Towney in spotlight as championship takes centre stage again

Towney in spotlight as championship takes centre stage again
Tom Comack sport@donegaldemocrat.com @dgldemocrat

Kilcar and St Michael’s, two of the heavyweights of Donegal football, meet in what is the match of the round in the Michael Murphy Sports & Leisure Senior Championship on Sunday.

The game is in Towney, Kilcar, and is a second round tie in Group B of the championship.

Kilcar drew their first round tie against St Eunan’s in O’Donnell Park and St Michael’s chalked up an impressive 2-11 to 0-7 victory over Killybegs in Dunfanaghy.

Kilcar are the form team at the moment and last weekend went top of the Division One League table with a 2-15 to 0-14 win over Gaoth Dobhair.

They are backboned by their five county men - Ryan, Mark and Eoin McHugh, Patrick and Stephen McBrearty - as well as former county men Michael Hegarty and Ciaran McGinley. Ryan McHugh is in brilliant form this season and has the Donegal player of the year award wrapped up already after a number of outstanding performances in the county shirt.

And Ciaran McGinley, who has been on the fringes of the county team in recent seasons, is the standout midfielder in club football this season so far.

St Michael’s, after an indifferent start to the league, have hit a rich vein of form in recent weeks.

Their big men are county players Martin McElhinney, Christy Toye and Colm McFadden while Daniel McLaughlin has returned after a lengthy layoff through injury. Andrew Kelly, Michael McGinley and Ciaran ‘the Rock ‘ Gallagher are all fine young footballera and are having a good season.

St Michael’s may be the underdogs but they are heading to Towney on Sunday fully believing they are good enough to upset the odds.

They have already beaten Kilcar twice in the league this season and they made the trip to Towney two years ago, also in the group stages and came away with the spoils.

“We cannot read anything into those results; there were so many players missing from the two teams,” insisted St Michael’s midfielder, Ciaran ‘the Rock’ Gallagher.

“We were without Martin (McElhinney) Christy (Toye) and Colm (McFadden) and they were without the McHughs, Ryan Mark and Eoin and Patrick and Stephen McBrearty.

“It’s a matter of going out and making sure that we put in a performance and see what happens on the day,” concluded the St Michael’s midfielder.

“We believe if we perform we have the players to put it up to the best and that includes Kilcar.”

On that day two years ago in Towney, St Michael’s pulled off a surprise nine point win, 2-8 to 0-5.

Michael Gallagher and Daniel McLaughlin scored the goals for St Michael’s who played with big numbers behind the ball and hit the highly fancied Kilcar on the break.

John McNulty and Rory Gallagher were joint Kilcar managers in 2014.

And McNulty, now manager of the Donegal Masters team, expects St Michael’s to employ similar tactics again on this visit.

“It worked well against us two years ago and I expect they will employ the same tactic again this time around,” said the former joint boss.

“It worked well for them because they have the men like Martin McElhinney and Christy Toye to break at pace from midfield.

“Most teams coming to Kilcar this year adopted a similar tactic because the are aware of the attacking threat we pose.

“I was in at the game against Gaoth Dobhair on Friday night and Gaoth Dobhair got big numbers behind the ball.

“But we still managed to break them down and scored 2-15. Our lads have matured a lot in the last two years.

“They are the form team in the county and while St Michael’s are a very good side and will ask questions, I expect that we should about shade it,” said McNulty.

Kilcar's quest to bridge that championship gap back to 1993 is on the line. A win for St. Michael's will ensure their quarter-final place, but it's hard to see anything but a Kilcar win. They learned lessons in 2014 which they surely will have learned.

Verdict: Kilcar

Killybegs v St. Eunan’s (Saturday)

In the other game in Group B, St Eunan’s, who drew first day out with Kilcar, go head to head with Killybegs in Fintra.

They will be without Conor O’Donnell and Kevin Rafferty to injury and U-21 star Darragh Mulgrew is still in the US and is not expected to be home in time for the game.

This is a backs to the walls tie too for Killybegs who suffered a heavy opening day defeat to St Michael’s.

