Stephen Griffin made a timely return for St Naul’s to kick six points in their Michael Murphy Sports and Leisure Intermediate Championship quarter-final win over Glenfin.
The ex-county man holds the key once again this Sunday when St Naul’s face Gaeil Fhánada in the first of the Intermediate Championship semi-finals in O’Donnell Park. (1 pm)
Griffin, one of the top marksmen, missed up to three months with a medial knee ligament injury.
“It was great to have him for the quarter-final and some of the points he kicked that day in difficult conditions were top quality,” said St Naul’s manager, John McNulty.
The 0-7 to 0-6 win over Glenfin (who defeated them by three points in the group games and were one of the favourites for the championship) was a big result.
“Stephen is a very important player for us. He is top scorer for us in every game and his return, even though it was last minute, was a timely boost as we come to the knockout stage.
“He had been off with the injury and he was only passed fit on the Friday night to play on the Sunday. He has still to take it easy and cannot push it in training but it is great to have him back and the whole team has responded in a positive manner.
“We had a lot of good individual performances against Glenfin. But I felt the team as a unit played well against a quality Glenfin outfit.
“Stephen is still not a 100% but we are watching him closely but he should be fine for Sunday.”
Mark Ward is expected to be back in the frame having recovered from an arm injury suffered six weeks ago against Naomh Ultan.
St Naul’s have already won a Donegal and and All-Ireland Gaeltacht title in 2017. They are top of the Division Three table with three games to play and looking good for promotion.
McNulty is expecting another stiff test this Sunday against Gaeil Fhánada.
“We’ve met them twice in the league. We beat them down in Fanad earlier in the year and they beat us well also in the league in Mountcharles the week before the Glenfin game.
“Like ourselves they seem to be coming into form just at the right time and they have a good record in the intermediate championship.”
Gaeil Fhanada caused an upset in the semi-final with a 3-9 to 0-10 win over a strongly fancied Naomh Columba.
The win was all the more convincing as it was achieved without their ace marksman Seimi ‘Nanny’ Friel.
Friel is out long term after suffering a cruciate injury at the end of August.
“Seimi is a huge loss to us, he is a seven, eight, nine point a game man every game,” said Gaeil Fhanada manager Aidan McAteer.
“He is our Stephen Griffin. He is to us what Stephen Griffin is to them and is a huge loss.
“But in fairness to the rest of lads they all stood up the last day and took on the responsibility that, if he was playing, they would have left to Seimi.”
Aidan Herrity and Ryan McGonagle are other long term Gaeil Fhánada injuries.
“The boys played well against Naomh Columba and it was a good result. But we know that St Naul’s are a step up again now that they have Stephen Griffin back.
“It’s a big challenge for us but one we are looking forward too.”
The sides met in the Intermediate Championship last year in the group stage with St. Naul's convincing winners 2-12 to 0-10.
Verdict: St Naul’s.