Glenswilly and Killybegs will meet for the first time ever in championship football in the RTE Raidio na Gaeltachta senior final on Sunday.
The novel pairing were the surprise packets of the new-look 2013 Donegal Senior Championship.
This year, in a major departure from the home and away first round format, the 16 teams were divided into groups of four and when those were drawn at the beginning of the year, the odds on a Killybegs-Glenswilly final would have been pretty generous.
Killybegs had just been promoted by to Division One of the league taking the place of Glenswilly, who were also drawn in the Group of Death along with Kilcar, St. Michael’s and Bundoran.
As well as that, Glenswilly had the two difficult ties away from home, but despite losing their opening game away to Kilcar, they came through and are now favourites to lift the title.
Killybegs, albeit the only team who are still unbeaten at this stage, have had a difficult season.
Amazingly, they have lost all 14 of the league games they have played, but have performed very well in the championship.
They will go into Sunday’s final minus Enda Murphy, who was shown a straight red card in the semi-final, and it creates a dilemma for them as Murphy was the ideal midfield partner for Matthew Smyth, who has shown great form in both the quarter and semi-finals.
Smyth’s battle with Neil Gallagher could be one of the deciding factors in Sunday’s final.
Martin ‘Slua’ Boyle and the rest of the Killybegs management will probably select a partner for Smyth who will be able to match Ciaran Bonner for pace. There might be a temptation to move Christopher Murrin to the middle, but given the form he has been showing in driving forward from wing back, that may be held in reserve.
Killybegs didn’t travel for their league game in Gaoth Dobhair on Sunday last. You can have sympathy for them as three years ago they suffered badly when losing Pauric Gallagher to a broken leg and Barry Cannon (dislocated shoulder) when they played a league game in Buncrana the week before the final.
They are certainly pressed for numbers and veteran Mark ‘Herbie’ Boyle may be pressed into action from the start on Sunday. Barry Cannon may also be in the frame.
The news that Ronan Boyle and Brendan McGuire is very doubtful and also limits their options further.
From Glenswilly’s point of view, all eyes will be on Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday night where Michael Murphy will lead Ireland against Australia less than 24 hours before turning out for Glenswilly in the Donegal final.
All in the Glen will be hoping that he comes through unscathed. If he were to pick up an injury then the outcome of Sunday’s game would be a horse of a much different colour.
Ciaran Bonner was being iced for a leg injury at the end of the Ardara semi-final and he sat out last weekend’s league game with Termon. But it is likely that Bonner will play; remember he has played through the pain barrier before and his presence will be vital to the Glen men’s cause.
If Murphy and Bonner are on the field at the start of play the Killybegs will have to find the formula to stop the supply; they have to stop Neil Gallagher dominating as well as limiting the dominance of Gary ‘Copper’ McFadden and Colin Kelly. All that is a daunting task. Jason Noctor will probably get Murphy while David Conwell may be assigned to look after Colin Kelly.
Knowing Killybegs, they will want to work their own game plan. If they can reproduce their quarter and semi-final performances, they are more than capable of causing Glenswilly trouble. In Hugh McFadden, they have the find of the championship and they will want to give him the same supply as Glenswilly want for Michael Murphy.
Having to bring both Conal Molloy and Brendan Faherty back from the U.S. for the game is not the ideal preparation but with their numbers so stretched, they have little option. Both will have trained away on their own, but they just couldn’t have the same sharpness that comes with championhip training.
Glenswilly would have been among the favourites at the b eginning of the year, given the talent available to them, but then the draw would have lengthened their odds.
However, despite being in Division Two, they have the all round talent and any team that has Michael Murphy on board will always have a chance.
Killybegs will need things to go their way and they will have to make things happen as well. They are renowned battlers and will see this game out to the very end.
However, if Michael Murphy and Ciaran Bonner are fit and healthy, then Glenswilly look winners.