St Eunan’s, the reigning champions, are on the tip of everybody’s lips as one of the favourites to once again claim the grand prize in Donegal club football, the Dr. Maguire Cup.
But, in the opinion of former Donegal All-Ireland winner, John Joe Doherty, there are a number of others lurking. The former Donegal senior manager believes this year’s championship race is as open as it has been for years.
“St Eunan’s, given the talent and the strength of their squad, are always going to be in the running. And it is no different this year, but I think we are very lucky in Donegal to have a very competitive championship and we have five or six teams capable of winning the championship,” said Doherty, who will be on the field on county final year this year as he was captain of Naomh Columba to when they won the Dr Maguire Cup 25 years ago in 1990.
“Any of the teams that are playing in Division One of the All-County Football and competing well in the league are in with a chance of winning the championship in any given year and I don’t think it is any different this year.”
Naomh Columba defeated Killybegs 0-10 to 0-9 to win the 1990 final and win the Senior Championship for only the second time in the club’s history. The other time the Dr Maguire Cup took up residence in Pairc Na Gael was in 1978.
Following that success, Naomh Columba, with John Joe anchoring the defence, were one of the top club sides in the county for the best part of the next decade.
However, that 1990 success was their one and only final day triumph as they went on to lose five finals over the next eight years.
Killybegs (three times) and Aodh Ruadh, Ballyshannon (twice) were their conquerors in those finals in MacCumhaill Park.
“The strange thing is that I have always felt the 1990 final was one we were lucky enough to win, but I also felt we were a little unlucky to not have won one or two of the others,” says John Joe.
The years of those of those finals defeat were 1992 (Killybegs 0-12, Naomh Columba 0-9);1994 (Aodh Ruadh 2-10, Naomh Columba 0-10); 1995 (Killybegs 0-10, Naomh Columba 1-6); 1996 (Killybegs 1-8, Naomh Columba 1-7); 1998 (Aodh Ruadh 1-11, Naomh Columba 0-11).
“Football has changed quite a bit in the last 25 years but the one thing that hasn’t changed and that is that the good footballer will always show up in the championship and if anything with more tactics and systems the lesser talented player will not be found out as easy as he was in the past.
“The one thing that has not changed, and I don’t think it ever will, is that the teams with the couple of quality forwards will always do well in the championship and it takes a couple of quality forwards to win a championship.”
St Eunan’s are joined by Kilcar and St Michael’s as John Joe’s front runners with Glenswilly, Naomh Conaill and Gaoth Dobhair just a level below the top three.
“Kilcar are a good young side and are progressing and going in the right direction. They have Patrick McBrearty and the McHughs, Ryan, Mark and Eoin and Ciaran McGinley, from the county senior set-up, and Michael Hegarty is still an influential player for them.
“They also have another crop of young players that have graduated to the senior team in the last year or so and they have to be seen as genuine contenders. If they keep progressing the way they have in the last few years and keep the squad together they are going to win a championship in the next couple of years.
“St Michael’s are one of the form team in the county this season so far. As we saw on Sunday against Tyrone their county men, Martin McElhinney, Christy Toye and Colm McFadden are playing well. The clock may be ticking for them and that could be the spur to put in the big effort this season.
“Gaoth Dobhair are another side with a lot of quality and they seem to be responding to the new manager Conal Sheridan.
“I know there is chat of Kevin Cassidy and a number of their younger players heading off to the US for the summer. But the way the championship is run off nowadays all those that go away should back for the last two crucial rounds.
“Glenswilly with Michael Murphy and Neil Gallagher leading their charge are also in the mix though I feel they are a level down from St Eunan’s, Kilcar and St Michael’s.
“Ardara are another club that have a good championship pedigree and for that reason they have to get a mention. I know they got off to a poor start in the league but they seem to have turned things around in their last few games and are an outside bet. “
John Joe doesn’t see any of the remaining teams in Division One - Dungloe or Malin - or Cloughaneely, last year’s Intermediate champions or Sean MacCumhaills making it to the quarter-final.
He feels Four Masters will probably will qualify with St Michael’s from Group 3, for a place in the quarter-finals. But he does not see the Tir Chonaill Park men making any great impression after that.
Gaoth Dobhair and Glenswilly are his fancied qualifiers from Group One; St Eunan’s and Naomh Conaill are his fancy to emerge from Group Two, though he does not rule out Ardara causing an upset in this group.
Kilcar are his clear favourites to emerge from Group 4 and he has opted for Naomh Muire - who he managed to Intermediate championship success in the past - to take the second spot behind, Termon and Killybegs.
“I know Naomh Muire had a poor start to the season but they seem to have turned things around in their last couple of games.
“They are a good young side and I fancy them to come out of the group along with Kilcar.
”I know Termon are the form team in Division Two, but I picked Naomh Muire when the draw was made and I’m sticking with them.”
John Joe Doherty is into his second year as chairman of his home club Naomh Columba and also runs his own successful marine maintenance company.