When Andy Connor got the Downings squad together for the first time at the start of the year, the Junior championship and the Dr McCloskey Cup was down the list of priorities.
Roll on nine months and Connor and Downings are putting the finishing touches to the preparations for next Sunday’s Junior A Championship and a showdown with Naomh Padraig from Muff.
The game is in O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny, with a throw-in time of 2.30 pm and is the second of a triple header at the Letterkenny venue.
“The All-Ireland Junior Gaeltacht and promotion in the league was our main objectives at the start of the year,” the Downings manager told the Democrat.
And the All-Ireland Junior Gaeltacht was the number one priority.
“We had lost the final the year before to the Aran Islands and we wanted to make up for the disappointment of losing that final.
“Promotion would have been second and there really was no mention of the championship.”
Downings defeated Renvyle, Galway, in the final down in Ballyvourney, Cork, on the June Bank Holiday weekend.
But their promotion aspirations to Division Two of the All- County League hit rocks over the summer months. They are sitting mid table in Division Three and out of the promotion race with a couple of games left to play.
“For one reason or another, injury, work, holidays; we always seem to be short a number of players for the league all summer.
“If you want to get promoted you need to be putting out your strongest team every week and unfortunately we haven’t been able to do that and our promotion ambitions suffered as a result.”
It has been a strange championship campaign for Downings.
They qualified from their group without winning a game after they lost their opening game to Moville in controversial circumstances and received walkovers from Robert Emmett’s and Pettigo in their other two group games.
In the quarter-final they recorded a 4-14 to 1-12 win over Moville and they followed that up with a narrow 2-6 to 1-8 victory over Letterkenny Gaels in the semi-final.
Naomh Padraig, Muff, who play in Division Four in the league, were in a three team group along with Red Hugh’s and Naomh Padraig, Lifford.
They drew with Red Hugh’s and registered a big win over Lifford to qualify from the group along with Red Hugh’s.
They overcame Urris in the quarter-final by a point before producing their best performance of the season in their two point win (0-13 to 1-8) over a fancied Red Hugh’s, who have been promoted to Division Three for next season.
“We topped the group on score difference after drawing with Red Hugh’s and then we beat Urris by a point in the quarter-final and Red Hugh’s in the semi-final,” said Colm McColgan, the Naomh Padraig captain, who will sit out the final due to a cruciate injury suffered two days before the Urris game.
County minor, Aidan McLaughlin, belied his tender years to kick four points in the win over the men from the Cross.
“We’ve only had Aidan for two games but he is a special player and one of real quality and he is a big player in our team even though he is only 18.”
Downing are bidding for a fifth junior title on Sunday and a first since 2012 while Naomh Padraig, Muff, are chasing a first title. They have only played in one other final; that was in 2010 when they lost to Naomh Colmcille after a replay.
DOWNINGS SQUAD: Patrick McGroddy, Conor McBride, John McCroddy, David Hay, Max Davis, Kevin McGee, Seamus Gallagher, Shay Coyle, Ben McNutt, Kevin Doherty, Bryan McGinley, Hugo Davis, Shane Boyce, Shaun McBride, Allen Pasoma, Colin Gallagher, Shaun McGinley, Ben McBride, James Lee McBride, Oisin Boyce, Lorcan Connor, Aaron McClafferty, Gary McClafferty, Finghin McClafferty, Danny McBride, Eric Roberts.
NAOMH PADRAIG, MUFF SQUAD: Joe McCauley, Justin Gallagher, Damien Laird, Chris O’Donnell, James Curran,Anthony McColgan, Aidan McLaughlin, Cathal McColgan, Eunan Keaveney; Oisin McCool, Oisin McColgan, Stephen McLaughlin, Enda McColgan, Damien Diver, Brian McColgan, Colm McColgan, Ryan McColgan, Reece Davenport, Martin Duffy, Aidan Lynch, Mark Duffy, Gary McKinney, Barry McColgan, Darragh McConway, Ultan McCool, Michael Canning, Dermot Keaveney, Gavin Grant, Gerard Harkin, Aaron Gallagher, John McLaughlin, Declan McLaughlin, Mark Doherty.