Donegal U-21 footballers are once again getting the county’s quest for championship honours underway when they go head to head with Tyrone tonight in Omagh. (Throw-in 8 pm)
Standing between them and a place in the last four and a meeting with either Down or Antrim who also lock horns tonight, are a polished Tyrone who have already a game and a big win under their belts.
The Red Hands had a comfortable 1-14 to 1-3 win over Fermanagh last Wednesday night and they also capped a good Cremartin U-21 tournament with a final victory over Monaghan at the end of last month.
Donegal are managed by Maxi Curran – a member of Jim McGuinness’ management team – with Francie Friel, Aidan McGrenra, Barney Curran and Pat Shovlin assisting.
Senior players Patrick McBrearty, Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy, new kid on the block, Marty O’Reilly and Peter Boyle are the big name players in the team while Tommy McKinley and Luke Keaney also have senior experience.
They will backbone the Donegal challenge in tomorrow’s tie against the hotly fancied O’Neill County who are All-Ireland minor champions from three years ago.
Curran, a late appointment, is six weeks in the job and in that time he has been making up for lost time. The squad has trained two to three times a week and has also managed to get in eight challenge games.
“It hasn’t been easy but despite that I’m happy with the way preparations have gone. We held our first trials at the end of January and it has been hectic ever since with two or three sessions a week,” said Curran.
“Because there are so many players living and studying outside the county, we had players training at four different centres around the country.
“We had eight players in Dublin, four each in Sligo and Galway and two in Belfast with the rest at home. They trained twice a week with all getting together at home at the weekend for either training or a game. And despite all the difficulties I’m happy with the preparations.”
In all Donegal played eight challenge games with two against Sligo and Mayo and one each against Galway, Derry, Longford and Mayo. They won five of those games including a narrow victory in their last game, the week before last against the reigning All-Ireland champions, Galway.
Tyrone are one of the hot fancies for the championship. And their 11 point victory over Fermanagh last Wednesday night in Brewster Park, did little to reduce the odds on Raymond Munroe’s side.
Full-forward Conor McAliskey was leading scorer with 1-3 with the county’s newest sensation Ronan O’Neill among ten other scorers against the Erne Co in a game which was all but over at half-time.
O’Neill and midfielder Conor Clarke are both members of Mickey Harte’s senior squad and have seen action in both the Dr. McKenna Cup and National League.
“We know what we face in Tyrone, but we are heading to Healy Park with our eyes open. We are happy that we have prepared as well as we could and it is now a matter of going out and giving it our best shot,” Curran added.
Thomas McKinley and Seimie Friel have been carrying knocks but are expected to be fit for tomorrow night’s showdown.
The Donegal squad is: Peter Boyle (Aodh Ruadh), Christopher McGlynn (Dungloe), Kevin McFadden (Cloughaneely), Sean O’Kennedy (Four Masters), Ciaran Cannon (Letterkenny Gaels), Pauric Carr (Kilcar), Ciaran Conaghan (Killybegs), Tommy McKinley (Naomh Colmcille), Peter Devine (St. Eunan’s), Corey Gallagher (Dungloe), Raymond McLaughlin (St. Michael’s), Luke Keaney (Four Masters), Shea Coyle (Downings), Cathal Ellis (Naomh Conaill), Martin O’Reilly (Sean MacCumhaills), Michael McEniff (Bundoran), Peter McGonagle (Bundoran), Shaun McGarvey (C’neely), Patrick McBrearty (Kilcar), Dermot Molloy (Naomh Conaill), Caolan Ward (St. Eunan’s), Gary Clancy (Bundoran), Stephen Doak (St.Michael’s), Darren McGeever (Cloughaneely), Michael Cannon (St. Michael’s), Seimi Friel (Fanad Gaels), Oisin McGinty (Four Masters), Conor Gibbons (St.Eunan’s).