Going on league status Saturday’s Donegal Intermediate Football Championship final between Cloughaneely and Buncrana should be no contest.
Cloughaneely are the Division Two side while Buncrana have played their league football this season in Division Three.
They are currently sitting fourth from the bottom of the Division Three table with two games to play. Cloughaneely, on the other hand, are mid table in the higher division with their programme complete.
All of which should point to Cloughaneely and a second Cathal McLaughlin Cup victory for the men from the north west.
However, championship form might very well suggest otherwise. Buncrana have already sent Division Two heavyweights St Naul’s, packing after a replay and extra-time.
And Division Three table toppers Naomh Columba have also suffered championship defeat at the hands of the Inishowen men.
“We never really got going in the league between Darach O’Connor away with the Donegal seniors and Caolan McGonagle and John Campbell involved with Donegal minors, we never were anywhere near at full strength during the league,” said Buncrana manager David McConnell, who also had a number of players tied up at various times with county minor and U-21 hurling teams.
“It’s only since the championship started that we have been able to field what is close to our strongest team and have got on a good run.”
Cloughaneely have had an up and down league season too. They only avoided being dragged in a relegation dogfight by winning their last game away to Sean MacCumhaill’s. That win in itself was a good victory for Joe McGarvey and his charges.
“We got off to a terrible start in the league. We only won three of our first five games. But we regrouped and we had a good finish to the league and won five of our lost eight including an important win away to MacCumhaill’s which confirmed our place in Division Two,” said Joe McGarvey, the Cloughaneely manager.
Cloughaneely have produced their best football in the championship and take an unbeaten five game run to Saturday’s final, with last weekend’s 2-14 to 3-5 semi-final victory against a strong Fanad Gaels one of their best performances of the season.
Corner forward John Fitzgerald, who has really blossomed in the championship, posted 1-5 against Fanad and former county U-21 and senior Kevin Mulhern, from wing back, accounted for 1-1 in that game.
Martin Maguire, Denis Boyle, 0-3 each and John McGarvey 0-2 were the other Cloughaneely men on target against Fanad.
These are the men that Joe McGarvey will look to in Saturday’s decider while he will also be expecting a better return from Sean Maguire and Darren McGeever - who did not feature among the scorers last time out.
Cloughaneely with Kevin McFadden; last season’s county U-21 captain Mulhern, Martin Ferry and Declan McGarvey in defence have a solid look at the back. Though it will be a concern to McGarvey that they leaked three goals against Fanad.
Certainly with Darach ‘Jigger’ O’Connor spearheading the Buncrana attack and his eye for goal they will need to be on their toes in the Cloughaneely last line of defence.
Buncrana are far from a one trick pony up front with county minor John Campbell - a big physical presence at corner forward - and the lightning fast Jo Jo McGrory in the other corner, there are scores in the Buncrana front line.
Garbhan Friel leads the attack well and is the conductor of the Buncrana orchestra up front. The Inishowen side have a strong midfield pairing - in every sense of the word - in Peter McLaughlin and Kevin O’Loughlin.
And the outcome of the battle between McLaughlin and O’Loughlin and the Cloughaneely partnership of Martin Maguire and Ciaran Scanlon will have a big bearing on the outcome.
Cloughaneely have been without their scorer-in-chief and marquee forward Shaun McGarvey, since the last of their group games against St Naul’s. The former county minor and All-Ireland Vocational Schools winner is out for the rest of the season with a medial knee ligament injury.
David McConnell is not without his injury woes in Buncrana either. This seasons’s Donegal midfield anchor Caolan McGonagle has missed the last two games since picking up a knee injury in the drawn quarter-final against St Naul’s.
And county player Darach O’Connor has been struggling with injury right through the championship.
“Darach is touch and go at this stage. He has been doubtful for all the games and has been carrying an injury throughout and I would rate his chances of playing on Saturday no greater than 50/50. We are keeping our fingers crossed at this stage that he will make it,” insisted the Buncrana boss.
However, McConnell had better news on Caolan McGonagle who has made good progress and is receiving first class treatment in UCD where he is a first year student.
“Caolan’s progress has been steady and we are expecting that he will be fit to play.”
Oviously the fitness of Darach ‘Jigger’ will have a big bearing on the outcome.
Despite Cloughaneely’s higher league standing if their hectic schedule of games, six games in six weeks, including three in the space of eight days does not catch up with them, Buncrana look more than capable of causing an upset.