Donegal hurlers have the carrot of big day out in Croke Park dangling in front of them when they face Monaghan in the Nicky Rackard Cup Senior Hurling Championship semi-final in O’Donnell Park on Saturday. (Throw-in 3 pm).
That is the prize for winners of the clash, a final showdown with either Tyrone or Roscommon on the hallowed sod of GAA Headquarters, Jones Road, Dublin.
Defeated semi-finalists last year when the lost to Louth, Donegal go into Saturday’s clash on the back of an impressive away quarter-final victory over Roscommon.
Monaghan, on the other hand, find themselves in the last four by coming through the second chance saloon. They bounced back with a very comfortable 5-12 to 2-7 victory over Sligo last Saturday, having themselves suffered a heavy 2-19 to 1-10 defeat to Tyrone in the first round.
Donegal suffered a heavy 3-18 to 0-7 defeat at the hands of Louth in last year’s semi-final.
“Last year’s defeat to Louth hurt a lot and we are anxious to make amends this time around and make it through to the final in Croke Park. Croke Park, is a mighty carrot for all the lads and when you factor in that the boys are going all out to make up for last year, we are not lacking in motivation,” insisted Donegal manager, Ray Durack, who played for Donegal for years and never got the opportunity to play on the famous turf.
“It is a great opportunity for hurlers from the weaker counties nowadays. We have a number of boys that have played two or three times in Croke Park, and they are getting another opportunity to have another big day out on the famous ground once again.”
Donegal and Monaghan have played each other once already this season. That was in the Allianz National Hurling League, back at the very start of the season.
On that occasion, also in O’Donnell Park, Donegal gave the Farney men the mother and father of a hiding. Durack’s new look side had 18 points to spare at the final bell. They won 3-18 to 1-6 with Stephen Boyle (2) and Paddy Hannigan scoring the goals on a day Donegal dominated for most of the 70 minutes, and had eight different scorers.
Sean McVeigh, Ronan McDermott, Jamsie Donnelly, Danny Cullen and Ciaran Matthewson all raised white flags in a one sided encounter and the start of a five game unbeaten run in the league.
Monaghan relied on Michael McHugh for the bulk of their scores. Freetaker McHugh posted five of Monaghan’s six points with midfielder Maurice McKenna scoring the goal late in the game.
“They were missing a good few players that day and we will not be reading too much into that result. And besides they had a good win over Tyrone in the relegation play-off and they put up a big score against Sligo last weekend in their quarter-final.
Two defeats to Fingal, one when they had already their place booked in the Division 3 final, and again in the decider are the only blemish on an otherwise good season so far for Durack’s men.
One of Donegal’s best performances was against Roscommon last time out. In that game they came from behind to win 1-16 to 0-16. St. Eunan’s Sean McVeigh sparked the revival with a superb goal early in the second half.
“Sean’s goal gave us a great lift and we really played well after that and in fact we led at one stage in the second half by six points before they finished with a few late pointed frees,” said Durack, who insisted that Donegal were the better team and deserving winners. Lee Henderson and Paul Sheridan, both who missed the win over the Connacht men, are still on the doubtful list this week.
Henderson missed the Roscommon game with a medial ligament injury suffered in the league final against Fingal, while Sheridan is recuperating from a hip injury suffered in training.
“Lee and Paul are back in training, but we will leave it until later in the week before we make a final call on their fitness.”
Otherwise, Durack has reported a full squad to select from when he sits down to name his starting 15 for Saturday’s game and a crack and at a Nicky Rackard Cup final, and another big day out in Croke Park.