One the greatest and most traditional of Donegal football rivilaries will be renewed this Saturday in the county minor final.
The teams are Dungloe/Na Rossa and their arch rivals down the years, Gaoth Dobhair, with Sean MacCumhaill Park, the venue on Saturday, throw-in 1 pm.
Dungloe and Na Rossa are an amalgamation and are somewhat surprise finalists against a highly fancied Gaoth Dobhair outfit backboned by six of this year’s Donegal beaten All-Ireland minor final team - Niall Friel, Cian Mulligan, Ciaran Gillespie, Michael Carroll, Gavin McBride and Gary McFadden - and managed by the legendary Tom ‘Beag’ Gillespie.
“They are all very good footballers and there is no getting away from it they are the backbone of our team,” said the Gaoth Dobhair boss.
“They are all very good leaders on the field too which is very important and it can make a big difference in a tight game.”
Gaoth Dobhair have been hot favourites for the Donegal title long before a ball was kicked in anger in the 2014 championship.
“We may have been favourites in all our games so far. But you still have to go out and perform on any given day and it is going to be no different on Saturday against Dungloe/Na Rossa.
“They are a good side and have beaten a number of good teams including St Eunan’s on their way to the final. Any team that beats St Eunan’s are a good team.”
Donegal and Na Rossa may be an amalgamated side, but, ironically, when the minor championship last went west to Dungloe, the team was made up of players from both Dungloe and Leitirmacaward – home of Na Rossa.
That was all of 46 years ago, in 1968 and was the last success in a famous three in-a-row minor championships won by Dungloe. There was only one team in the parish back then; Na Rossa was formed later.
Danny Rodgers, Christian Bonner, John McDyre and Adam Neilly are the county minors on the Dungloe/Na Rossa starting 15.
They also have a number of players from this season’s Donegal’s U-17 team. Matthew Ward, Barry Curran and Ryan Greene were members of Shaun Paul Barrett’s side that won the Ulster U-17 McGuigan Cup. But then Gaoth Dobhair had the impressive Boyle cousins, Naoise and Daire on that U-17 squad too.
Gaoth Dobhair breezed through the Northern Regional Championship without breaking sweat with easy group stages wins over – Glenfin, Mulroy Gaels and Naomh Colmcille – before a surprisingly comfortable 11 point Regional final victory over a strong St Eunan’s. The surprise was not in the win but in the manner that Niall Friel and company put St Eunan’s to the sword, 2-14 to 0-9.
And they followed that victory up with a 2-17 to 2-2 hammering of Southern Regional runners up Naomh Conaill, in the county semi-final.
Michael Carroll hit 1-5 against Naomh Conaill with James Boyle getting 1-4 while Niall Friel, Patrick Cribbin, Naoise Boyle and Aodhan Ferry also got their names on the scoresheet in a game that Gaoth Dobhair had wrapped up from a long way out.
Dungloe/Na Rossa have had the more difficult road to the final. After two comfortable victories over neighbours Naomh Muire, the side managed by former county player Raymond Sweeney, came through a keenly contested regional semi-final against Kilcar, that went to extra-time.
The Rosses boys prevailed in the additional time with three Christian Bonner points driving them to a 1-21 to 2-12 win. They proved too strong in the Regional final against Naomh Conaill, before pulling off a surprise county semi-final win over a highly fancied St Eunan’s.
The front two of Ryan Greene and Adam Neilly posted 1-7 of their tally in the 1-13 to 1-10 win over 14 man St Eunan’s. The elusive Greene scored 1-4 with the goal scored in the opening minutes as Dungloe/Na Rossa blitzed St Eunan’s in the opening six minutes as they scored 1-4 without reply.
“The win over St Eunan’s was a huge boost to confidence. We always felt that we were capable of holding our own in the Southern Region but when you come up against St Eunan’s, it is a step up again,” said the Dungloe/ Na Rossa boss, Raymond Sweeney.
“I know we caught St Eunan’s cold and built up a good lead. But what pleased me most was that when they came back to a point of us late in the game we kicked on again and finished strong.”
The former county man has no problem admitting that given Gaoth Dobhair’s pedigree that his team go into Saturday’s decider as the underdogs.
“Look, we know what we are up against. Gaoth Dobhair are a super team. I watched them against Ardara in the league semi-final and they were awesome that day.
“The thing that impressed me was their power, pace and support play. They are a very good side and we are going to have to play very well to match them.
“We are looking forward to the challenge; our boys are improving with every game. They have really jelled in recent weeks and like all games between the two clubs it takes on a life of its own.”
Other than long term injured Adam McHugh, who was due to meet surgeons this week with a knee injury, and Shane Connaghan, hamstring, the Dungloe/Na Rossa has reported a clean bill of health.
Meanwhile, Gaoth Dobhair’s Gavin McBride who missed the semi-final victory over Naomh Conaill through injury, has returned to training.
And Tom ‘Beag’ Gillespie expects to have McBride in his starting line-up. The Gaoth Dobhair boss has reported a fully fit squad.
Gaoth Dobhair are rightly the favourites given the quality in their side and given the ease in which they dismissed the challenge of both St Eunan’s and Naomh Conaill.
However, Dungloe/Na Rossa have shown significant improvement in recent outings. If they can step it up a notch again from last weekend’s surprise semi-final win over St Eunan’s, this one may be a lot closer at the finish than most people are predicting.
Verdict: Gaoth Dobhair
Dungloe/Na Rossa squad: Danny Rodgers, Dylan Reilly, Brian O’Donnell, Mark Curran, Christy Greene, Matthew Ward, Conor McCahill, John McDyre, Barry Curran, Caolan Ward, Sean McMonagle, Darragh McGee, Ryan Greene, Adam Neely, Christian Bonner, Ryan Connors, Ryan McGonagle, Sean Ward Boyle, David Sweeney, Aaron Boyle, Hugh Moy, Stephen Connaghan, Adam McHugh.
Gaoth Dobhair squad: Cathal Ó Dochartaigh, Seaghán Ó Fearraigh, Gary Mac Pháidín, Séamus Ó Baoill, Pádraig Ó Gribín, Niall Ó Frighil, Ryan Ó Ceallaigh, Cian Ó Maolagáin, Ciarán Mac Giolla Easpaig, Naoise Ó Baoill, Gavin Mac Giolla Bhríde, Dáire Ó Baoill, Eamonn Colum, Mícheál Ó Cearbhaill, Aodán Ó Fearraigh, Gavin MacSuibhne, Ciarán MacAoidh, Conor Ó Baoill, Odhrán Mac Pháidín, Tiarnán Ó Dea, Mícheál Ó Gallachóir, Conor Mac Pháidín, Eoghan Ó Gallachóir, Seosamh MacPhaidín, Conor MacEamharcaigh, John Ó Fearraigh, Daniel MacLochlainn, Seán Ó Baoill, Eoghan Mac Giolla Easpaig, Seán De Brún, Mícheál Ó Duibhir, Neasán MacGiolla Bhríde,Noel MacPháidín, Dylan Ó Domhnaill.