Stephen Friel, deeming the glass to be half-full, said it’s better his Donegal panel have won rather than lost two on the bounce going into their Ulster Minor League play-off away to Down on Saturday (throw-in 2pm).
It’s a fair point from the Donegal manager, who has seen the rough with the smooth in the four games his side have contested in this year’s competition. But a place in the last four, while Tyrone and Monaghan also meet, has shown decent progress.
Donegal opened encouragingly an opened up an 0-8 to 0-1 lead over Fermanagh at Brewster Park by the interval only to lose their way in the second half and fall back over the border with an 0-11 to 0-9 loss.
Against Tyrone in Garvaghy, Donegal were holding their opponents at 1-7 apiece on 43 minutes only to unravel and lose 1-13 to 1-7. The first two matches, in terms of the league table, were pointless exercises for Friel.
However, like Jim McGuinness with the seniors, Friel is content to use the springtime curtain-raiser in preparation for that day of days, May 26, when Tyrone visit Sean MacCumhaill Park in Ballbofey.
Donegal got their league campaign moving, although Derry were forced to line out with minus the contingent from St Patrick’s College Maghera, who were preparing for their fifth Hogan cup success. Friel’s team could only beat those that were put in front of them, which they competently managed to do winning 4-13 to 1-7.
Last weekend, Donegal needed to dispose of Antrim and following a wretched first half, came strong in the second to post a 1-7 to 1-3 win and seal a spot in the last four.
Twelve months ago, in Friel’s first in charge of Donegal, they also posted two wins and as many losses but this year unlike last, it has proven to be enough to get through. Friel has used 28 players in four matches to date and is learning more with each passing game.
Until last weekend, Darach O’Connor had been Donegal’s top scorer, with 1-10 in three outings to that point. Against Antrim, there was more a need for physicality and John Campbell, also from Buncrana and Callum Gallagher from Naomh Bríd provided it.
Eamon McGrath was last weekend’s dubutant and wing-back and up front Jamie Brennan from Bundoran scored his third goal of the competition to date.
Down were by far the most impressive side in the four-team Group B with three wins from three.
They opened with a 2-19 to 3-11 win over Monaghan at St Colman’s College before winning 3-13 to 1-9 away to Cavan at Kingspan Breffni Park. Downpatrick was the venue for a 2-10 to 0-9 win over Armagh - a result that sealed their top spot.
“It’s better going into the semi-finals with successive wins compared to just stumbling in there,” Friel added. “It’s a bit of a cliché but I’ve always said the league is about preparing us for the Ulster championship and Tyrone on May 26.
“But we’re in a league semi-final and we will take the game seriously. Some of the mistakes we made yesterday were poor but we have the time on our side to rectify in the next six weeks.”
Donegal minor panel: James Brennan, Bundoran; Eamon McGrath, Aodh Ruadh; Aiden Sweeney, Termon; Jack Scally, Dungloe; Eoin Scally, Dungloe; Colm Kelly, Aodh Ruadh; Peter McLaughlin, Buncrana; Patrick Gillespie, Naomh Mhuire; Lee O’Brien, Cloughaneely; Eoin Ban Gallagher, Killybegs; Bruce Waldron, Buncrana; Paddy Byrne, Naomh Columba; Conor McEniff, St. Eunan’s; Conor O’Donnell, St. Eunan’s; Jack O’Brien, Naomh Mhuire; Oisin Carr, St. Eunan’s; Jordan McBride, St. Eunan’s; Hugh Yank Gallagher, Naomh Mhuire; Lorcan Connor, Downings; Darach O’Connor, Buncrana; Cian Mulligan, Gaoth Dobhair; Conor Mc Cormick, Carndonagh; David Tyrell, St. Eunan’s; Martin Byrne, Kilcar; Conor Harkin, Burt; Calum Gallagher, Naomh Brid; Stephen Jones, Naomh Columba; Aodhan McGinley, Kilcar; Stephen McBrearty, Kilcar; Daire McDaid, Termon; Alan Russell, Bundoran; John Campbell, Buncrana; Niall Friel, Gaoth Dobhair.