With Naomh Conaill and Kilcar the only teams going into the final round of group games in the Michael Murphy Sports and Leisure Championship almost assured of their quarter-finals places, there is plenty to play for this week.
According to former Donegal senior star, Hughie McClafferty, the rest, with the exception of Glenfin, it is all to play for with their championship season hinging on their last games.
And that includes big hitters St Michael’s, Gaoth Dobhair and St Eunan’s.
Glenfin lost their two opening games to Naomh Muire and Sean MacCumhaills and are out of the reckoning.
Of the big guns, Gaoth Dobhair, following last Saturday evening’s shock defeat against Termon, at the Burn Road, are in the most precarious position.
They face the reigning champions Naomh Conaill, in Davy Brennan Memorial Park, where a win may not be even enough for the star studded lineup.
Wins for Gaoth Dobhair and Termon would leave all three teams, Naomh Conaill, Termon and Gaoth Dobhair level on four points.
In that scenario, the top two would be decided on score difference. And as things stand Naomh Conaill have the far superior score difference. The champions are on plus 22, Gaoth Dobhair on plus 1 and Termon on minus 3.
Four Masters the other team in the group also have a remote chance of leapfrogging Gaoth Dobhair and Termon, if the were to beat Termon by a big margin.
“Apart from Termon’s win over Gaoth Dobhair, the championship so far has gone along predictable enough lines,” says former Donegal player and now reporter and commentator with RTÉ Ráidio Na Gaeltachta, Hugh McClafferty.
“That was a big surprise especially because I had heard that Gaoth Dobhair were making a big push this year and after being dumped out of the championship last year, I couldn’t see them lose against Termon.
“Ahead of last weekend’s games after Naomh Conaill and Kilcar they would have been my third favourites for the championship.
“I don’t know what is happening in Gaoth Dobhair, with all the talent available to them they have been a huge disappointment over the last few years.
“And they face a huge challenge away to Naomh Conaill this weekend to keep their championship season alive.
“Naomh Conaill are the best side I have seen this year and are a quality outfit. The have power and pace and they have Anthony Thompson back this weekend after serving his two match ban carried over from last year’s Ulster Championship.
“They have strength in depth too. Last Sunday they were able to bring on players of the calibre of Dara Gallagher, Cathal Ellis, Leon Thompson and Eoghan McGettigan.
COUNTY FINAL PAIRING
“The championship is between them and Kilcar and if they don’t meet beforehand they would make a great county final pairing.
“I would love to see that because I think it would make a great county final which is something we could do with after a few mediocre ones in recent years.
“As for the rest with the exception of Glenfin, they all go into the last round of games with a chance of making the quarter-final.”
Teams like Bundoran, Dungloe and Termon are not going to win the championship, but they have put themselves in a with great chances of qualifying for the knockout stages.
“I haven’t seen Bundoran this season. But I have watched them over the last few seasons. I remember a couple years ago playing St Michael’s in a play-off game at the Cross and they gave St Michael’s a run for their money that day.
“They seem to have improved since and were desperately unlucky not to win an Ulster Intermediate championship last year.
“They are at home to Glenswilly this weekend. I was at Glenswilly’s game against Dungloe last Sunday and they just about got the win.
“Neil Gallagher was back but they were without Michael Murphy and the word appears to be that Michael is not going to be fit to play this weekend either.
“If that is the case, I give Bundoran a great chance because I feel they have the forwards to open up the Glenswilly defence.
“Dungloe, when they ran at Glenswilly in the second half, showed up major weakness in the Glenswilly defence.
“Dungloe and Ardara are the other teams in that group. I was very impressed with the Dungloe team in the second half against Glenswilly.
“They were four points down at half-time and they came out in the second half and tore into Glenswilly and drew level and had enough chances to win the game.
“They should have scored a couple of goals. They are by and large a very young team and their lack of experience probably cost them against a more seasoned and battled hardened Glenswilly.
“They are at home against Ardara and I know Ardara have a great championship pedigree. But they are by all accounts going to be without Paddy McGrath. I expect Dungloe to win this one.
“The big game in Group B is the meeting of St Michael’s and St Eunan’s in Dunfanaghy. St Eunan’s seem to be gone back a bit and going on reports of St Michael’s heavy defeat by Kilcar last weekend St Michael’s were poor. But they are at home this time around and there has to be a last kick from this St Michael’s team.
“And for that reason I feel they may bounce back this weekend and just about shade it against St Eunan’s.
“Kilcar and Killybegs is the other game in this group and you have to fancy Kilcar even though it is in Fintra.
“Kilcar are the form team,” said McClafferty.
“Group C is an interesting group.They are all Division Two teams. Naomh Muire and Malin are the top two in the group.
“But Naomh Muire are away to MacCumhaill’s in MacCumhaill Park and for the reason I think it will be MacCumhaill’s and Malin that will qualify from this group.
“Malin are also at home to Glenfin, who will be without Frank McGlynn.
“Naomh Conaill have more or less, already booked one of the qualifying spots in Group D. I believe they will want to keep the winning run going and will put an end to Gaoth Dobhair’s season. And I fancy Termon to beat Four Masters to take the second spot,” said McClafferty.