Donegal are back in Nicky Rackard Cup championship after a four-year break this weekend when they host Roscommon at O’Donnell Park,on Saturday. (Throw in 2.30pm)
The game is among a series of first round games in the Nicky Rackard Cup with the prize for the winners a place in the last four of the competition and one game away from a much coveted final outing on the hallowed sod of Croke Park. All is not lost either for the losers, who go into a losers group and a quarter-final game.
Donegal return to the championship having finally got their hands on the Lory Meagher Cup after last summer’s victory over Tyrone, at GAA headquarters. Donegal are managed by former senior player and Galway native Ray Durack and they go into the championship on the back of a mediocre league campaign and just about surviving in Division 3A of the National Hurling League. It took a play-off between themselves and Sligo to determine who survived in Division 3A and who made the drop to Division Four.
“We were missing a lot of players in the league and we found the going tough but when we had to we pulled out all the stops against Sligo, in the play-off and survived and I feel we are in much better shape now,” Durack told the Democrat.
“Sean McVeigh and Jamsie Donnelly, who missed the entire league through injury, are available again and have a couple of weeks training done. Danny Cullen is also back from Australia and while he played in the last two games of the league he has got a couple more weeks training behind him and is coming into shape.
“We are much stronger than we were at any time for the league and with the exception of Justin Browne (broken collar bone) and Stephen Gillespie (hamstring) and Kevin Campbell who has hamstring bother we have a fully fit squad.
“We have worked hard in the last couple of weeks and we had former Tipperary All-Ireland winning trainer Eamonn O’Shea from two year’s ago up for a session. He is part of the new mentoring scheme run by Croke Park and he has been assigned to us and will visit the county six times this year so we hope to see him again in a few weeks time if we can get a run going in the championship.”
Opponents Roscommon were Nicky Rackard Cup winners in 2005 and play in Division 2B but they have had a poor campaign and did not win a game and were relegated to Division Three.
“They had a poor league campaign alright but they have been playing at a higher level of hurling than in recent years they are still formidable opposition,” Durack continued. “They certainly are going to be tough test and we will have to play very well to win.”
The return of McVeigh and Donnelly will be a big boost to Donegal though it must be a concern for Durack and his management that their hurling of late has been confined to a few in-house games in recent weeks.
Despite Roscommon’s poor league showing and Donegal’s encouraging finish to their league Joe Boyle, Eugene Organ, Niall Campbell, Enda McDermott, Lee Henderson Danny Cullen and company are going to have to hit the ground running on Saturday in O’Donnell Park.