Tom Comack email@example.com @dgldemocrat
Naomh Conaill and Gaoth Dobhair take centre stage this Saturday night in MacCumhaill Park in the second of the Michael Murphy Sports and Leisure Donegal Senior Championship semi-finals (7.30 p.m.)
After last weekend’s one sided meeting of Kilcar and St Michael’s, also in Ballybofey, hopes are high this weekend’s encounter will be a much closer contest.
It is a fourth semi-final in-a-row for Naomh Conaill while for Gaoth Dobhair it is a first last four outing in 11 seasons.
Their last semi-final was in 2006; the year they last won the championship outright.
In that year Gaoth Dobhair defeated Ardara 0-11 to 0-9 in the semi-final and St Eunan’s 1-5 to 0-6 in the final. In close encounter Stephen Cassidy scored a dramatic late goal to snatch victory for the men from the Gaeltacht.
New Donegal manager Declan Bonner was the Gaoth Dobhair manager in 2006.
Neil and Eamon McGee, Christopher McFadden and Kevin Cassidy from the current starting 15, were also first choice back in 2006.
James Carroll, who is having a fine season in the green and white, was among the replacements in 2006.
“We have a mix of players with the likes the McGees, Kevin Cassidy and Christopher McFadden, Christopher Sweeney, Odhrán MacNiallais; they are the experienced players in the squad,” said Gaoth Dobhair manager Mervyn O’Donnell.
“And then we have a group of players that have played county minor and U-21 and we feel it is a good mix and the have gelled well this season.”
Gaoth Dobhair caused an upset in the quarter-final with a 2-12 to 0-16 win over a highly fancied St Eunan’s.
They led by six points at half-time in that game after blowing the O’Donnell Park men away in the first half.
Cian Mulligan scored the goal and along with James Carroll did the bulk of the scoring as their power had St Eunan’s at sixes and sevens in the opening 30 minutes.
“We played very well in the first half against St Eunan’s but we were disappointed how we let them back into the game in the second.
“It probably came down to a lack of experience but it is something that we have been working on for the last few weeks and hopefully we have addressed for Saturday evening.”
Naomh Conaill have won just one of their last three semi-final appearances.
That was in 2015 when they went all the way to claim a third senior championship crown.
Martin Regan has freshened things up following last season’s 5-10 to 1-11 defeat at the hands of Kilcar.
“Eoghan McGettigan has been getting more regular games this season. Ethan Doherty and Kieran Gallagher have come in this year and have done well,” said Naomh Conaill manager Martin Regan.
“They have freshened the team up.”
Naomh Conaill defeated the Hugh McFadden powered Killybegs in the quarter-final.
County man McFadden hit 12 points as no hopers Killybegs gave Naomh Conaill a run for their money before Naomh Conaill eventually ran out 2-13 to 0-15 winners.
“That was a strange kind of game. We always felt we were in control and we were always going to win though Killybegs did make it uncomfortable for us at times.
“The performance was good enough to get over Killybegs, but it certainly won’t be good enough against Gaoth Dobhair and we are aware of that.
“Against Killybegs we played in spells; against Gaoth Dobhair we are going to have play to our maximum or as close as we can get, otherwise there will be no need to go to Ballybofey on Saturday night.
“Gaoth Dobhair looked very sharp against St Eunan’s and they will have Odhran MacNiallais back for this game.
“They are a quality side and have serious pace in the team and we are going to have to be on the top of our game if we are to be in with a chance.
“We are looking forward to the challenge and we feel we have more in us and can go to another level and hopefully we can find it on Saturday night.”
Naomh Conaill are boosted by the return of the versatile Marty Boyle, who missed the quarter-final through injury.
They will also have Leo McLoone on board from the word go this time around. Leo only played in the closing minutes of the Killybegs game, before heading to New York to play in the New York championship final.
Mervyn O’Donnell has a number of niggly injury concerns with Noel Kelly (quad), Naoise O Baoill (hamstring) on the treatment table this week.
“Noel was complaining of tightness in his quad after Sunday’s game against Glenswilly. Naoise came off in that game at half-time with a hamstring twinge but I would be hopeful they will be fit to play,” explained the Gaoth Dobhair boss.
As well as the return of Odhran MacNiallais, Gaoth Dobhair have also been strengthened by the return of Gavin McBride after a short break away from the game.
“Gavin played well against Glenswilly and is now fighting for a place.”
This promises to be a fascinating contest with the two teams boasting of match winners in their setups.
There are match winners right through both line-ups with Leo McLoone, Anthony Thompson, Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy, Brendan McDyer, Ciaran Thompson and Eunan Doherty the men Naomh Conaill followers will look to for big performances.
Eamon and Neil McGee, Cian Mulligan, James Carroll, Dáire O Baoill, Niall Friel and Kieran Gillespie were the Gaoth Dobhair men that stood tall against St Eunan’s.
And when you add in the silken skills of Odhrán MacNiallais and the craft and experience of Kevin Cassidy, you have a pretty potent force.
Verdict: Gaoth Dobhair