St. Eunan’s with Rory Kavanagh, Caolan Ward and Eamon Doherty backboning their challenge and with forwards of the calibre of Conor Gibbons and Lee McMonagle, should have a little too much for the Gary Conaghan managed Killybegs.

Verdict: St Eunan’s.

GROUP A

Bundoran v Ardara (Saturday)

It will not be lost on Ardara manager, Seamus Gallagher, and his players as they head to Gaelic Park, Bundoran on Saturday evening, that their bid for survival at the top table of Donegal league football began a number of weeks ago against Realt Na Mara, Bundoran in Gaelic Park.

Their 4-8 to 2-13 win over the locals at the end of July ended a nine game losing run.

However, Bundoran will take heart from their 3-11 to 3-7 win in Pearse Park in the earlier round of the league.

Verdict: Bundoran

Glenswilly v Dungloe (Sunday)

The prospect of facing Glenswilly without Michael Murphy and Neil Gallagher has greatly enhanced Dungloe’s chances of qualifying from the group.

Dungloe have defeated Glenswilly in the league in Pairc Naomh Columba earlier in the season.

Michael Murphy (knee) and Neil Gallagher, (hamstring) have been ruled out of this game by team mentor Gary McDaid.

Glenswilly are a seasoned championship outfit. And in Eamon Ward, Pio McDevitt, Caolan Kelly, Darren McGinley, Joe Gibbons, Kealan and Gary McFadden they have experienced campaigners.

Verdict: Dungloe.

GROUP C

MacCumhaill’s v Glenfin (Saturday)

MacCumhaill’s and Glenfin both play in Division Two of the All-County Football League.

Marty O’Reilly, MacCumhaill’s, and Frank McGlynn, Glenfin, are the big name players involved. They have met twice in the league and have one win each.

With both sides losing first day out (Glenfin at home to Naomh Muire and MacCumhaill’s away to Malin), this is a crunch local derby where defeat will mean an end to their championship run.

Verdict: Sean MacCumhaill's

Naomh Muire v Malin (Sunday)

Naomh Muire and Malin won their first round games against Glenfin and Sean MacCumhaills, respectively.

Sean ‘Yank’ Boyle, Harry Harden, Paul ‘Yank’ Boyle, Darragh White and Padraig McCaffery did the business for Naomh Muire against Four Masters last Saturday evening. And along with Brian Gillespie and Aidy O’Gara in defence are the men Eamonn O’Boyle will be looking to clinch the quarter-final spot.

However, Malin have championship pedigree. And with Declan Walsh, Charlie Byrne, Anthony Kelly, Brendan McLaughlin and Matthew Byrne in their lineup they have a formidable look about them and will be a tough nut to crack.

Verdict: Malin

GROUP D

Termon V Gaoth Dobhair
(Saturday)

With Neil and Eamon McGee, Ciaran Gillespie, Odhran MacNiallais and Michael Carroll from the current Donegal squad and former All-Star Kevin Cassidy, Gaoth Dobhair have a formidable look them.

Gaoth Dobhair will go into Saturday evening’s tie at the Burn Road as the raging hot favourites.

Termon are one team Gaoth Dobhair always seem to take the best out of.

Shaun O’Donnell, Johnny McCafferty, Kevin ‘Wappa’ McMenamin and Michael Boyle are still around from the old guard.

And while the introduction of Daire and Caolan McDaid, Aidan Sweeney and Fintan O’Flynn has added fresh sparkle to the attack, they should be no match for Gaoth Dobhair.

Verdict: Gaoth Dobhair

Four Masters v Naomh Conaill
(Sunday)

Naomh Conaill are one of the championship favourites to retain their title.

They warmed up for this weekend with an impressive win in the league over St Eunan’s in O’Donnell Park on Saturday evening.

Four Masters are having a good league run too, albeit in Division Two.

The Masters lineup is made up very much a mix of the old guard of Barry Monaghan, Barry Dunnion, Karl Lacey and Michael Doherty and a promising crop of young players that have come through from underage.

Verdict: Naomh Conaill