St Eunan’s start the defence of their All-County League Division 1 crown with a double round of fixtures against Kilcar and Gaoth Dobhair this weekend.
The Cathedral town club won the League and Championship double last year, and that makes them the team to beat this year.
“We have set a standard and when you are up there every team is looking to knock you off your perch,” said the St Eunan’s manager, Eamon O’Boyle.
“In 2008, we also were league and championship winners and although we didn’t win the league in 2009, we did win the championship, so it will be important that we keep our focus again this year. It’s all about preparation really,” he added.
O’Boyle believes the league will be open and a number of factors will be key in deciding the destination of the league title.
“The league is open. It depends on a bit of consistency, players staying injury free and the way the league is run with the starred games. Of course, you’re going to have Kilcar, Glenties, Four Michaels, St Michael’s all in with a chance.
“Gaoth Dobhair will want to put last year behind them. They were at the bottom of the table and they won’t want to be down there this year fighting a relegation battle. Football is on a high in Donegal at the minute and everyone wants to be in Division 1.”
Killybegs and Malin have been promoted to Division 1, and O’Boyle believes they will pose a real threat in the division.
“There is very little difference between Division 1 and Division 2 football, and they have earned the right to be there. It’s going to be two tough games when you go down to Malin and Killybegs, you won’t get anything easy down there. Everybody will be knocking on the door, trying to win the league. There will only be two or three points separating the top four or five teams.”
O’Boyle is in sole charge of the team this year, after Michael McGeehin and Brendan Devenney stepped away at the end of last season. Former Sean MacCumhaill’s manager, Pat McNabb, has been drafted in to train the team, while Vincent McGlynn is also part of the management set-up.
“Pat has brought something different to the mix and the lads have responded well. We started back the first week in February. It’s been a hard slog with the way things have been with the weather. But it’s the same for all the teams.”
O’Boyle has the same panel to select from this year, with all of the team that won the double in 2012 coming back for another season.
“Everybody is back training, there is one or two that took an extra two or three weeks off due to personal reasons, but as of now we have everybody on board.”
Kevin Rafferty retired from the inter-county scene at the end of the year, and O’Boyle says it is a great bonus to have him back at club training.
“Raff has been brilliant for us. He has brought the training to another level, and it is great for the lads to have an All-Ireland winner sitting in the dressing room every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The young lads have great respect for him and he is a real leader as well.”
Donegal manager, Jim McGuinness, has released the county players to their clubs for training and this weekend’s fixtures, and O’Boyle is looking forward to having Rory Kavanagh and Ross Wherity back in the mix for this weekend’s games against Kilcar and Gweedore.
Wherity’s form for St Eunan’s in their championship run earned him a call-up to the senior panel, and O’Boyle believes there are others in his panel who are capable of stepping up to inter-county level
“Ross has been given an opportunity this year by the Donegal senior management and by all accounts he has grasped it with both hands. He is doing very well,” he said.
“Jim and his management team have been very fair to every player in the county. And obviously if a club player is playing well with his club, it doesn’t go unnoticed. Ross has been given that opportunity and there are others in the panel that are probably good enough as well,” he added.
O’Boyle is also expecting to have St Eunan’s four members of the Donegal U-21 panel involved for the game against Kilcar, although he has not yet received confirmation that they will be available for Sunday’s game against Gaoth Dobhair.
This year, the Donegal Senior Championship will be played on a round-robin format, and O’Boyle believes that this will mean clubs will have to put even more emphasis on their league form.
“You need to have a consistent bit of league form going into Championship whether it’s a round-robin or knockout. But possibly this year more than ever; it will to be important to have a consistent team out there going into the championship. So the league is going to be vitally important. Every team will be looking to get off to a good start.”
St Eunan’s first game against Kilcar is a repeat of last year’s Donegal Senior Championship first round tie, which was settled with a last minute Wherity goal in the third game.
“It’s a very tough opener; we had a right battle with them in the Championship last year, which went down to a third game, and I suppose they’re probably looking to avenge that.
“The two teams have good respect for each other. Two good young footballing teams, and there is a lot of youth in both teams now, that is something we have been trying to do here at Eunan’s,” he added.
The other fixtures on Good Friday see last year’s Division 2 champions Killybegs entertain Ardara, Killybegs will be looking to make Fintra a fortress this year, while Ardara will be determined to keep their Divison 1 status once again.
Naomh Conaill welcome a Four Masters side, without the 2012 footballer of the year Karl Lacey, to Davy Brennan Memorial Park. Charlie McLaughlin starts his reign in charge of St Michael’s with a trip to play Gaoth Dobhair in Magheragallon.
On Easter Sunday, O’Boyle takes St Eunan’s to Gweedore, while Four Masters face another tough away fixture against Kilcar. Naomh Conaill play Killybegs in a repeat of the 2010 Donegal Senior Championship final. Ardara face one of the longest trips in Donegal as they travel to Malin to take on the newly promoted Inishowen team.
Gary McDaid is back in charge at Glenswilly after taking a year out, and he will be hoping to have the services of Michael Murphy on a more consistent basis this year as they chase promotion back to Divison 1. Glenswilly begin life in Division 2 with an away clash against Buncrana.
Last year’s Division 3 champions, Termon have a new management team in the form of Daireann Gibson and Bernard Gallagher and they will be hoping to get off to a good start against Cloughaneely. Brendan Dunleavy is back in the MacCumhaill’s hotseat, and they face Naomh Mhuire at home. Dungloe, under the guidance of Eugene McGarvey this year, face Glenfin at home.
