St Eunan’s and Kilcar, two of Donegal football heavyweights, go head to head this Sunday, in the plum tie in the first round of games in the Michael Murphy Sports and Leisure Donegal Senior championship.
The game is in O’Donnell Park, and one of eight first round games down for decision this weekend, two on Saturday and six on Sunday afternoon.
You have to go back four seasons to find the last time the two last met in the race for the most coveted prize in Donegal football, the Dr Maguire Cup.
That was in 2012 and was the last season of the old championship format of home and away, with the first game in O’Donnell Park.
Kilcar were managed by James McHugh, with Rory Gallagher alongside him and Eamon O’Boyle, Michael McGeehin and Brendan Devenney was the St Eunan’s management team.
Kilcar won the the first game in O’Donnell Park, a low scoring contest 1-8 to 1-5; St Eunan’s turned the tables in Towney, 1-12 to 0-10 and went on to win the play-off in Convoy, 2-8 to 2-5, on their way to going all the way to capture the Dr Maguire Cup for a 13th time.The games were played on successive weeks as the championship had been delayed by Donegal’s All-Ireland win.
Since those 2012 senior meetings the clubs have also locked horns in two U-21 finals in 2014 and 2015, the final of which was in January of this year.
And the spoils have been divided equally. St Eunan’s won the 2014 final and Kilcar took the honours in last January’s decider for the club’s second U-21 title in three years.
John McNulty guided Kilcar to those two U-21 titles and also managed Kilcar to a minor championship final triumph over St Eunan’s in 2012.
Up to ten of the current Kilcar starting 15 were members of those Kilcar winning minor and U-21 teams and there are an equal number of regular members on St Eunan’s starting teams.
Therefore it comes as no great surprise to John McNulty, that Kilcar and St Eunan’s are two of the real championship contenders.
“We’ve had a number of great battles with them and I have to say they were all good games and we always liked playing St Eunan’s,” said John McNulty.
“And I’m not saying that because we had a record against them, but because they were always a good team to play against.
“They always play to win but they always stick to football and they always took their defeats well and they celebrated their wins with dignity.”
John McNulty has worked with Mark, Ryan and Eoin McHugh, Patrick and Stephen McBrearty, Matthew and Andrew McClean, Pauric Carr, Aodhan McGinley and Conor Doherty, all key players in the current Kilcar team members.
“Everybody from Mark McHugh down I would have worked with at minor and U21 level.
“They are a really talented bunch of players. They have a great attitude to the game and they would never let you down and they have worked hard and were always prepared to work hard to be successful. They were a treat to work with and it was a great honour for me to have had the opportunity to work with them.”
Lee McMonagle, Caolan Ward, Conor Parke, Conor Morrison, Darragh Mulgrew, Conor Gibbons, Sean Daffan and Conor O’Donnell are the St Eunan’s names that tip of McNulty’s lips when asked who were the St Eunan’s players that had impressed him in those two U-21 and one minor final meetings.
“They are all quality players and on those two occasions we beat them we had to be at our best and really play well as a team. They are all top class players and when you add in the experience of Rory Kavanagh, Conall Dunne, Kevin Rafferty and John Haran you have class team.”
The championship winning manager was not willing to put his head on the block when asked how he felt Sunday’s game would go and the likely winners.
However, he does expect it will be a close affair as all Kilcar and St Eunan’s big games usually turn out and with the quality in both teams he is also looking forward to a really good game of football.
He also feels with two new managers, Martin McHugh, Kilcar, and David McGinley, St Eunan’s, they will be anxious to lay down markers for later in the year.