As the evenings close in, club footballers and hurlers throughout the country are chasing their Holy Grail. County championships are in full swing and for a change, games are not being called off to suit a county manager or a challenge match in secrecy.
Donegal are down to the last four in the senior championship with Glenswilly set to play Malin and Kilcar about to do battle with reigning champions Glenties, probably for many the county final.
I am not a big believer in the round-robin system. I think it removes the intensity and spirit of the previous system where you played home and away and which always threw up the opportunity of a bit of a surprise. The group system, like the back door All-Ireland series, allows the big sides a second chance.
Let’s start with the Malin-Glenswilly game. For me and everyone else I presume, you look to Glenswilly as being favourites; they have in their side proven championship winners, two county championships in 2011 and 2013. They have added a couple of younger lads to the fold but if Malin are to reach the county final they have to put the hold on Ms. Gallagher and Murphy who once again controlled things against MacCumhaill’s in the quarter-final.
Don’t get me wrong, Glenswilly are not all about the two lads, but with them they are a much better side. Malin have worked away for the last 15 to 20 years trying to compete at this level. They have been a constant fixture in Division 1 for much of that time, with a blip here and there, but have always been there or thereabouts. If they lack anything, it’s that marquee player that other teams go out of their way to keep out of the game; the player that you know will get you that goal or two or will chip in with six or seven points. In order to beat Glenswilly they will need to play out of their skins and hope the Glen men don’t.
I can only see this going one way: Glenswilly to continue their exceptional recent record of appearing in county finals.
The other semi-final is not as easy to call. Naomh Conaill v Kilcar would have been everyone’s county final. On this year’s league form they are, without doubt, the two best teams in the county this year. However, as we all know from the past, league form counts for nothing when it comes to the championship and the team that will come out on top will be the side that wants it the most and has the players to carry that out.
Tactics, game plans and all that stuff go out the window when two good sides go at it and from recent meetings in the past there will be no love lost between this pair. Kilcar would go in as slight favourites considering their form of late. They have been relentless this year in their search for their first title since 1993. Martin McHugh has taken the reigns himself to point them in the right direction. Nothing has been spared in getting this group of players in the right place to help them achieve their goal.
Glenties, on the other hand, have done this all before. They won last year’s championship at a canter; in most of their games you felt if they needed, they could go to another level and with a brilliant underage structure in place they have added players to their squad even since last year.
Kilcar have a serious attack; they have players that love to hit you on the break and have the speed to carry it out. Glenties, on the other hand, like to move the ball through the hands but have that physical element that Kilcar don’t have.
Kilcar will not want a battle. They will want to play the game at a high intensity and pace; they will want to avoid the tackle and kick points when possible. Glenties are defensively minded; they will set up to close down the space and will tackle in numbers to give no Kilcar player time on the ball.
We will need a strong referee. There are a lot of strong characters on the pitch who will try to dictate the game. As I see it Kilcar are not far away. If they have a weakness it may be they get drawn out from the backline too much; they attack as a unit and can be left exposed.
Glenties, like every other reigning champions, have to make sure they take nothing for granted and that they have the hunger for the fight. Too close to call but I think there might only be a kick of the ball either way in this one.
It was interesting reading and listening to comments in relation to the new contract for the county manager, Rory Gallagher. While I have no problem in giving Rory more time, there were a number of questions I would have liked answered. Why was it so important to get this contract sorted in such a rushed manner? Had he not more time to run on the old one? Was there not the opportunity to give him a fourth year if everyone was happy? Why had there to be talk in national press about people walking away if they didn’t get what they wanted? Who leaked the story to the press? Why were the players asked? Surely players should not be put in a position of making a comment whether they like the manager or not or believe he is the right person for the job or not.
Many throughout the clubs in Donegal would have liked to pose questions before the new contract offer was made. I am sure after two Ulster final defeats and a poor finish to the National League last year, losing five games on the bounce, there are questions, but we had to rush it. Nothing changes.