Naomh Conaill and Kilcar is the pairing most followers of Donegal club football wanted to see contest this year’s final of the Michael Murphy Sports and Leisure Senior Championship final.
They are the two form teams in the county in 2016.
Naomh Conaill are the reigning champions and Kilcar the pacesetters in the AllSportStore.com Division One league and current table toppers. Naomh Conaill are in third place in the league standings.
Naomh Conaill defeated Termon, Four Masters and Gaoth Dobhair - the only team in the four groups to win all three group games.
And the champions had five points to spare at the end of last Sunday evening’s quarter-final clash with St Eunan’s in Ballybofey. That game was a repeat of last year’s county final. They won that game by two points 0-12 to 0-10.
This Sunday evening’s last four meeting is also a repeat of last year’s semi-final; a game Naomh Conaill won 4-10 to 0-10 thanks to goals from Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy, Eoghan McGettigan, Leon Thompson and Leo McLoone.
Kilcar are managed this time around by Martin McHugh, who took over from Michael Molloy.
They ended the group stages on five points with wins over St Michael’s and Killybegs and a draw with St Eunan’s.
Ryan McHugh landed a late free to earn his team a share of the points in 0’Donnell Park back in the middle of May.
John Haran, St Eunan’s veteran, scored a point from full-forward in that first round tie.
And he was again alternating between the edge of the square and midfield for St Eunan’s in last weekend’s quarter-final defeat by Naomh Conaill.
“We gave it our best shot and I know people are saying that Naomh Conaill did not play well. But the bottom line is they won by five points,” said Haran, a veteran of 22 championship campaigns and the holder of seven winners’ medals.
“You cannot argue with that. Naomh Conaill are a very good side and are very experienced.
“A number of their players have won three championships and they have another group of lads with two medals.
“They are battle-hardened and they know how to win and I think they will improve from last weekend.
“Last weekend’s game was the first real test of them, up to that they had been comfortable winners over Four Masters and Gaoth Dobhair.
“We probably did them a favour in that we exposed a few of their weaknesses and they will have time to work on those areas this week.
“They replaced their full-back and they did not do well on their own kick outs. These are just two areas they will need to improve on but the two Martins, Regan and Doherty, will work on those few things this week. And that is why Naomh Conaill will step it up another notch this weekend.”
The St Eunan’s veteran does acknowledge that Kilcar have quality right through their team.
“Kilcar are a good side; they have great pace right through the team. But I don’t think they have been tested yet in the championship.
“They won’t have learned a lot from last weekend’s 15 point win over Termon.
“I’m not sure either if they have the killer instinct that is required in championship football. I don’t think they have the strength-in-depth that Naomh Conaill have on the bench.
“Naomh Conaill were able to bring on players of the quality of John O’Malley and Darragh Gallagher against us. Kilcar don’t have that strength in reserve.
“By all accounts Kilcar are putting in a big effort and are very well prepared and are leaving no stone unturned in their preparation.
“I expect they will run them close and I’m expecting it to be a very good game. But I feel Naomh Conaill’s greater experience and greater strength on the bench will make the difference.”
Verdict: Naomh Conaill
Naomh Conaill, the champions going for a fourth overall Dr Maguire Cup success, facing Kilcar who are bidding for a place in the finals for the first time in over two decades.
Leo McLoone and Anthony Thompson are the two big name players on the Naomh Conaill teamsheet that also contains emerging young stars Ciaran Thompson and Eoghan McGettigan.
All-Ireland winners Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy and Marty Boyle as well as Eoin Waide, Darragh Gallagher, John O’Malley, Brendan McDyer and Seamus Corcoran, who all also have inter-county experience at minor and U-21, are available to joint managers Martin Regan and Martin Doherty. They will be without minor star from last year and 2014 Ethan O’Donnell, injured.
Kilcar’s big men are Ryan, Mark and Eoin McHugh, Stephen and Patrick McBrearty; former county ace Michael Hegarty and Ciaran McGinley, recognised as the best club midfielder in the county in 2016.
Kilcar will be without the injured wing-back Barry Shovlin - leg injury suffered in the closing minutes of last weekend’s quarter final win over Termon. But they are expected to have Pauric Carr back after missing the quarter final.
In what promises to be a close encounter Kilcar’s greater hunger might just tip the scales - 23 years is a long time in Kilcar.