Gaoth Dobhair captain Niall Friel is a footballer in demand

Tom Comack

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Tom Comack

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sport@donegaldemocrat.com

Gaoth Dobhair captain Niall Frial has a lot of balls in the air

Tom Comack sport@donegaldemocrat.com @dgldemocrat

It may be early days in the new season but young Gaoth Dobhair footballer, Niall Friel, is a footballer in high demand.

The 20 year-old student at St Patrick’s College, Dublin has his club, his county and his college tugging for his services.

He is captain of Gaoth Dobhair’s U-21 team, who are in the middle of their Ulster U-21 championship campaign. He is player/manager of the St Patrick’s College team, who are preparing for the Sigerson Cup.

And he is a member of the Donegal U-21 squad who represented Donegal in this season’s Dr McKenna Cup and are in training for the Ulster U-21 championship, and a crunch first round tie with Tyrone, in the middle of March.

“It is pretty hectic alright,” said Niall, who is on a week off from college having completed his exams on Saturday last and is nursing a hamstring twinge.

“I have been flat out the last two weeks between exams, the county U-21s and the McKenna Cup. I was due to go back to Dublin because we (St Pat’s) have a training session on Wednesday and we have a challenge game against Castleknock on Thursday night.

“But I decided to stay at home and get some physio for the hamstring. The travelling and sitting for over four hours do not help it, so unfortunately I won’t be with the boys this week.

“It’s not ideal because we play UCC next Tuesday in the Sigerson, but it can’t be helped and I don’t want to jeopardise my chance of being fit for Sunday’s game.”

Gaoth Dobhair U-21s face Derry champions Watty Grahams, Maghera, in the semi-final of the Ulster U-21 Club Championship this Sunday, in Antrim.

“The rule in St Pat’s is that the team is managed by a third year and I’m in my third year. Ciaran Kilkenny was the captain last year and we won promotion in the league and that is why we are playing Sigerson instead of the Trench Cup.

“We feel we have a good team but we will see how we get on on Tuesday against UCC,” says Niall, as he reels off names like Dublin stars and All-Ireland winners Ciaran Kilkenny, Cormac Costello and the Roscommon pair of Ronan Daly and Diarmuid Murtagh, who will backbone the St Pats’s challenge against UCC next week.

But for Niall and Gaoth Dobhair this week, the focus is very much on the Ulster semi-final and their showdown with three in-a-row chasing Derry champions.

“We missed out on playing in Ulster when we won the minor championship in 2014 because the Donegal championship ran late.

“So we are anxious to do well this year and we see it as a test as to how good we really are. We have won here in Donegal all the way up from U-14, U16 and minor and so Ulster is the obvious next challenge,” added Niall, who has captained all those championship winning teams since U-14.

“Tom Beag (Gillespie) made me captain at U-14 and I have been captain ever since. But it is no big deal,” says Niall, as he plays down praise of his qualities as captain from his U-21 club boss, Sean ‘Nancy’ Gallagher.

“Niall is a brilliant captain and great leader on and off the field and is never afraid to take responsibility when leadership is required in a game,” Sean Nancy told the Democrat.

Niall is one of eight members of the Donegal U-21 squad that make up this Gaoth Dobhair side. They are Ciaran Gillespie, Michael Carroll, Cian Mulligan, Niall Friel, Gary McFadden, brothers Daire and Naoise O Baoill and Gavin McBride. Ciaran Gillespie, Michael Carroll and Cian Mulligan are members of the Donegal senior squad.

Captain Niall was delighted with the news that Rory Gallagher had released the three senior back to the club for Sunday’s game.

However, he did throw in a word of caution.

“It is great to have the boys but a lot can happen between now and Sunday there is so much happening that fellas can pick up a knock at training or whatever. Last week we thought we were going to have Cian and then he got injured playing for the seniors against Meath.”

Mulligan has been ruled out of Sunday’s semi-final showdown by Gaoth Dobhair boss Sean ‘Nancy’ Gallagher, who also confirmed that Michael Carroll and Ciaran Gillespie had been released by Rory Gallagher.

“It is great news that the boys have been released by Rory and we really appreciate it because we worried that we were not going to have them given that it was so close to the start of the league,” said Sean.

“The way it is, Cian is definitely out but we are going to have Michael (Carroll) and Ciaran’s situation is being left to the county team physio. Ciaran injured his hamstring against Cavan in the McKenna Cup.

“It isn’t as serious as was first thought and he has responded well. He will be examined by the county physio and medics and they will decide if he is good to or not. We are keeping our fingers crossed.”

Conor Boyle and Conor McCafferty are also carrying minor knocks and along with captain Niall, are the manager’s only other injury concern going into Sunday’s date with history.

The Gaoth Dobhair versus Watty Grahams game is on Sunday, at the ground of the Kickham Creggans, throw-in 2.15 pm.