Gaoth Dobhair captain Niall Friel
When it comes to collecting cups and trophies Niall Friel must rank near the top in Gaoth Dobhair at this stage.
Friel captained Gaoth Dobhair to a first ever Ulster U21 Club championship earlier this year.
Now he is looking forward to leading his club into a first ever Ulster club senior final following Sunday’s seven point, 4-11 to 0-16, semi-final win over the mighty Crossmaglen Rangers.
The captain admits that thoughts of winning Ulster, never mind reaching the final, was far from the minds when Gaoth Dobhair started out at the beginning of the year. .
“At the beginning of the year the aim was to win Donegal. That was the number one goal. But our thoughts did turn to Ulster on the Sunday night going home from the county final,” said the Gaoth Dobhair skipper, who has also captained his club to county U-16 and minor championships as well as back to back U-21s.
“The pressure was on outside the camp to win Donegal. But we always felt we had the squad of players to win the championship and once we won the county it was about expressing ourselves in Ulster.
“When we won Donegal we took Ulster on game on game and there is no bigger team than Crossmaglen.
“I think a lot of people were writing off our chances but we knew within our camp we were capable of taking Crossmaglen.
“Inside our own heads we knew with our pace if we could get past their traditional high press, the goals were there and that what happened out there today. We had great belief in ourselves.”
Apart from the early exchanges when Crossmaglen led for a short time, Gaoth Dobhair, from the moment Dáire Ó Baoill broke for the first of his three first half goals, had the look of winners about them. And they had the look of team who were playing at a higher orbit to Crossmaglen Rangers.
“Crossmaglen play that traditional style of football which is beautiful to watch and that is why so many people go to watch them.
“But I think their style suited our system. They had to press us high and we hit them on the counter and as people know in Donegal we have serious pace in our team.
“I’m not going to name them because there are a lot of them as they showed there today.
And at the end Crossmaglen had to go all out and we picked them off on the counter.”
Midfielder Dáire Ó Baoill capped a brilliant first half performance with three goals that helped Gaoth Dobhair to a seven point halftime lead.
“Dáire was magical. I suppose he just took the chance and went for it.
“But in an Ulster semi-final you have to be brave and go for it. Dáire took the chance and he scored the two goals and he put the penalty away well. He is a happy man with the hat trick.”
Odhrán McFadden Ferry was another Gaoth Dobhair player who put in a stellar performance before being replaced late on.
“I don’t think Odhrán ever get the credit he deserves. He is always given the job to mark their main man and he was brilliant out there and he drove on a number of times and broke three or four tackles.
“Nothing flinches him and he was taken off near the end because he was on a yellow card. He is a key cog in the team.”
Kevin Cassidy, after a quiet opening half, came good in the second period by winning a number of early balls to settle Gaoth Dobhair again.
He nailed two points, one of the right boot and one off the left, before rattling the net for the fourth goal 12 minutes into the new half.
There was a touch a good fortune about the goal in that the former All-Star was in the right position when Michael Carroll’s strike for a point came back off the upright.
“You have to get the bounce of the ball and we’re lucky Kevin was there to score but it could have easily broken to a Crossmaglen player and they could have gone up the field and scored at the other end.
“You need those breaks to win big games and we will need them again in the final against Scotstown.”
The Gaoth Dobhair captain is not behind the door in admitting that Monaghan champions Scotstown are another big challenge. But he also insists it is a challenge they are ready to take on.
“We have seen a fair bit of them over the last few years on TG4. We know the quality of their county players and they have top quality club players too; no more than ourselves they are a quality club team.
“We will get the video of the game and the lads will work hard on the video and we will regroup again at the weekend when all the lads are back from college and prepare for the final.
“Scotstown are a massive challenge but o