Thursday 23 November 2017

Doherty wary of Eunan's experience ahead of latest chapter in rivalry

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

AFTER winning Sam Maguire, Donegal football turned its attention to the pursuit of the Dr Maguire Cup.

With the agreement of the clubs, the county's senior football championship was put on hold to give Jim McGuinness' side the best possible preparation.

The decision reaped obvious dividends but has seen the county championship run off in a hectic schedule since Sam was secured -- and now Naomh Conaill and St Eunan's are the two left standing in tomorrow's final in Ballybofey.

"When clubs agreed to postpone the championship, this is what they signed up to and there's no doubting it has had an impact," said Martin Doherty, who manages the Glenties-Fintown outfit Naomh Conaill with Stephen McKelvey.

"People might say ourselves and Eunan's have the strongest squads and that's what got us here. I wouldn't necessarily agree but the way the fixtures have fallen has affected things."

Doherty points to his own side's experience to sustain his argument. After defeating Division Three and Division Two opposition, they faced Four Masters in the semi-final. Donegal town side Four Masters had won their last-eight clash against St Michael's, after extra-time, just three days earlier.

"They were game but you could see they were out on their feet. Karl Lacey had to go off injured too," Doherty said. "It was very hard on the county players to ask them to come back to the club just a week after winning the All-Ireland."

On the other side of the draw, St Eunan's recovered from defeat to Kilcar on their first outing. They have the calibre and experience, having reached five successive finals from 2005, when tomorrow's rivals stunned them after a replay.

Hughie Molloy managed Naomh Conaill then and Jim McGuinness, who was recovering from a knee injury, got involved in coaching at the quarter-final stage before they went on to win the decider despite being priced as long as 6/1.

Local reports this week recalled how Naomh Conaill's tactics flummoxed St Eunan's that day. Those tactics resonate around the country now. Naomh Conaill packed the scoring zone and hit them on the counter-attack. That was their first senior championship and sparked both a golden age for Naomh Conaill and a new rivalry in Donegal football.

Naomh Conaill have won a handful of underage titles since, including reaching five U-21 finals on the trot, while St Eunan's won three senior titles in a row from 2007 to 2009.


That run was sparked by a first-round win over Naomh Conaill in '07 and bookended by beating the same side in the '09 decider. Naomh Conaill recovered to take the 2010 crown and with the sides tied at one win each when they have faced each other in finals, the bookmakers have priced St Eunan's at evens and Glenties at 11/10 to win tomorrow.

"Those odds would be about right," Doherty agreed. "Eunan's have class players everywhere from Conall Dunne to Rory Kavanagh and they have experience right through their team. But like any final, you are going to need the ball to run for you."

The schedule has also taken its toll on Naomh Conaill, who have injury doubts over Thomas Donoghue and Jason Campbell but they'll be given every chance to prove their fitness. Whoever wins will have done it the hard way and it won't get easier after that -- they'll have a week to prepare for a trip to Armagh to face Crossmaglen.

St Eunan's v Naomh Conaill,

Live, TG4, tomorrow, 4.0

Irish Independent

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