Sports Editor Peter Campbell
Every weekend is big for Donegal from now on, but this Sunday is one of the biggest of the year for the county.
The seniors are back in Celtic Park, Derry for another encounter with Derry. Four years ago they were convincing three point winners, while in 2015 they had just two points to spare over the Oak Leaf men in the Ulster semi-final in Clones.
It’s hard to fathom how Derry are now in Division Four, but rest assured if they get their act together, they are not a Division Four side. They have some of the best footballers around at club level (as shown by Slaughtneil) and some day they are going to click at county level.
The big memory from Donegal’s last visit to Celtic Park was the PA revealing the Donegal line-out before the throw-in and Paddy McGrath and Darach O’Connor were named as the Donegal midfield. The other memories that come quickly to mind was a Karl Lacey tackle and dispossession of a Derry forward, like taking candy from a child, and Michael Murphy’s outrageous sideline kick for a point from outside the ‘45’ on the road side of the ground.
Celtic Park is a claustrophobic sort of arena and Donegal can expect a much sterner examination than they experienced against Cavan in Ballybofey.
If they can replicate the forward play they produced against Cavan, then they can trouble any team. Word on the ground is that Derry have had a couple of challenge games and are working on a defensive strategy, which could make for an interesting afternoon.
Whatever happens, we need to avoid being in the draw for the Qualifiers, which takes place in the RTE Morning Ireland studios on Monday morning.
U-20s finally get green light
As assistant manager, Francie Friel, has pointed out elsewhere in this issue, there is something completely wrong with the way the new U-20 fixtures are planned. Donegal and Cavan (a preliminary round game) will be played after the other three quarter-finals. Donegal, if they are successful, will more than likely be playing three weekends in-a-row before they reach the Ulster final.
The concept of U-20 might be good, but the timing may have to be adjusted again as it is now slap bang in the middle of the Leaving Cert and most teams will have a good sprinkling of 18-year-olds in their panels.
Donegal, on balance, should have a good all-round panel. Their minor team of two years ago reached the All-Ireland semi-final and they have prepared under an experienced management team led by Gary McDaid.
Donegal have had to forego home advantage for the game, for it to be the curtain-raiser in Celtic Park, and hopefully, that will not be an issue.
The make-up of the Donegal team will not be revealed until Sunday, with an embargoed panel released by the Co. PRO on Tuesday. We are presuming that the talented St. Eunan’s player, Niall O’Donnell, will be part of the panel, but that was not confirmed. O’Donnell was involved with the senior squad and there was some surprise when he was not included in the match-day squad of 26 for the senior game against Cavan. However, his non-inclusion in that game means that he is qualified to play for the U-20s on Sunday and it would be a major surprise if he is not in the starting line-up.
The St. Eunan’s man has the talent to make the step up to senior level and a run at U-20 level might be very good for his development.
Hopefully, Niall and the Donegal side will get that run.
How good are Monaghan?
How good are Monaghan and how good is Malachy O’Rourke as a manager? The Fermanagh man will now lock horns with his fellow county man, Rory Gallagher, in the Ulster semi-final after taking out the favourites, Tyrone, in Healy Park, Omagh on Sunday.
I was out of the country but was listening to the game on RTE Radio and the one thing that struck me was the ease with which Monaghan could respond any time Tyrone came close in the second half.
They have a number of players almost past the veteran stage, yet they were all on the field at the final whistle, the likes of Vinny Corey and Dessie Mone. And what about that point from Conor McManus - almost as good as Michael Murphy’s sideline against Derry four years ago!
Five points in the final ten minutes was a good return for the Farney men. Donegal did something similar against Cavan in Ballybofey a week earlier.
Goes to show that you need to be able to keep the scoreboard ticking in the final minutes if you want to close out a game. Donegal take note!