DONEGAL will play Derry in the Cadbury’s Ulster under 21 championship semi-final in Omagh on Wednesday night (8 pm).
Maxi Curran’s side defeated a fancied Tyrone side 0-15 to 1-06 in the Ulster quarter-final two weeks ago, and they have now been installed as favourites for the semi-final.
“Maybe people outside of our group didn’t fancy us to beat Tyrone, but we knew we could. We have a very talented group, and we always knew that we had a good chance of beating Tyrone,” said Curran.
Curran, who is also part of the Donegal Senior team management set-up, says he has had no trouble getting his players focus back ahead of the semi-final. He insists that his players are hungry for success after facing disappointing in recent years at minor and under21 level.
“The games are coming thick and fast, so everybody just has to dig in. Most of our boys have had a bad record at underage level, and we have no real pedigree at under 21 level, so it is a big lift to be in the semi-final. It is a great achievement, and the boys want to keep moving forward.”
The clash with Derry will take place in Omagh, the scene of their victory over Tyrone, but Curran suggests that any possible advantage is evened out with the choice of Martin McNally as referee.
“On one hand it is an advantage for us, however the referee for Wednesday night also took charge of Derry’s victory over Antrim, which I think is a bit bizarre and unfair, so that probably evens itself out.”
Derry were very impressive in their 4-12 to 1-7 victory over Antrim, and Curran believes they will pose a formidable threat to Donegal’s chances of reaching the final.
“They have a very good record at this level, and their players have had a lot of success at underage, in the Mac Rory cup and other competitions. They have a lot of medal holders in their group. Eight of their team are in their senior panel, so they have more experience, and that will stand to them.”
Darach O’Connor and Aiden Sweeney are in the panel despite still playing at minor level, and although Curran admits it is a big step up, he says the players were selected for their style of play.
“It is a big step up for the players, but we set out at the start of their year with a strategy to beat Tyrone. We knew a fair bit about Tyrone, and we wanted mobile players with good ball skills. We believe footballers get you there, and with the way football is now, a corner back is as good on the ball as a corner forward. You can see that with our senior team.”
The players were made available to their clubs on Friday, but will sit out the All-County league matches on Sunday to focus on the Derry game. Lee McMonagle is definitely out of the Derry game after picking up an injury whilst on club duty on Friday.
“Lee McMonagle chipped a bone in his ankle for St Eunan’s against Kilcar yesterday and Michael Cannon is out with glandular fever. We have one or two other concerns, but that’s part and parcel of it,” said the Na Dunaibh clubman.
“We allowed the boys to play with their clubs on Friday, and agreed that we would have them on Sunday for training, which we felt was a fair compromise,” he added.
Curran was part of Jim McGuinness’s under 21 management team that reached the All-Ireland final in 2010, and they defeated Derry in the Ulster semi-final en route to winning the Ulster championship. Curran will be hoping for a similar outcome on Wednesday night.