By Tom Comack
Donegal, the back-to-back All-Ireland U-21 C hurling champions make a step up to U-21 B level when they face Kerry on Saturday in Semple Stadium, Thurles. (throw-in 4pm)
Conquerors of Tyrone and Fermanagh in the All-Ireland C championship, Donegal, for the second year-in-a-row, are stepping out of their zone and moving up to challenge for U-21 B honours
Last season, Donegal lost away to Mayo in the last eight.
Kerry, the seven times U-21 B All-Ireland winners, are even a notch or two again up on Mayo.
“It’s a huge step up,” said Donegal manager and former Limerick hurler Tom Hennessy, for whom Saturday’s game is something of a return home.
“But if we are to progress Donegal hurling, we are going to have to play teams like Kerry.
“Thurles is recognised as the home of Munster hurling and the walls of Semple Stadium are dripping hurling history. I was lucky enough to play there for Limerick a good few times in my younger days.”
Donegal’s prospects for Saturday’s date with history have suffered a serious setback with the loss of Sam ‘Roe’ Doherty, man of the match in the 11 point Healy Park, All-Ireland C final win over Fermanagh.
The Buncrana man will miss the game through injury. He scored 2-1 in the 3-7 to 1-2 win over the Erne County.
Donegal also lost dual star Conor O’Donnell to a cruciate injury ahead of the final against Fermanagh.
“Sam ‘Roe’ is a huge loss but we have a panel of 25 players and I’m confident that whoever we decide to replace him will be up to the task and will do a good job,” the manager added.
Matt Ahern, Daniel Wilson, Tommy Gillespie and Oisin Rooney are the players in the running to replace the injured Doherty.
Donegal trained on Tuesday night and are due to overnight in Maynooth on Friday night before heading to Thurles on Saturday.
“We know we face a huge challenge and we will have to play very well,” Hennessy said.
“But the important thing is that we do not let the occasion get to us and we play the game, not the occasion.”