Donegal are bidding to reach their second Ulster Minor Championship final in three seasons when they face Monaghan on Saturday in Kingspan Breffni Park. (5 pm)
The game is the curtain raiser to the Donegal, Monaghan Senior Championship clash and no more than the senior tie, the minor meeting between two counties has all the ingredients of a closely fought encounter.
Donegal, the three in-a-row Ulster Minor League champions and Monaghan have met already this season.
That was in the Ulster Minor League semi-final in St Tiernach’s Park, Clones back in the middle of April and in that game it took extra time to separate them before Donegal emerged 0-23 to 0-21 winners before going on to make history by winning the Minor League three times in succession..
St Eunan’s Niall O’Donnell scored 13 of Donegal’s points from centre half-forward, eight of them from frees, including a last gasp equaliser that tied up the game at 0-18 each at the end of normal time.
Niall Garland, at right corner forward, did most of the scoring for Monagan and ended up with 0-11 behind his name at the finish with five of them from frees.
And O’Donnell and Garland were the form men again in their respective championship openers. O’Donnell was in devastating form against Antrim in Corrigan Park, Belfast when hit 2-5 as 14 man Donegal came from behind to finally see off the Saffrons 2-11 to 2-7.
Garland also has his shooting boots on as he hit 0-8 in Monaghan’s 0-13 to 0-11 win over Down, in their quarter-final in Clones.
“Monaghan are a good side. We obviously played them in the league semi-final up in Clones, that day and it was a game that could have gone either way,” Donegal manager, Shaun Paul Barrett, who is in his first year as minor manager after taking over from Declan Bonner at the end of last year.
“We feel we have a good side, too, and there is very little between them. They are two pretty evenly matched teams and we are going to have to play much better than we did against Antrim if we are to win.”
Donegal defeated Antrim after been given a real scare. It took the sheer brilliance of Niall O’Donnell in that game, who twice dragged his team back from four down in the second half, before they eventually pulled away in the closing minutes.
Others to stand up and be counted when Donegall were not having their own way were Odhran Shields, J D Boyle and Aidan McLaughlin in the half-back line; Seaghan Ferry at corner-back, Kieran Gallagher at midfield and the roving Peadar Mogan.
“We were very cautious against Antrim in the first half and they were level with us at half-time and then they got a couple of goals early in the second half and they made it difficult for us. But Niall dug us out and I thought a number of lads stood up and were counted when our backs were to the wall.
“In fairness Antrim were a decent side. They beat Tyrone earlier in the season in the league and they had a championship game under their belts and they were at home in Corrigan Park.
“They had a lot going for them but in the end we came away with the result which was the most important thing.
“We know a performance like that will not do on Saturday evening. Monagan are formidable opposition and we are going to have to play much better or we will be out.”
Donegal’s prospects got a major boost last week with the lifting of the one match ban facing Eoghan McGettigan, following his straight red card in the early minutes of the second half against Antrim. The Naomh Conaill man had the red card rescinded on appeal to the Ulster Council.
However, Donegal are likely to be without Termon’s Enda McCormick, who was involved in a road traffic accident at the weekend and is rated extremely doubtful by Shaun Paul Barrett.
“He will be fine and it is nothing too serious but he is very stiff and very sore and at this stage I would say he is extremely doubtful.”
He was replaced by Kilcar’s Brian O’Donnell last time out and O’Donnell and Aodh Ruadh’s Shane McGrath are the two main contenders for the number ten shirt.
But other than McCormick, Barrett has reported a clean bill of health and Donegal are expected to be along the lines of the team that started against Antrim.