Donegal Town enter Sunday’s Brian McCormick Sports Cup final as rank outsiders against a Gweedore Celtic side chasing their third win in the competition on the bounce (kick-off 5pm).
Those who follow the football fortunes of Marty Byrne’s side might’ve taken a bit of heart from watching Chelsea overturn the odds at the Nou Camp against Barcelona on Tuesday night - a game that showed the underdogs have always a chance.
“If the team everyone thought was going to win won every game there would be no point in playing at all,” Byrne said. “It’s our first final having won the Donegal Area for the first time so it’s great to have something to play for. The thing about making the cup final is that it means the season doesn’t peter out. Since winning the semi-final it’s something we had to aim for.”
Byrne was in attendance with the notebook last Sunday as Gweedore managed to scramble an unlikely 2-2 draw from two goals down against Milford United to secure a play-off for the Donegal League Premier Division title against Glenea United on Sunday, May 13.
And although those from the west of the county might be the first to admit they weren’t at their best in the heavy conditions at Moyle View Park, it was difficult to discount the level of desire shown by the side from An Screaban and particularly central defender Paul Rua McBride, who popped up with the two vital goals late in the game.
“They could easily have thrown in the towel,” Byrne said of Gweedore. “They showed great heart and you have to hand it to them for that. But we’ve to concentrate on ourselves. We’ve got everyone fit and ready to go and it’s something we should look forward to.”
Donegal will have the Four Masters contingent available - despite their All-County League appointment against St Michael’s - so Raymond McGroary, Danny McGarrigle, Benny Byrne and Stephen Keeney are all in the shake-up for the side who finished in mid-table in the Milford Inn Division One, in a season where youngsters have been blooded from the Saturday team and the likes of John Paul Byrne and Stephen Curneen. To date, they have beaten Dunkineely and then Copany Rovers in the Donegal Town area final, on penalties, before a late Keeney goal in extra-time saw off Lagan Harps in the Convoy semi-final.
Hughie Rua Gallagher’s side sealed a play-off for the Premier Division title in a fortnight’s time and despite the histrionics of Sunday, the Gweedore manager is looking forward to what has been a familiar date. His team are in their fourth final in five seasons. Having lost to Lagan in a penalty shoot-out in 2008, they have defeated both Milford and Kilmacrennan in each of the last two showpieces at Ballyare. Arranmore were defeated this term in the Gweedore area final before Castlefin in the semi-final.
“It’s a welcome distraction and having lost on penalties a few years ago against Lagan and felt that, it’s a competition we have enjoyed doing well in since,” he said. “Three-in-a-row would be great of course but we’re taking Donegal Town very seriously. They might be a division below us at this point in time but we had two very tough games against them last season.”
Although Donegal Town got relegated from the top-flight 12 months ago, they certainly did ruffle Gweedore’s feathers on a couple of occasions. Gweedore won 2-1 at An Screaban before a pivotal encounter at the Hospital Field. Trailing 2-0, Gallagher threw Tomas Diver and Ciaran McFadden from this bench and the substitutes shared the goals between them in a dramatic 3-2 comeback win.
This weekend, Gallagher has a full panel to choose from with the only niggling doubt over Colin Ferry after Milford, and is they seek to finish their season on a high. Glenea, for now, can sit and wait, as the cup takes immediate priority.
“It was a relief getting out on Sunday but there was great determination shown by the players, especially Paul Rua and Damien O’Sullivan. The substitutes Tomas Diver and Ciaran McFadden made an impact. The result has made us re-focus and we’re still in with a shout of the league title. That can wait for now though as we’re expecting a tough game - as we always get from Donegal Town - on Sunday.”