The incentive of getting back to Croke Park for the Nicky Rackard final is the carrot for Donegal hurlers this Saturday when they take on Louth in the semi-final in O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny.
Having overcome Roscommon and Monaghan, Ray Durack’s side have been the surprise packets of the competition and they don’t fear anybody at this stage.
After a very mediocre league campaign (in which they lost away to Louth), the hurlers have turned their fortunes around and with the return of players from injury and from their travels, the side are hoping to build on last year’s Lory Meagher success.
The manager, in his first season, hopes to field an unchanged team for Saturday. He was at the quarter-final meeting of Louth and Sligo at the weekend and feels that Louth are a similar side to the Roscommon team that Donegal despatched in the first round, also at O’Donnell Park.
“They are a big physical side, like Roscommon. If we can play as we did against Roscommon, we have a great chance.
“We are 70 minutes from a Croke Park final and we have to prepare for that. It is a great incentive for the boys. There were guys who were there last year and also guys who missed out,” said Durack.
It has been a great turnaround for hurlers after a poor league campaign.
“It’s been good. We were written off after the league. We got off to late start but I was not worried. I always wanted us to survive in the league and I knew we could give the Nicky Rackard a good shot when we got organised.
“We were missing a lot of guys injured and away. But now we have them back. The Setanta boys have been a great help and Jamsie (Donnelly) is a great addition. He has a good hurling head and is a good man to read the game apart from adding a physical presence,” said Durack.
The manager is not worried that Donegal suffered a heavy defeat away to Louth in the league. “We were very understrength for that game in Dundalk. We had just 17 going to that game with a lot of young fellows. We wouldn’t ready anything into the result,” he said.
Getting back to a national final in Croke Park is something that excites the Donegal manager. “That’s where Donegal hurling should be at. We would be quietly confident,” says Durack.
Donegal will be hoping that the scoring power of Niall Campbell, Danny Cullen, Lee Henderson and Enda McDermott can again provide the scores. They will also be hoping that Joe Boyle can command the defence and the manager will be expecting another big game from the experienced Jamsie Donnelly.
If he can get the same standard of performance from his side as he has got against Roscommon and Monaghan, then Ray Durack will have the chance to take his side to headquarters on Jones Road.
The Donegal team which defeated Monaghan was: Paul Burns; Benny Harrigan, Joe Boyle, Padraig Doherty; Christy McDermott, Justin McGee, Jamsie Donnelly; Sean McVeigh, Ardal McDermot; Enda McDermott, Danny Cullen, Ronan McDermott; Lee Henderson, Eugene Organ, Niall Campbell.