Gaoth Dobhair are up and running in Ulster following Sunday’s four point win over Antrim champions Erin’s Own, Cargin.
They now face Crossmaglen Rangers in the Ulster semi-final on Sunday week with the venue to be decided in the next day or so. But Healy Park, Omagh, would look ideally positioned to host the game.
Though they won by four points and led by ten points at half-time this was far from a comfortable victory for the Donegal champions.
Sunday was the first step on a steep learning curve for manager Mervyn O’Donnell and his players, who strolled through Donegal to claim a first championship in 12 seasons.
“A few of the lads were pretty sore afterwards. It was a physical game and there was a lot of high challenges and we would have liked a little more protection,” said the Gaoth Dobhair boss.
“But that is Ulster senior club football and you have to be prepared for that and it will only get tougher the higher up we go.
“A lot of our lads have experience of playing minor, U-20 and U-21 with the county but senior football is a lot tougher and a lot more physical as they found out on Sunday.
“It did not come as a surprise as we were expecting it. But no matter how much you talk about it nothing prepares you until you experience it. It is certainly a lesson learned by us all and one we can hopefully build on the next day against Crossmaglen, who will be a big step up again from Cargin.”
But overall the Gaoth Dobhair boss, who is in his second year in the hot seat at Magheragallon, was just happy to have got over the first hurdle.
And this was especially so given the Donegal champions started without two of their star performers of the county final Odhrán Mac Niallais and Odhrán McFadden Ferry.
They both sat out the game through injury. Mac Niallais, man of the match and scorer of eight points in the Donegal final, missed the game with a broken finger picked up last week at training.
And McFadden Ferry, a specialist man marker, was sidelined with a dead leg injury suffered against Naomh Conaill in the Donegal decider.
They also lost centre half-back/midfielder Kieran Gillespie to injury in the opening seconds.
“Even though we started without the two lads and lost Kieran after five seconds, we started well and played well in the first half and were ten points up at half-time.
“But we never got going at all in the second half and we were hanging on at the finish.
“There was a certain element of taking the foot off the pedal in the second half. It can be difficult to get fellas up again when you are much the better team and after having played some excellent football in the first half.
“In fairness to Cargin, they never got going at all in the first half and they came out in the second half and had a real go. There was also a stiff breeze which we had in the first half and they had in the second half.”
A new look and fresh face Crossmaglen Rangers will provide the semi-final opposition for O’Donnell and his men.
Crossmaglen have regained the high ground again in Armagh after a couple of seasons of rebuilding. But on the back of five minor championships in-a-row, they are back again knocking on the door.
The Armagh champions had two points two spare at the end of their quarter-final clash with Tyrone champions, Coalisland, on Saturday night in the Athletic Grounds.
“We don’t know much about them as we were concentrating on our own game with Cargin last weekend to worry too much about Crossmaglen.
“We will get a look at a dvd of their game against Coalisland and hopefully we will be able to take something from it.”
But for O’Donnell it was back to training on Tuesday night and concentrating on their own game and most of all the lessons learned from the win over the Antrim champions.
On the injury front the Gaoth Dobhair boss is planning without Kieran Gillespie, whose injury picked up last Sunday has turned out to be a dreaded cruciate.
However, O’Donnell does expect to be able to call on Odhrán Mac Niallais and Odhrán McFadden Ferry.