Donegal are on the march again this weekend when they face Cork on Saturday in the All- Ireland Vocational Schools’ semi-final in Portarlington, Co. Laois. (Throw-in 12 noon)
The game is a repeat of least year’s All-Ireland final, won by Donegal in a replay, after they were denied victory in the first game. Dublin referee Brian O’Shea controversially credited the Rebel with an extra point to earn them a draw.
But justice was done the second day out (on St. Patrick’s Day) when the boys from the North West emerged three point winners in Pearse Stadium, Galway to claim a sixth All-Ireland crown.
County senior Patrick McBrearty scored 3-7 over the two games last year, 2-6 in the drawn game and 1-1 the second day out.
McBrearty and his club colleague Ryan McHugh are the only Donegal survivors from last season, though manager Seosamh McKelvey has a number of last year’s squad available to him.
Like Donegal, it is also a very new look Cork that captured a ninth Munster crown in-a-row before Christmas, in a facile victory over Kerry in Killarney.
Half-forward Gerard Barry is the only member of this year’s team that was first choice in 2011, though midfielder Gerard Farrell was introduced as sub in both encounters last year and John Leahy, a replacement in the drawn game, also saw action from the bench in this season’s Munster final.
Donegal have impressed to date in both their dismissal of Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final and they turned in an impressive performance last week in difficult conditions against Cavan, in the provincial decider.
After a nervous opening and 1-3 to 0-1 behind after 11 minutes, Donegal recovered well against the Breffni boys to run out easy 3-8 to 1-6 winners.
Eoin McHugh, Brendan McLaughlin and Cathal McGettigan scored the goals while McBrearty, Hugh McFadden, Raymond McNamee, Jamie Doherty, Darragh Mulgrew and Jamie Coyle all contributed hansomely to the victory. McBrearty scored four points while McNamee, McLaughlin, Mulrew and Doherty all knocked over points.
Saturday’s game was originally pencilled in for O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, to act as a curtain-raiser to the A.I.B. All-Ireland club semi-final meeting of Crossmaglen Rangers and Dr. Croke’s, Killarney, but was moved to Portarlington over last weekend; something that has not gone down all that well in Donegal.
“We are not to happy with having to travel so far and only agreed after we were informed it was going to be the curtain-raiser to the big game in O’Moore Park,” said Seosamh McKelvey.
“We had planned accordingly and booked a hotel in Portlaoise and only for that we would have been pressing for a more central venue once it was switched. We feel it is unfair now that it is not going to be played before the big game to ask us make the four hour journey when it is only a couple hours up the road for Cork.”
Donegal were without Ryan McHugh, man of the match from the Ulster semi-final win, for last week’s showdown against Cavan. The Kilcar teenager missed that game with a broken finger and there are still some doubts this week about his availability for Saturday’s game.
McKelvey has not given up hopeon Conor Greene, Rosses CS, who suffered a knee injury in the first half of last week’s game, and is also sweating on the fitness of Eoin McHugh, who had a big game against Cavan.
“Conor Greene is a big doubt and the situation regarding Ryan McHugh is that we don’t know just yet; he was at the doctor again on Tuesday and it is going to be much later in the week before we know for sure.
“But we would be hopeful of having him. His cousin Eoin is a bigger concern at this stage; he injured his shoulder at training on Tuesday, the same shoulder he injured a couple of weeks ago in Derry, and at this stage we are very worried about him and it will be much later in the week before we know his situation” said the Donegal boss on Tuesday evening.
“Basicially we are going to have to wait on both the lads and hope for the best. We certainly feel, knowing Cork’s strength down the years, that we need them both fit and well. It is a vital game and we are going to give them every chance to make it.”
Cork hit 4-12 and only conceded 0-4 in their demolition of Kerry. Gearóid Finn, Aaron O’Brien and Daniel O’Connor inflicted the most pain and were central figures in the win and are no doubt the men to watch on Saturday.
Possible Donegal team: Sean McClafferty, Oisin Porter, Jamie Coyle, Christopher Cunningham Darragh Mulgrew, Jamie Doherty, Ryan McHugh; Raymond McNamee, Kevin Herron; Cathal McGettigan, Patrick McBrearty, Eoin McHugh; Brendan McLaughlin, Hugh McFadden, Willie Gillespie. Rest of panel: Aidan Shovlin, John Fitzgerald, Peter Sweeney, Ronan McAteer, Kevin McNern, Ciaran Thompson, Dean Kelly, Seamus Houghton, Conor Greene, Marty Gallagher, Ryan Kelly, Eoin Scally, Prionsas Gallagher, Dylan Muldoon, Peter McLaughlin, Oisin Merritt, Martin McHugh, Jamie Ferry.