Has Dr. McKenna Cup win given Declan Bonner a selection headache?
It was a really good night for Donegal football in Armagh lifting the Dr. McKenna Cup, which wound its way to Killybegs on Saturday night.
Big Hugh McFadden joined an elite band of Donegal men who have lifted the famous trophy and one of the proudest men in the dressing room area of the Athletic Grounds after the final was Sean Ferriter, the first Donegal man to lift the cup in 1963. Ferriter was beaming as he shook everybody's hand. He still has that youthful delight at Donegal winning.
He was not alone as there were many other loyal Donegal supporters present for the win, men like retired Garda Sergeant Charlie Glackin, who rarely misses a game from his Virginia base.
To beat Tyrone any day is special, but to do so with a young team who grew as the game went on, made it a night to remember. Young guns like Conor Morrison, Stephen McMenamin, Dáire O'Baoill and Niall O'Donnell were outstanding; Odhrán Mac Niallais was on song; the aforementioned Hugh McFadden was a real leader; Paul Brennan stepped up to the plate once again and is growing into the Donegal jersey; the experienced gang of McGlynn, McElhinney and Murphy made a big impression; Mark McHugh, Eamonn Doherty, Martin O'Reilly, Caolan McGonagle and Ciaran Thompson all made big contributions. It was that sort of game; every player had a good night. Shaun Patton, in goals, dealt with anything which came his way and he can be happy with his second outing.
Nathan Mullins came in and got involved. Hopefully, Stephen McBrearty's twinge will not rule him out of next Sunday's game with Kildare.
The workrate was impressive; the blocking and closing down of Tyrone forwards was the standout memory from the night. The three points from Niall O'Donnell early in the second half were a big turning point, and it was pleasing that Donegal hit the final three points of the game while keeping Tyrone scoreless in the last 17 minutes.
A repeat performance on Saturday week in Omagh would be even sweeter!
Then on Sunday we had Cian Mulligan coming back with a bang to hit three goals for Gaoth Dobhair in the Ulster club final. Picking a Donegal team for the remaining league games and the championship will not be an easy task, which is a nice headache for the management.
One player who seems to have suffered in the selection process is Ciaran McGinley, who has only had brief appearances. There were a few people who shared my view that he could have been a starter on Saturday night. It is never easy with so many young players all looking for game time. Maybe there will be an opportunity for the Kilcar man before the league is out.
Thanks to Edward Molloy (who has time on his hands at the moment, but could make a surprise return in Ballyshannon on Sunday!), here are a few facts about Donegal’s involvement in Dr. McKenna Cup. They won four of their five matches, scoring 8.78 (an average of just over 20 points per game). Patrick McBrearty was the top scorer with 1-16 (from just two games), ahead of Jamie Brennan 2-7 and Niall O’Donnell with 0-11. Donegal had 22 different scorers. (See Page 75 for full list of scorers).
For Sunday’s crucial league meeting with Kildare, the likes of Patrick McBrearty, Ryan McHugh, Eoghan Bán Gallagher and Tony McClenaghan will come back into the reckoning. McBrearty will be playing his 91st game for Donegal and is on target to create the record of being the youngest Donegal player to reach 100 games. Fingers crossed as regards injury, the Kilcar man, who is playing his best football ever, will be just 25 when he reaches the milestone. And that would be a full year ahead of Michael Murphy, who was 26!
FOOTNOTE: With Edward Molloy almost ready for a recall for Donegal, we have another big supporter missing for a few weeks. Mary O’Reilly has taken time out in the close season for a small procedure which will make her even more mobile for the championship. Hurry back Mary.
Too much oval ball
Having attended three rugby games in eight days in recent times there was a temptation to shout PENALTY at the referee in the Athletic Grounds on Saturday night. When Neil McGee enters the pitch, there is always the possibility of being penalised for coming in from the side!
His brief appearance on Saturday night prompted a text from Fr. Seán with the fact that he was equalling Christy Toye’s 163 appearances for Donegal. He is now in joint second place on appearances, just ten behind the record holder, Colm Anthony McFadden, with 173.
Fr. Seán’s text also included the statistic that Frank McGlynn is the only player to play in the winning Dr. McKenna Cup teams of 2009, 2010 and 2018.