The St Eunan’s and Kilcar rivalry at underage level has continued and the two leading sides in the county meet to contest the Division One minor final on Sunday in Ballybofey.
With the St Paul’s Tournament - the unofficial competition for the nine county champions in Ulster - already underway, Donegal will not have representation in the provincial championship.
However, a long season of occasional action will come to a head in the coming weeks. With Cloughaneely twiddling their thumbs and already in the county league final, St Eunan’s have a semi-final replay in that competition to look forward to against Aodh Ruadh the weekend after next but for now, their focus is on championship matters.
St Eunan’s are the reigning county minor champions. Lee McMonagle won the senior final earlier this month and last season the wing-forward captained St Eunans’s to their 3-7 to 0-3 win over Ardara.
He has moved on but there’s still a huge number of players remaining, such as Jordan McBride, Conor Parke, Conor O’Donnell, Dan O’Donnell, Darragh Mulgrew, Oisin Carr, Conor McEniff, Kevin Meehan, Barry McGeehin and Michael Roache.
This term, the side managed by Martin Blaney reached the final after a comfortable 4-9 to 1-5 semi-final victory over Naomh Conaill last Sunday week.
McEniff, O’Donnell, Carr and substitute Michael Miller were the goalscorers on a bleak afternoon in Ballybofey.
That fixture took place nine weeks after their Northern Regional Board final victory, 1-13 to 1-3, against Cloughaneely in Termon. Beforehand, the Letterkenny side got the better of Urris and Buncrana.
Blaney’s group of players suffered heartbreak as they lost U-12, U-13 and U-14 finals but put that right when they got the better of Kilcar in both the league and championship finals at U-16 level in 2010.
Both matches were close. Cormac Blaney’s late goal gave St Eunan’s a 2-8 to 0-13 win in the league final at Tírconaill Park, while McEniff was the match-winner in the championship final.
McEniff is a doubt for Sunday with tonsillitis but the St Eunan’s management are hoping he will be fit to play. Cruciate victim Thomas Grant is out long-term.
“It’s anyone’s game,” manager Martin Blaney said. “The sides haven’t met since the U-16 bracket two years ago and there was nothing in either of those games. With that in mind, I’d have to say there’s no favourites on Sunday.”
Kilcar, who were last minor champions two years ago when they got the better of Cloughaneely, are in the final only because of a remarkable comeback, also against Cloughaneely, in the county semi-final a fortnight ago.
Three times in the first half, the northern runners-up hit the Kicar net and were 3-3 to 1-4 in arrears at the break.
However, the side managed by John McNulty rallied after the interval and with Ryan McHugh hitting 1-5 and Matthew McClean 0-5, the turnaround and 1-14 to 4-4 win was complete.
The loss, though, of Stephen McBrearty almost derailed Kilcar and McNulty will give his centre-back as much time as is humanly possible to recover from the knee injury he picked up that afternoon in Letterkenny.
Martin Byrne, another important player, has a similar injury and he didn’t even get to line out in the semi-final.
The win came nine days after they defeated Naomh Conaill in the Southern Regional Board final, 2-11 to 0-6 in Convoy with Aaron Doherty and Conor Doherty the goalscorers for the Towney outfit.
Previously in the south, Kilcar got the better of Aodh Ruadh and Ardara.
“It’s always great for such a small parish to get to a county final,” manager McNulty, who managed Kilcar to the minor title in 2010 and the U-21 championship last year.
“St Eunan’s will be a huge challenge as they’re unbeaten all year. We gave ourselves a bit of a fright in the last round against Cloughaneely but thankfully we managed to come through it in the end.”
Margins are as thin as they’ve always been between St Eunan’s and Kilcar, as the teams showed two years ago. Whoever wins on Sunday can steal a march.