DONEGAL GAA - GAOTH DOBHAIR IN ALL-IRELAND SEMI-FINAL

We hope to deliver a performance Micheál Roarty would be proud of - Niall Friel

Tom Comack talks to the Gaoth Dobhair captain who has lifted cups for his club from U-16 to senior and now in Ulster

Tom Comack

Reporter:

Tom Comack

We hope to deliver a performance Micheál Roarty would be proud of - Niall Friel

When it comes to doing the business and bringing home the bacon no one does it better than the man that has captained Gaoth Dobhair to a first historic All-Ireland semi-final.

Niall Friel is only 21, but already he has captained Gaoth Dobhair to U-16 championship success right through minor and U-21 up to Donegal senior championships success.

And he has also lead his club to Ulster U-21 and senior championships, all in one year, which must be something of a record.

“When you lay it out on the table it is not too bad,” says Niall, a postgraduate student at NUIG.

“Tom Beag Gillespie deserves massive credit for our success at underage. He just got a good crop of players together.

“Tom took us first at U-12 and we won all those championships with Tom and now Mervyn (O’Donnell) has come in and took us over at senior level and we were lucky enough to win the Donegal and Ulster championships.”

For the last few seasons Gaoth Dobhair were perennial underachievers. However, in the 2017 championship they had a light bulb moment and strangely it came in a one point semi-final defeat at the hands of Naomh Conaill.

“That semi-final defeat by Glenties was the big turning point for this team.

“We kinda knew we could compete at the top level and coming away from Ballybofey after losing by a point after being six points up at half-time confirmed it to us.

“We looked over the video of the game and felt that we could compete with the top teams and that proved to be the case this year.

“And now we are Donegal and Ulster champions and facing into the biggest game in the club’s history.”

They face the reigning All-Ireland, Galway and Connacht champions Corofin in the semi-final on Saturday.

It will be just a day shy of 11 weeks since Donegal beat Scotstown of Monaghan in the Ulster final.

The 11 week break is something that is a concern for Niall Friel and though it has been a longer wait for Corofin he feels the length of the wait is an advantage of the Galway kingpins.

It will be a 12 weeks wait for Corofin, who defeated Ballintubber from Mayo in the Connacht final on the last weekend in November.

“They have been in that position the last couple of years and they know how to deal with such a gap between games and that has to be an advantage.”

However, the captain and the rest of the players are putting their faith in their trainer Michael Boyle and manager Mervyn O’Donnell to get it right.

“We are hoping Michael Boyle’s expertise in sports science comes in.

“We took a wee break after the Ulster final and then we regrouped before Christmas and did some conditioning work and I suppose we laid it all in Michael Boyle and Mervyn's hands and we put our trust in them.

“They haven't let us down all year. Personally, out on the training field I feel good and the rest of the lads look really sharp. But it is tough mentally and I suppose we are not going to know for sure until Saturday, if we are ready or not.

“I think we really benefited from the games literally every week in the Donegal championship and then in Ulster where we had two weeks between each game.

“We really enjoyed the Donegal championship the way it was played off and I think everybody that played in the championship agreed with me.

“There is nothing like having a game every week as long as you have a big panel which we are fortunate to have.

“There is nothing like playing games for building momentum and gaining confidence. It was the same through Ulster; there was a game every fortnight and now we have gone 11 weeks and that is the challenge trying to gauge where we are at in terms of where we were in the Ulster final.

“We've had a few friendlies since Christmas but it is hard to judge them and you have to take into account how good the opposition were and how we were.

“It will all come back to the old cliche and going out and giving a performance and if we deliver a performance we will be in Croke Park and if not we can hold our heads high and say we gave it our best shot.

“I've heard people say it would be nice if, yeah, could win it for the late Micheál Roarty. But that would be unfair to put that pressure on ourselves .

“We regrouped on that horrible day, the day of the funerals and all we said was all we can do now is go out and deliver a performance that Micheál would be proud of because Micheál was a proud Gaoth Dobhair man and his family are proud Gaoth Dobhair people.

“We feel if we do that we will be looking forward to the final in Croke Park. But if we put in a performance and Corofin beat us fair play to them. We will still hold our heads high.”

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