Bonner said.
“But we tend to worry about our own game and that’s what we’re putting the focus on.
“People say that the league isn’t important but I certainly wouldn’t agree.
“For me, the league is worthwhile as you have to try and get what you can out of it.
“Last year, winning the Ulster Minor League acted as a confidence-booster for us and that’s very important for minor players.
“It certainly helped us last season and it was the same for Monaghan in 2013.”
Armagh welcome Derry in the other semi-final at Carrickcruppen on Saturday at 1pm.