DONEGAL INTERMEDIATE FINAL: Who will take home the Cathal McLaughlin Cup, Milford or St. Naul's?

Peter Campbell


Peter Campbell

DONEGAL INTERMEDIATE FINAL:  Who will take home the Cathal McLaughlin Cup, Milford or St. Naul's?

Will it be Stephen Griffin or Paddy Peoples lifting the Cathal McLaughlin Cup?

Twelve months on from losing the Intermediate final, Milford are odds on to get full compensation when they take on St. Naul’s in the 2017 decider in O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny on Sunday.

Making the case against them coming out on top is not easy. Danny O’Donnell’s side are up against a team plying their trade two divisions below them. The experience gained from playing against the top teams in the league have hardened them into a very competitive outfit.

St. Naul’s relationship with the Intermediate Championship over the years is one of almost constant pain. The competition is only 40 years old and in the past 30 years the Parish of Inver club have played in eight finals, winning just one - in 2011.

Expectation is not as high this year as in some of those finals, mainly because of the opposition and the manner in which they have reached the final.

Yet despite that, it has been a good year for the side that Kilcar man, John McNulty, took over at the start of the season. Strong contenders for promotion to Division Two as well as an All-Ireland Gaeltacht crown would normally be enough to keep players and supporters happy.

They have scraped through in the championship before producing their best of the season to dispose of Gaeil Fhánada after a replay.

Milford have been on an upward curve for three or four years and they have the player pool to sustain that improvement. As manager, Danny O’Donnell, said in the preview, they have competed well in Division One: “Overall we have competed well. We haven't taken any bad beatings.”

That is an understatement. They are on target to retain their top flight status, and not many would have given them that hope.

Alongside that they are back in the Intermediate decider having overcome the two strongest teams in Division Two, Cloughaneely and Aodh Ruadh, in the quarter and semi-final.

Their only success at this level was 25 years ago in 1992 and after playing a full season in Division One, the natural progression is to play senior championship.

"Every player, every manager wants to compete at the highest level and that means senior championship. And the only way in is to win the Intermediate Championship. Our target is to win,” says O’Donnell.

O’Donnell has the panel to succeed. The return of Cathal McGettigan from New York and Gary Merritt from injury gives him options which were vital when they overcame Aodh Ruadh in the semi-final.

As for St. Naul’s, John McNulty probably has his strongest panel available once more after the return of captain and talisman, Stephen Griffin, from a serious knee injury. He would probably be happier if Griffin had another couple of weeks’ preparation, but he has played a number of games now and gives the side a focal point in attack.

He also has the talented minor Peadar Mogan, but it will be the collective as much as the individual which will make the difference in a one-off final.

"To get to the county final was a challenge. To get out of the group stages first was a challenge and then the quarter-final and to win the semi. You have one big game and that's what management is about. You are in there to do your best you can with the team. If we can get one good performance, you never know,” said John McNulty, who had the Midas touch with Kilcar.

Danny O’Donnell has history with St. Naul’s. He was manager of Naomh Muire when they inflicted the seventh final defeat on them in 2013 at a time when his brother-in-law, Frankie Greene was chairman of St. Naul’s.

And it looks as if he might be pouring some more misery their way on Sunday.

Milford are solid in every department and they have developed an ability to cope with different formations. They were very patient against a defensive Naomh Ultan and they found a way when in a tight corner against Aodh Ruadh in the semi-final.

St. Naul’s are a compact side. They have shown in a number of games that they have a very good running game with Mogan and Stuart Johnston central to that. Both sides will have plans in place, but it is difficult to see how St. Naul’s can upset the odds in this one.