Donegal hurlers have home tie with Fermanagh

Donegal hurlers have home tie with Fermanagh
Tom Comack sport@donegaldemocrat.com

Donegal manager Ardal McDermott could be forgiven for thinking, after hearing Fermanagh were Donegal’s Nicky Rackard Cup second round opponents, that luck was finally turning.

Donegal will have home advantage against Fermanagh on Saturday in O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny. (Throw-in 2pm).  

After an injury-ridden Division 2B Allianz League campaign in which they suffered seven straight defeats, including two promotion relegation playoffs, Donegal were feeling down on their luck, heading into the Nicky Rackard Championship.

 A three point first round defeat to Armagh in the Athletic Grounds on Saturday, has raised flagging spirits. Armagh won 2-19 to 3-13, 

“It is probably as close as we ever got to Armagh, in Armagh,” the Donegal manager told the Democrat.

“We were nine points down in the middle of the second half and the lads could have thrown in the towel but they didn’t.

“They dug in and showed tremendous character and they stormed back into the game. They got it back to two points late on before Armagh made it a three point game again in injury time.

“I’m not for one minute saying we deserved to win the game but with a little bit of luck, we could have stole it.

“But overall it was an encouraging performance. Armagh are a good side. They won Division 2B and beat Down in a promotion/relegation playoff  and to run them so close has given the lads great belief.”

Luck  has been in short supply for McDermott and his squad this season. Donegal began their second season in Division 2B without team captain Danny Cullen, Nicky Rackard All-Star defender from last year Jamesie Donnelly and experienced forward Enda McDermott, all on the injured list.

They then lost Kevin Campbell, just when he was showing a return to the form of old, Martin McGrath and Ronan McDermott also to injury, early in the campaign.  

Performances suffered and as a consequence Donegal lost to Mayo, Armagh, Meath,  Down and Wicklow twice, once in the league series and once in a play-off.  They also lost to Roscommon in a final tilt at survival in 2B.

“Our luck has begun to turn in recent weeks, though when I stepped on the bus on Saturday morning to head to Armagh, Jamesie  Donnelly came up and told me that he wasn’t feeling the best and had been sick earlier and the night before,” McDermott added.

“Fair play to Jamesie, he started, but we had to pull him before half-time. He wasn’t  feeling well at all.

“But yeah, the lads have slowly been coming back to the team and we have been stronger in the last couple of games and the performances have improved.”

Division Three champions and last year’s Nicky Rackard champions, Roscommon defeated Donegal by a point, 3 -13 to 4-9, in the playoff.

“With most of the boys back, the performances have improved and there is a great belief in the squad. The lads honestly believe they are a match for any of the teams left in the championship.”

Last weekend Ronan McDermott returned for his first game since the second round meeting with Armagh in O’Donnell back in February.

Armagh, Mayo, Monaghan and Fingal  were last Saturday’s’ first round winners  while Tyrone and Longford are the other first round losers still in the championship.

McDermott expects Donnelly to be fit to take his place at the heart of the defence and he also expects to have his captain Danny Cullen, who played last weekend with a broken finger, for the clash with the Erne men.   

Fermanagh won three of their four games in Division 3B and then lost the 3B final to Tyrone.

“We will not take them for granted but if we play as well as we did against Armagh,  we feel we are in with a good chance of advancing to the quarter-final and who knows after that,” the managed said.