Niall O’Donnell and Jason McGee are joint captains of the Donegal minor team that face Derry in Sunday’s Electric Ireland Ulster Minor Championship final.
They’re not sure how it came about and whether or not manager Shaun Paul Barrett initially meant that one of them was to be the captain and the other the vice -captain.
But it has worked out well as they have captained Donegal to a third Ulster Minor League title already this season. And they have also led their team to a second Ulster minor final in two years with victories over Antrim and Monaghan.
Niall and Jason were members of last year’s highly fancied Donegal side that suffered a shock semi-final defeat at the hands of the Oak Leafers.
Donegal, backboned by a good sprinkling of the players that lost the previous year’s All-Ireland final to Kerry, went into last year’s last four clash with Derry as the raging hot favourites.
But Derry and Conor Glass were lying in the long grass and Derry won 0-11 to 0-10 after Conor Doherty drove a last minute controversial penalty over for a the crossbar.
“It was a shock. We beat Derry twice last year in the league comfortably enough,” said Niall O’Donnell.
“Going into the game we didn’t really know what to expect. We knew Derry were going to be tough but we thought we’d get over that game and get to an Ulster final.
“But we learned the hard way. Derry put us under immense pressure all over the pitch from corner-back to full-forward.
“There is a lot of hurt as we were hoping for a long summer last year. We had the team to do that but Derry turned us over.
“Hopefully, now, after a good league campaign, we can get off and running in the championship.
Jason McGee agrees: “After that Ulster semi-final last year I just said to myself that I want this Ulster championship so I wanted to come back and reach the final and hopefully win it,” said the 6’4’’ Cloughaneely midfielder.
“I just seen how hurt I was last year and how hurt the rest of the lads were. We carry a lot of experience this year and we’ll see where that can take us,” he added.
Just like last year, Donegal have already defeated Derry in the Ulster Minor League.
Donegal chalked up a 3-12 to 0-6 win in their meeting in Celtic Park, back at the beginning of April.
But with the lesson learned from last year no one in the Donegal camp is getting ahead of themselves, least of all the joint captains who experienced the hurt of having the rug pulled from under their championship ambitions last year.
Both Niall and Jason may still be in their formative years, but experience has taught them that the difference between league and championship is chalk and cheese.