Shaun Paul Barrett takes a Donegal minor side to an Ulster final for the first time on Sunday when they meet Derry in Clones (12 noon), but he is happy that the preparation has been done.
Speaking at the press day in the Council Chambers in Lifford, Barrett is forthright about everything, down to giving a complete and factual medical update on his team - a rare occurrence by any team manager these days.
He lists Shane McGrath (back), Jack Flannery (dead leg), Senan Boyle (hamstring) and Aidan McLaughlin (sick) as his worries, but feels all will be ready.
“Yeah, it’s a big occasion for me as manager, but we came in at the start, that’s what we were looking for; to get the team ready and make the Ulster final,” said Barrett, who feels that a lot of groundwork has been done in recent years.
“There’s an awful lot of work going on in Donegal everywhere, between club coaching, schools' coaching and then the development squads. There’s an awful lot of work going on in development squads for a good number of years now. The one thing that made a huge transition for Donegal was the introduction of an U-17 competition.
“There was a break from the U-16 Buncrana Cup, while other counties in the north were playing college football in MacRory and MacLarnon competitions, our lads weren’t.
“But now there is a transition there as they’re playing U-17 and a huge gap has been closed,” said Barrett, who has been involved at U-17 level.
He is looking forward to Sunday and having a big Donegal following: “It’s massive having two Donegal teams in the Ulster final. There is a great buzz; there should be a massive crowd from Donegal with the two teams there and they will all be coming early. It is a huge boost to the lads. They have been working really hard all year and we would feel that they deserve the support as they have worked hard all year.
“The Minor League went well. It was just building for the championship. The Minor League counts for nothing on Sunday. It was a big building block; we were able to try out different players in different positions, but it was all geared for championship.”
Donegal had an easy win over Derry in Minor League but Barrett is not looking back. “We would take nothing from it. Derry are a very good team. I have seen Derry play three times this year. I think they have 11 players in the squad who were in the victorious panel last year. That’s a huge big of experience to bring to any final. I think they also have four who played on the St. Pat’s, Maghera, McRory Cup team.
“We have been preparing well, trying to get the players focussed for the final; and it’s about winning, that’s it.
“We had five players involved last year; three starters against Derry. There’s a lot of hurt there. I suppose the expectation was huge last year and it didn’t work out. We played Derry three times last year, beat them comprehensively in the first two games and they turned us over in the game that counted. That is good motivation for Sunday,” said Barrett.
The manager agreed that the performance against Monaghan was good, but feels there is still room for improvement.
“We would be happy with our performance in the first half (against Monaghan). You have to win the second half as well,” said Barrett, reflecting on the Monaghan comeback.
“I suppose that was the third game we were in the same position. In the Minor League final against Tyrone, we were behind coming into the last couple of minutes and got up to get the goal that won the game for us.
“Then against Antrim, we were five points down with 11 minutes to go, and against Monaghan, they scored six points at the start of the second half. But the lads have great character, great belief in what they were doing. They know they have a huge amount of work done and they’re ready,” said Barrett, who feels Donegal have plenty of back-up.
“There is huge competition there in the whole squad. And that’s we asked of them at the start of the year, and at training every night. It is the players that have pushed on; they’re looking for positions.
Barrett pointed to a number of players who were important to Derry, not least Shea Downey, son of All-Ireland winner, Seamus, who played centre half-back on the McRory Cup team and is playing in a sweeper role for the minors.
“They are a formidable team, but I have huge confidence in my team.”
Asked if he was worried when they were five points down against Antrim, Barrett said he wasn’t: “The big thing in that game was that we lost Eoghan (McGettigan) and Jason (McGee) six minutes into the restart. When you lose two of your top players, particularly when you go behind and are five points behind. At no time was I worried about them. I said this is going to test them and they answered the test,” said Barrett, who said he was glad to have McGettigan for the semi-final.
“It was unfortunate what happened and Eoghan is a marquee forward and it’s great to have him. Going into that game, Eoghan had broken a toe a couple of weeks before it and he wasn’t fully fit for it. But he’s a fabulous player and we’re glad to have him.”
Barrett also agreed that his midfield pairing were going well, but felt Derry would be planning for them.
“That’s what we will be looking for, to dominate things around the middle of the park. But Derry are going to avoid hitting the ball anywhere near those two men are, so we will have be ready for that. They are two fabulous players, one 6’3’’ and the other 6’4’’. I don’t think there; I haven’t seen one anyway, a better midfield partnership in the whole country; two fabulous players.”
As for his other joint captain, Niall O’Donnell, Barrett was in jovial mood about his great form. “He’s alright!. Look Niall is a fabulous talent. It’s no secret, Niall played with his club minor team last year and was voted the best player in Ulster and that speaks for itself. It’s great to have him and Jason (McGee); these two lads are carrying a lot of hurt from last year. They want to be victorious.”
Asked was there any particular reason for having joint captains in Jason McGee and Niall O’Donnell, Barrett said: “They equally earned it and they are two fabulous leaders,” he said.