Who will win the Club Championship?
The race for the Dr. Maguire Cup begins this weekend with plenty of hope and expectation, but in truth, how many teams can really feel that they can win the Michael Murphy sponsored competition?
Now that we have a Champions League-style format with four groups of four, the chances of a minnow making it to the final is remote. Glenswilly have possession of the Dr. Maguire at the moment and new manager Aidy Glackin will want to keep it in the Glen.
If they survive the Group of Death, and they can get Neil Gallagher back on the field, they will be the team to beat come August and the Autumn. They have shown that when it comes to a one-off game, they have the tactical know-how to get over the line. But they face a tough task to qualify for the quarter-finals, having to travel to Magheragallon and Towney for their two other games. They will be expected to win their opening game against Ardara on Sunday.
If you were to go by the betting for the championship, then it’s a foregone conclusion - Kilcar are at ridiculous odds of 5/4 to be outright winners, with Naomh Conaill and St. Eunan’s at 4/1; Glenswilly at a whopping 9/1; Gaoth Dobhair 10/1; St. Michael’s 12/1 down to outsiders Naomh Muire at 66/1.
The only part of those odds that I would agree with is that there are only six sides that can win the Dr. Maguire - Kilcar, Naomh Conaill, St. Eunan’s, Glenswilly, Gaoth Dobhair and St. Michael’s. There may be the odd shock along the way, but it is hard to see past those six.
But one of those six will not make the quarter-final as Kilcar, Glenswilly and Gaoth Dobhair are fighting for two places in the Group of Death, Group C.
Kilcar have been the form team of the last number of years, but they have to prove themselves in championship. They have a new backroom team this year with Barry Doherty taking over from Martin McHugh; a new captain in Patrick McBrearty. While they are in a tough group, they have the advantage of having their two big games (Gaoth Dobhair and Glenswilly) in Towney with Ardara away from home.
The first of those big clashes in Towney is this Sunday with Gaoth Dobhair the visitors. There was even talk this week that eirSport were covering the game live from Towney as part of their new GAA package. Gaoth Dobhair, despite having so much talent, have been something of a disappointment in recent years, but they now have a team that is maturing and there will be a nervous atmosphere in Kilcar this Sunday, as the losers will be on the back foot as regards qualification.
Of the others, Naomh Conaill and St. Eunan’s are listed as second favourites. It is easy to justify the Letterkenny men in that position, but Naomh Conaill have been struggling in recent times. The absence of Anthony Thompson and Leo McLoone is a big factor and they could struggle, although you would expect them to make the quarter-final and they will have time to get their ship back on track.
The one side that everyone should be watching is St. Eunan’s. They look to have an easy passage to the quarter-finals and although they failed to impress last year, they are the one team that has the talent to go all the way.
Putting the head on the block at this early stage (and it is dependant on draws) I’m going for a Kilcar-St. Eunan’s Donegal Co final in October.
Good contest for Intermediate
The Intermediate Championship also begins this weekend and there could be a very good contest for the Cathal McLaughlin Cup this year. Milford, now in Division One, will want to make amends for their replay final defeat last year while others that will have legitimate hopes include Cloughaneely, Aodh Ruadh, Glenfin, Naomh Columba and St. Naul’s. It would take a very wise person to predict the eventual outcome.