Since the turn of the century St Eunan’s have dominated the club championship in Donegal. They have been the team to beat year after year and continue to produce talented players that have kept that winning tradition.
When Naomh Conaill won their first senior championship in 2005 after a replay against Eunan’s you felt, with the talent they had, they could go on to challenge that domination of the Letterkenny men. Next Sunday’s final sees, without doubt, the two best squads in Donegal come together. While St Michael’s and Glenswilly are up there with them they do not have the strength-in-depth that Sunday’s finalists have.
Most, if not all the players on show, will have experienced county football at some level or another. They will have all picked up underage championship winning medals and they will all believe that they have what is needed to win.
Both sides came through from the same group with Naomh Conaill beating Eunan’s in the group stage. That game will count for nothing come next Sunday afternoon; neither will their victories over St Michael’s or Kilcar in their semi-finals. Nothing that has gone before this year will count for anything once the ball is thrown in.
Many experts will talk up past victories for one side or the other. A lot will be made of the path they had to take to get to the final and whether the challenge was put up to them or not. Again it will count for nothing. Finals are won by the team who on the day get things right; the team that makes the fewest mistakes and the team who at the right time make the right calls in front of goal.
You can have all the tactics in the world but games are won by scores not by match plans or sweeper systems or any other of the modern jargon that are shoved down our throat time after time.
Desire, intensity, commitment, teamwork, experience and, of course, a little bit of luck are the benchmark. Both sets of players will have worked tremendously hard since last February with the same goal in mind; one group will leave MacCumhaill Park disappointed.
Where are the main areas where the game could be won or indeed lost. Against Glenswilly, Eunan’s kept the game wide; they have blistering pace in the likes of Sean McVeigh and Rory Carr, who they seemed to with draw to the wings. When the first or second phase of attack broke down they had the likes of Conor Parke and Rory Kavanagh coming through from deep to open up the defence. On the Naomh Conaill side Ciaran and Anthony Thompson, Leo McLoone do the same job. Inside they have the likes of Dermot Molloy, Leon Thompson and Darragh Gallagher who, on their day, will give any defence a fair bit of trouble.
Eunan’s have no outstanding forward in the mould of Brendan Devenney but at the same time they have the capacity to get scores from all over the field and have a huge goal threat in Lee McMonagle. In Naomh Conaill’s semi final win over Kilcar they looked very nervous early on. It wasn’t until they got a few scores that they settled and when they did find there feet they moved the ball through the hands at great pace and gave themselves plenty of opportunities in front of goal. Kilcar, to their credit, put up a stubborn defence. However, Glenties physically were much stronger and wore Kilcar down. St Eunan’s will have the physicality to match the Glenties lads and they will have to move the ball more with the foot if they are going to break down what has been a very tight defence in the last two championship games. Eamonn Doherty and Conor Parke have been influential in this area and their performance on Sunday will have a huge bearing on the result.
If Naomh Conaill are to stop the reigning champions they will have to stop Rory Kavanagh. Rory, along with the experienced John Haran, have been the heart of this Eunan’s team for a long time and their hunger for more is there for all to see. Naomh Conaill will have to play these two out of the game and Leo McLoone and Anthony Thompson will have to be at their best.
This should be a cracker for the neutral. There will be no love lost between these lads; they know one another inside out and I don’t see a free running classic. It will be tough and the match officials will have to be at their best and keep things calm for as long as they can. I don’t see one team winning by a huge margin unless the other side doesn’t show up.
Eunan’s would have to go in as favourites but Glenties have been more focused this year. They have done enough in each game without over extending themselves and they have the ability to raise their game to match that of St. Eunan’s. Eunan’s, on the other hand, have been disappointed with their performances in the Ulster club championship and believe they have unfinished business there. They, too, look driven and for such a huge club you feel an Ulster club championship is not out of there grasp, but if their heads are not on Sunday’s challenge first they will be made pay the price - Eunan’s, but only just.
We Irish have been blessed by so many things in the last few years - the boom went bust; we got Irish Water; tribunal after tribunal; bank inquiries and no answers; the ordinary man having to pay for the mistakes of those in power, but in the last week, the rugby and soccer lads have given us our pride back once again. Thanks lads.