The Donegal minors’ odyssey continues this Sunday evening when they travel to Healy Park, Omagh to take on Derry in the quarter-final of the Ulster Minor Championship.
After their convincing win against the reigning champions Cavan on Sunday last in Breffni Park, the level of expectation has risen a few notches, although manager Stephen Friel is anxious to keep everybody’s feet firmly on the ground.
Donegal went into the opening game on Sunday last very much as underdogs and Friel is keen to point out that Derry have already beaten Donegal in this year’s Ulster Minor League and also defeated them in the Buncrana cup two years ago at U-16 level.
“It is easy to prepare this week,” says Friel. “It is a bonus week which we hadn’t counted on. All our thoughs was on May 20th (last Sunday),” said the manager.
But despite that, the result on Sunday was no surprise to Friel. “We had played well in patches of games, against Fermanagh and in the first half against Tyrone before they got a goal late in the opening half.
“We knew it (the performance) was there, but we had to contend with injuries, exams and different things. As I have consistently said, the Ulster Minor League counts for nothing.
“I was not despondent, even after the Armagh game (Shield final). Indeed I learned a lot from that game and it made my job easier. I had more clarity regarding the team I would be putting out in the championship,” said Friel.
But there is caution from the manager also. “That performance (against Cavan); we have to take cognisance we have won nothing. Every block, tackle, score on Sunday last is of no benefit whatsoever to us on Sunday next.
“We are playing a formidable Derry team who have excellent coaches in the McIver (Paul assisted by his father, Brian, former Donegal senior manager). They beat us in the league and in the Buncrana Cup two years ago.
“We have to produce the same desire, the same fervour as we did on Sunday last if we are to be in with a chance this time,” said Friel, who has reported no injury concerns after the Cavan game.
The manager is reluctant to praise any individual from his team and feels that is the panel that is important. He knows that he has some great leaders who have gained experience in other games, such as captain Ryan McHugh and Darragh Mulgrew, but he is more likely to be lauding the likes of Gary Kelly (who held Cavan dangerman Andrew Graham scoreless from play) and John Rose for their great work; also John McGarvey for his unselfish workrate; Willie Gillespie’s maturing (even though playing with a Division Four club). He also talks about the great work by substitutes John Fitzgerald and Callum Gallagher.
Sunday’s game in Cavan also allowed players to get used to a game played in front of a big attendance while the manager feels that it will stand to the likes of Aodhan McGinley, who has lacked game time.
The Donegal line-up is likely to be the same as on Sunday last with the extra week giving Killybegs’ Hugh McFadden an extra week to recover from injury, which would make ready to play a bigger part on Sunday next.
But at the end of the day, the leaders of the team such as Conor Parke, Ryan McHugh and Darragh Mulgrew will be expected to reach the same standards as Sunday last if Donegal are to progress. There may be a case also for swopping Kilcar duo Stephen McBrearty and Eoin McHugh at some stage during the game, getting McHugh closer to goal while giving McBrearty his more natural half-back role.
But whatever the line-out, the side go to Healy Park armed with a great self-belief after Sunday’s win.
“I have been consistently telling them to believe in themselves. Maybe it rang hollow until Sunday last but they did that and now hopefully they can keep doing it,” said Friel.
The Derry management team of Paul McIver with former Donegal senior manager Brian, as assistant, is fairly confident that his side have a good chance. Paul was in Breffni Park on Sunday along with Brian to run the rule over Donegal.
“Cavan just looked like a team who had underestimated Donegal. They just sauntered out on to the pitch and sauntered through their warm-up. Donegal hit them with everything and in Ryan McHugh, they have the best minor I’ve seen in a long time. He’s a chip off the old block.
“These lads (Derry) have no expectation on them but Donegal will have exhausted themselves on Sunday. They put in a big effort and have only a week to recover. We’re going to Omagh confident and we’ll give Donegal one hell of a battle,” said McIver this week.
The Derry minor panel is: Chris Bradley, Ciaran McCloy, Ryan McDonnell, Conor Carville, Cathal Mulholland, Conor Gallagher, Oisin Hegarty, Ryan Dougan, Ciaran McFaul, Danny Tallon, Stevie O’Hara, Anthony Hargan, Paul Devlin, Gary Doyle, Terence O’Brien, Gareth Mckinless, Ryan Bell, Peter Hagan, Emmett McBride, Michael Sweeney, Declan Brown, Peter Cassidy, Conor McAtamney, James Kearney, Jack Barton, Dermot Breen, Paul burns, Gerald Bradley, Liam McGoldrick, Neil McNicholl, Ryan Moore, Conor Murphy, Daryl Mullan.
It should be a very close encounter and the Donegal management are urging supporters to get to Omagh on Sunday evening to cheer on the Donegal lads. After their great win on Sunday last they deserve all the support then can get.