Two days later, Dungloe and Naomh Mhuire will contest what should be a keenly fought local derby at Rosses Park. MacCumhaills face the daunting task of stopping Michael Murphy and his Glenswilly teammates. Glenfin were defeated in the Championship last year by Bundoran, but they can avenge that defeat when the sides meet in Bundoran on Sunday.
Paul McMenamin is in charge at Buncrana this year, and he will be hoping for a big performance from county star Ryan Bradley on Saturday against Cloughaneely.
There is only one round of fixtures in Division 3 and Division 4 this weekend and they take place on Saturday. Naomh Colmcille will be hoping that the form of County under 21 player Willie Gillespie will see them past last year’s junior champions Downings. After many years of plying their trade in Division 4, Naomh Padraig, Lifford begin life in Division 3 with a home game against John Lynch’s Red Hugh’s, and both sides will be keen to secure points early on.
St Naul’s will be without the services of former county panellist, Stephen Griffin for their home game against Aodh Ruadh. Griffin suffered a broken collarbone against Milford in the Gaeltacht championship. Fanad Gaels have dropped down to Division 3 and they face the prospect of a very difficult away trip to Naomh Columba.
Naomh Brid travel to Carndonagh on Easter Monday, without long-term injury victim, David Walsh. Carndonagh had an excellent start to the 2012 season, and they will be hoping for a similar start this year.
In Division 4, Naomh Padraig, Muff play Convoy on Saturday night, and both sides will be looking to get off to a good start as they chase promotion. Nigel Black is in his second term as manager of Milford, and they face a youthful Letterkenny Gaels at home.
Pettigo return to Division 4, after playing in Division 5 for a number of years and they face a difficult challenge against Burt on Friday. Gerry McHugh is at the helm for Na Rossa, and they welcome Moville to Dooey. Robert Emmets lost out in the Divison 4 promotion play-off at the end of last season, and they host Naomh Ultan in Castlefin, as they launch their bid for promotion.
All County League Fixtures
Friday 29th March
Brian McCormick Sports Division One Senior Round One at 5.15pm
St Eunans v Kilcar Sean Mc Laughlin
Killybegs v Ardara Eugene McHale
Naomh Conaill v Four Masters Jimmy White
Gaoth Dobhair v St Michaels Seamus McGonagle
Mc Glynns Restaurant, Castlefin Division Two Senior Round One at 5.15pm
Sean Mac Cumhaill v Naomh Muire Ian Molloy
Dungloe v Glenfin Martin Coll
Termon v Cloughaneely Mickey Mulhern
Buncrana v Glenswilly Kieran Mc Shea
Mc Glynns Restaurant, Castlefin Division Two Reserve Round One @ 6.45pm
Buncrana v Glenswilly J J Lafferty
Marley Coaches Division Four Senior Round One @ 5-15pm
Pettigo v Burt Shane Toolan
Saturday 30th March
Mc Glynns Restaurant, Castlefin Division Two Reserve Round Two @ 2 pm
Buncrana v Cloughaneely Joe O Donnell
Division Two Senior Round Two @ 3-30pm
Buncrana v Cloughaneely Tony Gallagher
Centra Supermarkets Donegal Division Three Reserve Round One @ 4pm
Naomh Colmcille v Downings John Friel
Naomh Padraig v Red Hughs Ciara Foy
Naomh Naul v Aodh Ruadh Mark Mc Glinchey
Naomh Columba v Fanad Gaels Ronan Mc Callig
Centra Supermarkets Donegal Division Three Senior Round One @ 5-15pm
Naomh Colmcille v Downings Don Langan
Naomh Padraig v Red Hughs Paddy Mc Gonagle
Naomh Naul v Aodh Ruadh Michael McShane
Naomh Columba v Fanad Gaels Connie Doherty
Marley Coaches Division Four Reserve Round One @ 4pm
Naomh Padraig Muff v Convoy Leo Devenaney
Milford v Letterkenny Gaels James Trearty
Na Rossa v Moville Declan Callaghan
Marley Coaches Division Four Senior Round One @ 5-15pm
Naomh Padraig Muff v Convoy Paddy Mc Keever
Robert Emmets v Naomh Ultan Hugo Wallace
Milford v Letterkenny Gaels Liam McConigley
Na Rossa v Moville Shane Toolan
Sunday 31st March
Brian McCormick Sports Division One Reserve Round Two @1-30pm
Gaoth Dobhair v St Eunans James McGinley
Naomh Conaill v Killybegs Ryan Walsh
Kilcar v Four Masters Eugene Mc Hale
Malin v Ardara Sean Paul Doherty
Division One Senior Round Two @ 3pm
Gaoth Dobhair v St Eunans Ian Molloy
Naomh Conaill v Killybegs Michaell Mc Shane
Kilcar v Four Masters Seamus Mc Gonagle
Malin v Ardara Paddy Mc Gonagle
Mc Glynns Restaurant, Castlefin Division Two Reserve Round Two @1-30pm
Dungloe v Naomh Muire Paddy Mc Keever
Bundoran v Glenfin Sylvester Maguire
Sean Mc Cumhaills v Glenswilly Mark Dorrain
Mc Glynns Restaurant, Castlefin Division Two Senior Round Two @ 3pm
Dungloe v Naomh Muire Mickey Mulhern
Bundoran v Glenfin Connie Doherty
Sean Mc Cumhaills v Glenswilly Sean Mc Laughlin
Monday 1st April
Centra Supermarkets Donegal Division Three Reserve Round One @ 1-30pm
Carndonagh v Naomh Brid John Friel
Division Three Senior Round One @ 3pm
Carndonagh v Naomh Brid Hugo Wallace