Gaoth Dobhair and Naomh Conaill are chasing silverware this Sunday when they go head to head in the U-21A football final in O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny.
Gaoth Dobhair are the defending champions and with 14 members of last year’s winning team still on board this season, they have been hotly fancied from a long way out in the campaign.
Kilcar, Aodh Ruadh (last year’s beaten finalists), Naomh Conaill and St Eunan’s were the others seen with championship winning potential.
But it is Naomh Conaill who have come through and the side managed by Leo McLoone are trying to bridge a five year gap since their last U-21 title.
That was back in 2012 and was the blue and whites fifth title in a glorious seven seasons in the U-21 grade.
Naomh Conaill’s last final appearance was in 2013. They lost that final to Kilcar.
Tom Beag Gillespie is at the helm once again in Gaoth Dobhair after a season away from a team he has taken up through the age groups and has already won a minor championship with.
He takes over from Sean ‘Nancy’ Gallagher who managed the side to last year’s triumph over Aodh Ruadh.
And the legendary Tom ‘Beag’ has Charles John Doherty, Gary McFadden, Jamie Boyle, Neasan McBride, Odhran McFadden Ferry, Kieran Gillespie, Niall Friel, Michael Carroll, Daire O’Baoill, Naoise O’Baoill, Gavin McBride, Eamon Collum and Conor Boyle from the team which defeated Aodh Ruadh 2-19 to 3-10 in last year’s final.
However, Kieran Gillespie and Naoise O’Baoill are major doubts and Eamon Collum is definitely out of Sunday’s decider.
All three missed last weekend’s 3-13 to 0-6 semi-final win over Ardara; Gaoth Dobhair’s only game in the championship so far. They received a walkover in the quarter-final when Kilcar conceded after not being granted a postponement due to their run in the Ulster Club Championship.
“Eamon (Collum) definitely won’t be playing. He is out with a knee injury and Ciaran and Naoise are extremely doubtful and we won’t make a final call on them until later in the week,” Tom Beag told the Democrat.
“Ciaran has a groin problem and is awaiting to have surgery and Naoise’s hamstring is giving him bother,” added the Gaoth Dobhair boss, who expressed satisfaction with the semi-final win over Ardara.
“We needed that game badly because due to the Kilcar game not being played a number of the lads hadn’t played since the championship semi-final against Naomh Conaill at the end of September.
“So from that point of view it was good to have the game even though we won it pretty easy in the end.”
Jamie Boyle, Cian Mulligan and Conor Boyle scored the goals against Ardara and Daire O’Baoill (5), Michael Carroll (3) scored the bulk of the points in the 14 point win.
“We played well against Ardara, but we also know we are going to have to step it up a notch or two against Naomh Conaill.
“Naomh Conaill have a great record at U-21 and they have a big squad of players and they have a lot of players with senior experience and have played in big senior championship games.”
It has taken Naomh Conaill three games to make it to the final, chalking up big wins over Killybegs, Aodh Ruadh and Glenfin.
The defeated Killybegs 3-13 to 0-13 and overcame Aodh Ruadh on a score of 2-14 to 2-9 in the quarter final. And last weekend they were comfortable 4-12 to 2-10 winners over Glenfin in the semi-final.
Full-forward Paul McGuinness scored 4-2 in a man of the match performance against Glenfin and will obviously require close attention this Sunday.
Odhran Doherty, Ethan O’Donnell and Charles McGuinness also all turned in big performances in the semi-final for Leo McLoone’s side.
Kevin McGettigan, Ultan Doherty, Ethan O’Donnell , Kieran Gallagher, Eoghan McGettigan, Jeaic McKelvey, Paul McGuinness and JD Boyle are the men with the senior experience in the Naomh Conaill squad.
But Leo McLoone is not without injury headaches, this week too. Senior midfielder Kieran Gallagher looks highly unlikely to feature.
The big midfielder was not even togged last weekend due to injury and is not expected to recover in time for Sunday’s showdown.
Eoghan McGettigan and Jeaic McKelvey did not start against Glenfin, but were introduced in the second half and are expected to be in the starting 15 on Sunday.
Gaoth Dobhair are the favourites but this will not unduly worry Naomh Conaill who will draw great confidence from the Naomh Conaill seniors 1-13 to 1-12, win over Gaoth Dobhair, in the senior championship semi-final in the middle of last month.
Verdict: Gaoth Dobhair